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GPS by Ravi

One of my favorite things to do is hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. Because nobody likes the idea of getting lost, I always prepare before every trek. But what's the better navigation tool, a Global Positioning System (GPS) or a good old map and compass?

What did we do?
To find out, I decided to make it into an event. Six of my friends hiked through the mountains on a trail I marked. One team of three carried a GPS, or global positioning system. The GPS reads satellite signals to tell you your location on the Earth. The other team used a map and compass. There were 5 destinations that each team had to reach along the way. At each flag location, they took a 10 minute pit stop to record the distance they traveled, the time it took to get there and any other observations. At the end, the two teams compared notes.

What did we find out?
It took the GPS team 3 hours and 11 minutes to get through the whole hike. The map and compass team took only 2 hours and 49 minutes. The biggest problem the GPS team encountered was that they lost the satellite signal in some areas. With no map or compass, they had to wander around until they were in an area where the signal was good. The map and compass team was able to spot different landmarks, compare them to their maps and then use the compass to point them in the right direction. When I head out on my future hikes, I'm bringing a map, a compass, AND a GPS to show me the way!

What can you do?
  • Cartography is map designing. Try drawing a scaled map of your home, school or neighborhood. What symbols or signs would you use to help someone navigate the area for the first time?
  • Get a road map for your state. Plan two different routes between two cities. Use the map's legend to determine the number of miles for each route. Which route is shorter? Does the map tell you which route is faster? How would you decide?
  • There are a lot of fun orienteering sites online. You can find maps and clues near your home and navigate these paths with a parent (or guardian) using only a GPS. Sometimes there's a prize at the end that another hiker left behind for you to find.
  • Use this technology investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
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