This has been a very long, rainy and cold winter here in Columbia, SC.  I’ve been waiting long enough now for warmer weather and sunny days.  Spring is a time when I can replace the batteries in the GPS receivers and take students outside for a little GPS fun.

My favorite activity that I’ve developed over the last three years is a slope activity.  This idea came about from a  discussion with a middle school geometry teacher who wanted to find out if the slope of a hill outside of the school could be landscaped.  A slope that is too large can cause serious problems for landscapers. We took her geometry classes outside and asked them to figure out how they could use a GPS receiver to get the slope. I loved watching them as they became completely engaged in discovering how a GPS receiver could be used to determine slope.

Since then, I’ve created a slope activity that I use with the Algebra classes at my high school.  I start out in the classroom by showing the students how to use the GPS receivers to record elevation and distance.  Google Earth is used to show the students the location of the hillside that we will be investigating.  We can use the tilt feature in Google Earth to view the terrain.  We also look at the elevation of each part of the campus.

We review the data that they will need to collect and then the teacher and I take the students outside to our soccer field.  Pairs of students spread out along the top of the hill and mark a waypoint.  They also record the elevation.  Then they go to the bottom of the hill, mark a waypoint there, and record the elevation.  The last step is to determine the distance between the first waypoint and the second waypoint by using the find feature on the GPS.  After the students have all of their data, they go back to the classroom, calculate the slope, and graph the slope.

This has been a very successful activity, and the students are required to use higher order thinking skills to find the slope.  The activity also reminds the students that determining slope is very important in the real world.

Try the activity out with your students and let me know how it works.