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classroom tips
Find Yourself with Global Positioning
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procedures for teachers
organizers for students
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Procedures For Teachers

Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities


Computer Resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Large screen display monitor (optional)
Specific Software Needed: Bookmarked sites:

TIP: Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a word processing document listing all of the links. Preview all sites and videos before presenting them to the class.
Students will need the following supplies:
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Pens, pencils, and other writing tools
  • Graphic organizer for collecting and organizing research
  • Presentation board
  • Paper and drawing supplies
  • Terrain modeling supplies such as Styrofoam, cardboard, papier-mâché, wire mesh, foam core, and acrylic paints
Teachers will need the following:
  • Television and VCR
  • The video of the episode "High Tech War" from Thirteen's series INNOVATION.
  • Satellite photos and topographic maps of the community (these can be obtained from TerraServer)
  • Road maps of the community
  • At least one GPS, if possible


Introductory Activity
(One class period)

1. Divide students into groups of four. Give each group a satellite picture of their own community and ask them to locate common structures, such as roads, streets, houses, bridges, sports fields, schools, churches and shopping malls, and their own homes. They are not to use a local map as reference. Inform the students that they are to draw from their memory of maps and their own knowledge of the area.

2. Ask the groups to draw a map of the area labeling the landmarks they were able to identify.

3. Have the students display the maps that they have created. Encourage discussion of the activity and pose the following questions:
  • Was it easy to identify familiar structures from the satellite photos?
  • Was there any technique that made the process easier?
  • Did students differ in their abilities to identify landmarks?
  • What do you think could be done in the technology to make the landmarks more recognizable in the images?
4. Explain to students that remote sensing and GPS are becoming invaluable tools for locating and navigating through an area. Remote sensing is being used in environmental studies, geology and in the military, while GPS is used for navigation, determining location and for guiding weapons for precision targeting. However, skill and knowledge is required to take full advantage of the benefits they offer. Analysts who work with remote sensing images are usually highly trained in recognizing the features that appear in the images. GPS still requires knowledge of information such as latitude and longitude.

5. Divide students into groups of two. Ask them to draw three columns on a sheet of paper. At the top of one column they should write "Remote imaging method." At the top of the second column, they should write "Type of data provided." At the top of the third column they should write "Use/ Purpose."

6. Using these charts, ask students to read the INNOVATION essay about GPS and to research the bookmarked sites to determine:
  • What kinds of remote imaging are available?
  • What type of data do they provide and how do they provide it?
  • How are these kinds of remote imaging used?
Learning Activities:

Activity 1:
(Two class periods)
1. Explain to students that they will be using new technologies in order to create a 3-dimensional terrain model of their neighborhood. Tell them that in order to complete this project they will:
  • perform research by watching video documentaries and gathering information from the Web
  • create a schedule and a plan for completing their project
  • determine what tasks each student will perform
  • monitor their own progress and assess their goals by holding group project meetings
  • test and select modeling materials
  • and finally, present their model to the class.
2. Explain to students that in order to create this 3-D terrain model using the latest technology, they will need to learn about the most recent technological innovations. Tell them that they will begin their research by watching "Hi-Tech War" from Thirteen's INNOVATION series. Explain that this program shows how the most technologically advanced weapons were used in the 2003 Iraq War. It covers the use of GPS, remote sensing, the various weapons involved and their advantages and limitations. Distribute the Hi-Tech War Organizer and inform the students that they should keep in mind the different systems and weapons that are used, the specific advantages they gave, their drawbacks, and techniques the enemy used to counteract them, if any.

3. After viewing the program ask students to express their feelings about what they saw. Discuss the following questions:
  • What are the real advantages of these technologies for waging war?
  • Do the weapons make warfare more complex to wage?
  • How much of an advantage do new technologies have over foot soldiers or guerillas using relatively simple weapons like guns or explosives?
  • Do new weapons bring new sets of problems, both in terms of technology and in tactics?
In the course of this discussion, encourage students to compare the possible dangers that the new technologies bring to our world as weapons, compared with other possible uses. Ask them to consider:
  • What peacetime applications do these new technologies have?
  • How would you be able to use these technologies to better understand and represent your community?
Activity 2:
(Two class periods)
1. Explain to students that, in the course of war, the military often must create models of enemy territory. Often, military model builders are limited to information they have gathered using remote sensing, maps, and spies. Explain to the class that, like military modelers, they are going to build a realistic, scale 3-dimensional terrain model of a part of their community. The 3-D terrain models are to portray the terrain, buildings, and other important man-made and natural landmarks.

2. Discuss with students how they will gather the information that they require to create this artwork. Have them elicit the requirements and possible solutions:
    a. they will require information on the terrain and elevations
    b. photographic imagery
    c. pictures of buildings and landmarks, for reference
    d. dimensions of the buildings and landmarks
Distribute the 3-D Terrain Model Creation Organizer to help students organize their research.

3. Divide students into groups of four to discuss these requirements and to do research on the bookmarked sites. Circulate among the students and encourage participation. Get a sense of the interests and aptitude of the students in this topic.

4. Gather the class together to discuss the best methods for creating the 3-D terrain model. Ask them:
  • What degree of realism can they achieve, given the technologies they will use?
  • In what aspects of the 3-D terrain model should they take artistic license? Why?
5. During the discussion, some students will probably suggest the use of topographic maps and satellite and aerial photos for terrain and location references. Many are aware that there are Web sites where this information can be obtained for free, such as TerraServer. TerraServer is highly recommended, especially as a source for aerial photographs. If students do not mention this source, introduce it to them. Explain that using these images, along with research and measuring they will do themselves, they will be able to create a 3-dimensional "map" of their community.

6. Tell students that they will be building this map using materials that they select themselves. Ask students to help each other plan for this process by listing on the board different techniques for creating models. Some students might be familiar with techniques of modeling landscapes from hobbies such as model railroading and military 3-D terrain models. In the discussion, the following model-building materials and tips should come up; if they do not, make sure to mention them to students and write them on the board:
  • landscape modeling material from hobby stores
  • Styrofoam
  • Cardboard
  • papier-mâché
  • wire mesh
  • acrylic paints.
Also, note that they may need to obtain references for landscape color through photographs or field sketches. Explain that for buildings and man-made features, simple cardboard representations can be made which approximate the shapes. Suggest that one technique for approximating dimensions is to scale down images of the structures using a program such as Photoshop and then print the images on laser or ink-jet card stock; these images can then be assembled into scale models.

Tell students that they will determine the dimensions of structures from satellite and aerial photos; they may determine the height of these structures through a combination of research in the library and government records. Explain to students that heights do not have to be exact, and comparison or "eye-balling" can be used for most structures. Throughout the process, artistic creativity as well as scientific empiricism should be encouraged to solve representation problems.

7. After this discussion of methods and materials, have the groups begin planning for the process. Encourage them to determine what responsibilities each will assume, based on interests and talents. Some may be responsible for terrain research, another responsible for digital imaging, etc. Everyone should have tasks that contribute in a concrete way to the accomplishment of this project, and their responsibilities should be clear to them. Students should plan how they will gather information and supplies. Timeframes and schedules should be determined. When can students meet to work on the project? Will it be during class? Is meeting after classes possible? Can the building process be broken into stages with benchmarks? Regular, mandatory group discussions should also be scheduled.

8. Distribute the Proposal Writing Organizer. Ask students to use the questions to create an initial proposal for their project. Note that the proposal should include:
  • A description of the area they will be representing, and what its main features are
  • A list of the tasks they predict they will need to accomplish
  • A list of which students will handle which tasks and responsibilities
  • A timeline that includes estimated time for completion of each task, with each student's schedule mapped out individually
  • A list of the materials they predict they will need, including extra materials for "test" models
  • An explanation of how decisions will be made within the group
  • An explanation of how the group will get back on task if they encounter problems
  • Their initial predictions about what they will learn and whether their project will be successful
Explain to students that they will need to have an approved proposal before they begin work on their project. Teachers may assess the proposals themselves, or they may ask students to peer- or self-assess their proposals using the Science Project Checklist wizard available at

9. Students should use their completed proposals to guide them through the process of creating their original project.

TIP: Encourage students to assess their own work throughout the process. Changes and new ideas can be incorporated at any stage along the way as long as long as it makes an effective contribution toward reaching the final goal. The timeframe can be flexible but remind the students of benchmarks, and ask students to justify any changes they make to the schedule or initial plan. Assess the contributions of individual students and the work of the group, as well as their acquisition of knowledge of the different concepts required for this project. Give suggestions and encouragement when problems arise, calling meetings if necessary. Overall, allow the students to manage and direct the process as much as possible.

Students may need guidance as they determine which materials should be used in their models. You may want to suggest the following materials to students: Papier-mâché, rubber sheeting, cardboard, foam core, plastic sheeting, plastic tubing, wires, metal, plastic and wood, old electronic and mechanical parts, and computer components can be used. The model should be built on a wooden or plywood base. Artistic talent and imagination should also be encouraged. Finally, remind students that encountering problems is an expected part of project-building -- it's how they handle those problems that counts. Refer to our overview and tips for more ways to help students create their own original projects.

Culminating Activities/Assessment:

(Two class periods)

1. The students should take turns presenting their 3-D terrain models to the class. Students may vote on which they feel is the most successful at portraying the neighborhood.

2. Have each student write a report discussing the process of creating the 3-D terrain model. In the paper they should explore how using modern remote sensing technology assisted them in the process, and how it compared with some of the more old-fashioned techniques they may have used.


  • Have the students use their own 3-D terrain models to design a treasure hunt for another group, perhaps using a site like Geocaching

  • Study the technological innovations in weapons that occurred in wars in the past, such as the American Civil War, the World Wars, and the Vietnam War. Trace how the enemy adapted to the new weapons through tactics or counter-technology.

  • Visit museums that use 3-D terrain models, such as natural history and military museums. Contact the display departments of these museums to learn how these 3-D terrain models were researched and created.

  • Learn how virtual 3-D terrain models are created.

  • Report on how the environment in your area has been studied by remote-sensing.

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