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Navigation By the North Star:

A Lesson Plan in Four Parts

These resources were created by Chris Gunn.

For some historical background to this unit please read the Teacher's Notes for Navigating by the North Star.

The goal of this lesson is to teach students 4 things:

(1)   Why the North Star was important for navigation.

Early mariners used recognizable landmarks to navigate by. This approach worked fine if they hugged the coast and stayed in known waters. But if they ventured into the open ocean or to unknown waters, there were no recognizable landmarks. The stars and the sun, however, were fixed in the heavens and could be seen wherever sailors ventured and, hence, the stars and sun became the navigators's most reliable tool.

Student Handout      

(2)   How stars move across the night sky and how to locate the North Star.

Because of the earth's spin, the stars appear to travel across the night sky in circular arcs. Only the North Star remains fixed. This makes the North Star an ideal point of reference to navigate from.

Student Handout      

(3)   How to Make a Crude Sextant and How a Sextant Works

It is possible to make a crude sextant (capable of detecting to the nearest degree) using classroom materials such as a protractor, fishing line, and a weight.

Student Handout      

(4)   How to Determine Latitude Using a Sextant and the North Star

The sextant that students made in part three can be used to determine the angle of elevation relative to the horizon of the North Star. This angle is in fact equal to the latitude that they are on.

Student Handout      

Other Resources:

Unit Comprehension and Activity Pack

This student activity pack can be used to test comprehension and review the materials covered in this unit.  All four sections are covered.

Teachers' Aid: Power Point Slide Show

This slide show covers most of the basic points and diagrams in the unit Navigating by the North Star.