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Pilot Programs Give Students Direction

story and photo by Elizabeth (Bitsy) Stiller, South Dakota Field Office

youth learning about the global positioning system

Thad Berrett, range management specialist from the South Dakota Field Office, explains GPS to eager learners. 

“Are we lost?” was not a phrase heard at the Fort Meade Recreation Area on July 24 when 25 elementary school students tried out a couple of new educational programs.

Map and Compass Orienteering and Introduction to GPS are pilot programs developed under the Take It Outside program grant and initiative. 

Marcy Reagan-Urban of the Belle Fourche City-run Camp Oasis, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Elizabeth Stiller, and U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Rhonda O’Byrne worked together to develop a set of tools and a curriculum for a sharable, sustainable toolkit available to other “Out of School Time” programs. These 25 kids at Fort Meade were the test subjects.

The nine 5 to 7 year-olds were introduced to the concept of mapping and aerial perspective by mapping their resource room the day before the field trip. Once out in the beautiful Fort Meade setting they remembered the four cardinal directions very well, and really liked the aerial view. 

However, the compass work was a little beyond their grasp. Following trail markers proved to be a better match for this age group. By the end of the “nature walk,” the “Explorers” could identify where the trail was going and what kinds of uses were acceptable on the trail.

The “Adventurers,” 16 8 to 10 year-olds, were acquainted with the map and compass from an overnight camping trip on the Black Hills National Forest. U.S. Forest Service employees gave introductory talks on contour lines and compass positioning. 

When the group got to Fort Meade they were ready for the next step –Global Positioning System. Range Specialist Thad Berrett and Seasonal Park Ranger Mike Thomas each took a group and explained how the GPS worked. Each pair of Adventurers got their own GPS to use. The groups hiked a longer trail and were excited by watching “the little man” on the GPS screen move along with them. Waypoints were marked and named, and compass directions identified. 

The children are encouraged to pay attention to their surroundings so the journey was multidimensional. In addition to the GPS, legends about prominent landmarks, ecological niches, early history of the area, animal sign, Leave No Trace principles, and plant identification were discussed on the route. The kids took pictures, wrote journals, and presented what they learned at the summer science fair in August.

The toolkit, including compasses, GPS units, teacher books and a write-up of this experience, will be available for loan. Western South Dakota education groups will be able to borrow the kit from the Early Childhood Connections located in Rapid City.



Last updated: 06-28-2012