Yesterday students in my World Geography class wandered around campus carrying a compass and a set of directions. It was a beautiful afternoon and I did not hear any complaints about heading outside for this activity. In lecture we have been working on map skills including topographic maps. In lecture on Tuesday we practiced how to use a map and compass and on Thursday we went out to put their practice to the test.
I established a set of seven orienteering courses. Students were given a set of about 10 directions. Each direction included a compass bearing and a distance. For example 150 feet at 215 degrees. They worked through the set of directions and hopefully ended at the correct destination. Not only was it a chance to practice their compass skills, the activity also forced them to do a little math. Students figured out their pace (how many steps per 100 feet) and then had to calculate the number of steps they needed to take to move the correct distance. Students quickly master the activity as it is not the most challenging but I still like to do it because it reinforces classroom concepts and it is memorable. As sad as it is to admit it, in a few years students might not recall much from the course but they will all remember that World Geography is the class in which students get to go outside and do a compass course. I like to try and do at least one activity like this in each course I teach. It is almost like trying to establish a brand identity. Professor Fredericks does this well. Everyone knows there is a Monopoly simulation in his accounting course.
Setting up an orienteering course is very time consuming. But having a PhD in geography I figured I must be able to use GIS tools or something similar to set the course without actually having to step outside. I first went to Google Earth to see if it could be done. At first look I could not because the compass did not have degree bearings. I figured somebody had created a compass kmz layer and sure enough I found one. After bringing in the compass I could look at campus from space and craft a set of orienteering directions. Luckily a topic in Tuesday's class was on declination. True north and magnetic north are not the same thing. I knew that the bearings on Google Earth would be true north so I had to take into account our declination which is about 16 degrees.