Using GPS to Teach More than Accurate Positions
Marie C. Johnson, Peter L. Guth May, 2002 Journal of Geoscience Education v50 n3 p241-246
Undergraduate science majors need practice in critical thinking, quantitative analysis, and judging whether their calculated answers are physically reasonable. We have developed exercises using handheld GPS receivers that expose students to this recent technology and promote larger goals that transcend the simple use of a tool for precision location. Using the GPS to calculate the volume of sand in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado requires traversing the dunes, plotting a topographic profile, calculating the volume of sand traversed, and then extrapolating to estimate the volume in the entire dune field. This exercise serves to reinforce students' abilities to think quantitatively, to make realistic "back of the envelope" assumptions, and to determine whether their final answers make physical sense. Using the GPS to measure the running track at an outdoor track and field stadium requires students to gather data, import the data into a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel, plot it and perform error assessment. This exercise reinforces concepts from statistics, and allows students to estimate the precision of GPS measurements both qualitatively and qualitatively. Together these two exercise promote quantitative analysis in a geologic context.