9-12 Activities

9-12 Activities

These activities for Navigation were updated in late 2008 and early 2009, along with the Learning Results.

Ideas to try....

Career and Education Development

The work of navigating a ship or an aircraft has changed significantly, just in the last two decades. The skills that were so important a few years ago have been replaced with others. Discuss how this is true in many career paths and how educational requirements often change, even with multi-disciplinary skills like navigation. Discuss how to prepare for changes.

Science and Technology

Research some aspect of navigation and its history, using sources listed in the Resource list and others. Look at how the subject is covered in Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator and in other modern navigation texts. If appropriate, try to review the types of information available in such modern almanacs as the Nautical Almanac, Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, and other tide tables (almanac information available at some local bookstores or on the internet—see Resources). Compare types of information and technology available to navigators today with information and tools available one hundred fifty years ago or more.

Study the sextant and its predecessors as measuring tools. How accurately can a sextant measure angles? How accurate does it need to be in order to find one’s position on the earth within a mile? Consider, in general, the history of the development of navigational tools and how the pursuit of accuracy continues to drive innovation and technological developments.

Discuss the relationship between the tides and the location of the moon and sun. Determine an approximate trigonometric function that describes tide rise and fall in different parts of the globe.

Research how the prevailing and trade winds are caused and how they relate to ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream. Discuss the relationship between ocean currents and weather. How is weather considered to be an important part of navigation?

Describe an ellipse and how it is similar to a circle. Discuss the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun and how that affects the length of a solar day (equation of time). Compare the distances between the sun and earth, earth and moon, earth and other planets, and earth and the nearest stars and galaxies. Determine the speed of the earth around the sun, the moon around the earth, and the speed of rotation of the earth at the equator. Discuss how these might affect navigation.

Research the work of scientists, mathematicians, and inventors who prepared the way for safe navigation of the oceans. How did they collect data, process the data, and develop hypotheses about new understandings of the universe or develop ideas that resulted in valuable inventions? What other ways did their work impact society? Research can include exploration voyages of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to find the size and shape of the earth, accurately chart the oceans and lands, and learn about wind and ocean current patterns. Consider, for example, the environment and situation in which Charles Darwin made his observations.

Research how different cultures have solved navigational problems, including Babylonians, Polynesians, Vikings, Chinese, and Europeans.


Apply trigonometry to the angular measurement of the earth, sun, moon, planets, and stars. Make estimates of the diameter of the sun and moon, based on angular measurements. Draw relationships between distances and angle, when measuring between two places on the globe. Use trigonometry to determine the distance between two points of the same latitude, knowing the longitude difference. Note how the “great circle” route is the shortest between two points on the globe and explain why.