• Curecanti National Recreation Area


    National Recreation Area Colorado

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Globes, Maps and GPS

National Park Service Mission

...to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area Outreach Education is committed to: Creating an awareness and fostering an appreciation for the mission of the National Park Service and the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Curecanti National Recreation Area and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.


Curriculum enhancing activities designed to complement national and state content standards across a variety of disciplines.

Title: Globes, Maps, and GPS

Grade level:
Third grade

Time length: 60 minutes

Subject areas:

Three NPS Education Specialists

Colorado Content Standards:
Geography: (1.1) Students know how to use maps, globes, and other geographic tools to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective. (1.2) Students develop knowledge of Earth to locate people, places, and environments. (1.3)Technology: (2)(3)(5)(6)Science: (5) Math: (4.4)

Theme: Development and application of a variety of maps.

NPS focus:
Public Law 39-535 (Organic Act),

Public Law 95-250 (Redwood National Park Expansion Act),

Vail Agenda Education Committee Report (Strategic Goal #2; Action Plan 16) and (Strategic Goal #3; Action Plan 52,62),

Curecanti and Black Canyon Themes: Natural Resources/Wildlife

Environmental concepts:
Everything is connected to everything else (interrelationships).

Everything must fit how and where it lives (adaptations).

Everything is going somewhere (cycles).

Everything is becoming something else (change).

Environmental learning hierarchy:
Problem solving processes, decision making procedures.

Materials: Two inflatable globes; United States map; three Colorado maps; three city maps (corresponding to program location); three local topographic maps; three Landsat maps; three GIS city maps with roads; laminated Colorado territory map; Black Canyon and Curecanti maps; 10 GPS units; geocaches with notebook, metal “coins” and pen inside; small prizes; reproductions of antique Colorado territory maps; masking tape, 30cm (12 inch) letters of N, S, E, and W; a plastic cone and rubber bands.


Knowledge level:
Students will be able to verbally identify three different kinds of maps.

Comprehension level: Students will be able to verbally describe the functions of various symbols used on a map.

Application level: Students will be able to verbally address why studying use of maps is important.


Hang maps on the walls around the classroom. Begin passing inflatable globes around the classroom. Ask the students what they are, what they can tell us, and if the students have ever used one (either a globe or a map).


Maps: From Beginning to Present

Maps are very important to us. They tell us where we are and how to get from place to place. Do you think that early in human history, people used maps? Sure they did. The first maps were probably made in the sand or the dirt. As our civilizations grew and gained more knowledge and technology, we made better maps. The first maps of the world showed it as being flat, why? Yes, we used to think the world was flat until explorers, like Columbus, traveled to North and South America. Then, we learned that the earth was what (show globe)? That's right, round. We know this is called a globe, right? What does the blue on this globe represent? (water) What is all the green (land)? What do these black words represent (names of countries, continents, oceans)? Well, it is important to know that all maps have colors and words but each map can be a little bit different. Look at this map. What does this map show us? (show either U.S. or world map) What does the blue represent? What does the brown (land color) represent? If I wasn't sure what the colors or all the little symbols meant, how could I find out what they are? Look at the legend or the key.

(Pass out Black Canyon or Curecanti map brochures to each student or pairs of students. Have volunteers answer these questions or point them out on the map.)

This is a map of Curecanti National Recreation Area OR Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (depending on where you’re presenting the lesson). This is where we work, and we want to explore it with you today. We’re going to need your help to understand the map.

*Where is north on this map? Is it up or down?

*Where is East? Where is West? We can use a compass (hold one up in front of the class) to determine which direction we are facing, or which direction we need to walk to get to a certain location. Usually, when we use a compass, we also use a map. We can remember the directions on a compass by using a rhyme. An example, starting at the top and moving clockwise, is “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.” North-East-South-West. (Draw the 4 points of the compass on the board and label them).

*Who can come here and find the scale on the map? What does the scale tell us? (How big or small something is in real life, compared to how it’s shown on the map). It is important to remember that most maps have north on top, use colors, and they have scales and legends so we can read them.

*Let’s use the legend on this map to determine how many campgrounds there are at Curecanti/Black Canyon. (Curecanti has about 15, including car camping and walk/boat-in sites). (Black Canyon has 3 campgrounds, if you include East Portal, which is actually within Curecanti.)

*What color is the line that marks a hiking trail on this map? (Black dotted line). Does it look like there are very many trails to hike in this National Park area? (about 6 at CURE, and 12 at BLCA, if you count the short walks to the overlooks).

*On this map, water is marked with the color blue, either a line or a shape. Who can come to the front of the room and show us where the Iola Basin of Blue Mesa Reservoir is located (on CURE map) OR show us the path of the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon, from the bottom of the map to the top, or from south to north, as it flows downstream?

(Students can either keep their map brochure or hand it back in at this point).

(Use the globe) Can someone tell me what latitude (gives the location of a place north or south of the equator) and longitude (location of a place east or west of a north-south line called the prime meridian) mean? (show this concept on the globe)

I need a volunteer to come up here and show me a line of latitude and a line of longitude. We can use latitude and longitude to determine exactly where something is located. A ship that’s capsizing at sea might call the Coast Guard and tell them their coordinates and ask to be rescued. The Coast Guard people would look up the coordinates on a map of the ocean, and then they would know what route to take to find and rescue the people on board. Latitude and longitude are very important concepts, and we’re going to use them a little later on, when we go outside to look for our hidden geocaches.

Now let’s briefly talk about a few types of maps. Show the students the planimetric map. This is called a planimetric map (planimeter=a mechanical instrument that measures the area of a plane figure) or a road map. This type of map doesn’t show elevation changes, but it clearly shows where the roads are, as well as other locations, such as parks, state boundaries, picnic areas, and other areas that people who are driving across an area might find interesting enough to visit.

This is a topographic map. A topographic map is often used by hikers because it shows elevation or height. Let's say topographic together. TOPOGRAPHIC." A topographic map has many thin, wavy lines, which represent elevation differences. These lines can give us an idea of where mountains, valleys, and rivers are located. The lines are called contour lines. The lines are closer together on a steep mountain or cliff, and farther apart on a flat area, or the floor of a valley. We can use this cone to represent a mountain, and these rubber bands will be the contour lines. The distance between the lines on our mountain is 1,000 feet. The top of a mountain is represented by a circle. If this line (point to a rubber band on the cone) represents 11,000 feet of elevation, then how high is the next line above it? The highest line? The top of the mountain is even higher than the highest line marked.

"Now, I am going to show you two different maps of Colorado (show 1861 map and current Colorado map). Which one of these has more detail or more information on it? Yes, the 1990 map has more information. This is because the person who made our map in 1861 could only survey or draw the land while standing on it. He or she could maybe go to the top of a mountain or a high point to look down but could he or she look down from the air? No. Who can tell me what invention in the early 1900's helped mapmakers see the land from above? That's correct, the airplane. Today, we can see the earth from above, from airplanes and satellites. Do you know what a satellite is? Have you ever looked at the stars at night and one of them seems to flicker and you can see it moving? Those are satellites circling the earth. These satellites show us pictures of the earth from a distance. Maps called Landsat maps are pictures from satellites. They can show a whole country, a whole state or maybe just a city. Does anyone know how satellites get high above the earth's atmosphere? They are sent up on space rockets. Does anyone know what the first satellites were used for? Right, they were used to predict weather. Who knows when satellites were invented? In the 1960's. Well, now we have 100's of satellites that circle the earth and allow us to study it. There are different kinds of satellites, and they are used in different ways. Some are used for communication, others for television, weather, the military, GPS, etc."

OUTSIDE ACTIVITY: (do this, rather than the inside alternative, if the weather is fine and you’ve had a chance to plot the sites and hide the geocaches)

Let's Use GPS

"Long ago people first navigated, or found their way on land or on the ocean, by using familiar landmarks, then by using the stars. Well, what happened when the stars were covered by clouds or in the middle of the day? The compass was invented to help us navigate. Today, we have put our own stars into the sky and they are called satellites. Satellites are used in Global Positioning Systems. By using a GPS or Global Positioning System unit we can determine our exact location. This is a GPS unit. (Hold it up for all to see.) Biologists might use this type of unit to determine where a population of bighorn sheep lives. A truck driver might use a GPS unit to find his way around a big city to his delivery point. A backpacker might use one to show his route, and to help him avoid getting lost in the wilderness. GPS units are becoming more and more common and easy to use, so people in many different jobs might use them nowadays.

In fact, GPS units are also used in an adventure game that is played around the world, in more than 200 countries. The game is called “geocaching.” Does anybody know what a “cache” is? A cache (spelled differently than money “cash”!) is a place for hiding, storing, or preserving a treasure or supplies. “Geo” means earth or land. A “geocache”, then, is a hidden treasure that is located somewhere on earth, or land, and is found by using a GPS unit! Are you interested in going geocaching today?

V. GUIDED PRACTICE (for outside activity)

GPS units require latitude and longitude coordinates. We’ve marked several locations outside your school as “Points of Interest” or POI’s, in all of these GPS units. That’s where the geocaches are hidden. The GPS unit knows the latitude and longitude of your geocache, and it will point you toward the hidden geocache as long as you know how to use it. More than one group might be searching for the same geocache. Once you find the cache, which is marked with the symbol of the National Park Service, gently open it up and explore what’s inside. Each member of your team should write their name in the logbook, and your group can write a short message for future geocachers to read. Afterwards, close up the geocache and place it exactly where you found it, so that the next treasure hunters will be able to find it using the coordinates listed on the internet, too!

Divide the students into groups of 2-4, and give each group their code name (their Point of Interest, or POI, that is recorded in the GPS unit. Ex: at Gunnison Elementary School, the POI name might be GES1, GES2, GES3, etc.) Dress appropriately for the weather, and go outside with the students and teacher(s).

Once outside, hand out an instruction sheet to each group. Give each group a GPS unit to share. Briefly go over the instructions (BE CAREFUL with the GPS unit! Don’t drop it, step on it, throw it, or get it wet), and have one group member turn the GPS unit on and follow with you through the first 6 steps. After step 6, the groups can begin to follow their GPS compass toward their geocache. Remind them to use their instructions all the way to the end, so they’ll know what to do once they find the geocache.

Once all the groups have found their caches, go back inside and conclude the lesson, skipping the INSIDE ACTIVITIES. One ranger should collect the geocaches before returning to the classroom.

INSIDE ACTIVITY: (if the weather is bad, etc. The outside activity is preferable.)

GPS unit

Obtain a student from the classroom and let them walk around showing the unit. "Jenni is a wildlife biologist and wants to see why deer have been leaving a certain area. She thinks it might be because the food source or plants the deer eat have been diminishing. She decides to take the GPS unit out in the field to find out where this area is on a map. Then, she can look at the vegetation of the area and compare it with past years. Now, this antenna has a receptor on it just like a T.V. satellite dish. This receptor will receive signals from different satellites. Jenni hopes to get signals from at least 6 or 7 satellites so that her data will be correct. Using the little computer that looks similar to a calculator she can find out the exact location of the area she wants. Back at the office, Jenni can look at a map of the surrounding area that shows different vegetation. By placing her coordinates received from the satellites on the map she can determine where her land area is and the type of vegetation that is growing there. You can see how advanced our mapping has gotten. We started out from drawing in the sand to using complicated technological systems."

Maps, Maps and More Maps!

Divide the class into three groups, each with one ranger. Place Colorado maps (planimetric) on desks. "This is a planimetric map. It is mostly used to find roads and cities. Would this be a good map to take if we were traveling from Denver to ____________ (this city)? Look at the legend. Can you find ski resorts, camping places, rivers, lakes, and mountain peaks? Would this map be helpful if we needed to find the library in town?" Then, place a map of their city on the table. Have them find the library, their school and their homes. Ask them if it is a planimetric map. Do they think it would be a good map to take camping? No. Place a topographic map out. Ask them to look at the legend. Have them identify forested areas, water, camping spots and hiking trails. "Do you see the brown lines? These lines show elevation or height. Look at this line. Is it at a lower elevation or higher elevation than this one? One is 7,000 ft and one is 9,000 ft. If I were really tired would I want to hike uphill, from 7,000 to 9,000 ft.? Remember how we were talking about satellites? These are Landsat maps or pictures of the earth taken from above. Look at this map. Its colors show different types of vegetation." Hold up the Landsat map and point out the colors. "This map is from the Geographical Information System or GIS. This is the map Jenni used to place her location on. What's a map used for hiking called? (topographic map) What do we call a road map? (planimetric map) Do you guys remember how we get Landsat maps? (satellite pictures taken from space) How can we find out what different symbols and colors on maps mean? (use the legend)


See section III., Maps, Maps and More Maps!

V. GUIDED PRACTICE (for inside activity)

Let's Make a Map!

Have the students make a map of their classroom. Give each student a compass. Show them how to use a compass and have them find North, South, East, and West in their classroom. Place 12-inch letters of N, S, E, and W on the appropriate walls of the classroom using masking tape. Pass out graph paper to each student. Explain that they need to have a key. The students can map out their desks, storage areas, teacher's desk, or anything in the classroom. Make sure they remember to put exits and if possible use a scale. You can help the students by starting a map of your own on the chalkboard (or make a group activity out of mapping the classroom on the chalkboard, rather than individual mappings).


Students can use their own GPS unit to find geocaches listed on www.geocaching.com


Check for students' understanding of the three different maps. Randomly ask what we need on a map to be able to interpret or understand them. Ask students if they could find mountains, rivers, and lakes on a map. Ask students how a GPS works, and the uses of a GPS unit. Hand out maps of Black Canyon and Curecanti and invite them to find us next summer.


Indicate what you judge to have been the strengths of the lesson, what changes you made during the lesson and what changes you would make if you were to teach the unit again.


Not Appropriate.



USGS: Earth Resources Observation and Science

Did You Know?


A wide range of mammals can be found within Curecanti, including mule deer, mountain lion, black bear, coyote, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, elk and even an occasional moose.