Academic journal article Science Scope

A Geospatial Scavenger Hunt

Academic journal article Science Scope

A Geospatial Scavenger Hunt

Article excerpt

At the mention of a scavenger hunt, students' eyes light up. With the use of technology such as Global Positioning System (GPS) units and Google Earth for a simple-machine scavenger hunt, you will transform a standard identification activity into an exciting learning experience that motivates students, incorporates practical skills in technology, and enhances students' spatial-thinking skills. In the following activity, seventh-grade science students use GPS units to locate, identify, and describe the location of simple machines on their middle school campus. These simple machines include a lever (gate on school grounds), pulley (flagpole), screw (on a signpost), inclined plane (ramp), and wheel and axle (on a bicycle). Then, by importing the GPS points into a file that is viewed in Google Earth (a virtual globe), students view the relative location of the simple machines to the school from an aerial perspective.

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National Science Education Standards

The National Science Education Standards recommend the use of computers for the "collection, summary, and display of evidence ... Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data" (NRC 1996). More significant is the reasoning for technology use: "[I]t provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable (emphasis added, NRC 1996)." In this activity, students move from a concrete, at-surface visualization of their school grounds to an aerial view displayed using Google Earth. Only through the technology of satellites, GPS, and remotely sensed images displayed by Google Earth are students able to see what is otherwise not observable. The National Science Education Standards state, "Science requires different [human] abilities" (NRC 1996). Human cognitive abilities include literacy, numeracy, logic, and graphicacy. Success in each of these is dependent, to varying degrees, on a student's ability to think and imagine spatially, a concept known as spatial ability (NRC 2006).

What is spatial thinking?

Spatial thinking includes the ability to mentally rotate objects, images, or the mental orientation of self. In science this would include mentally rotating a nucleus undergoing mitosis or imagining the position and movement of Earth and the Sun for an understanding of the seasons. Spatial thinking aids students in imagining and gaining different perspectives of phenomena in three dimensions. Furthermore, the practice of spatial thinking in science education is important for education equity (Libens, Kastens, and Stevenson 2002). As a group, males tend to outperform females on spatial tasks (Linn and Peterson 1985). This is often considered a possible reason for the relatively low number of females in STEM disciplines and jobs such as engineering, chemistry, and physics. By providing girls with opportunities to practice spatial-thinking skills in the context of a science classroom, girls may improve a skill considered essential to their success in STEM disciplines.

What is GPS?

Prior to lesson implementation, students benefit from a short description on GPS, including its capabilities and uses. Originally intended for military applications, Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense (Lillesand, Kiefer, and Chipman 2004). This system of 24 satellites uses the method of triangulation to determine exact locations on the Earth (Lillesand, Kiefer, and Chipman 2004; Jensen and Hodgson 2004). The 24 GPS satellites orbit Earth at approximately 12,000 miles above sea level, making two complete orbits in less than 24 hours with each satellite traveling at speeds of nearly 7,000 miles an hour (Lillesand, Kiefer, and Chipman 2004). GPS satellites are powered primarily by solar energy and small rocket boosters. …

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