Reading Time Series Plots

Shelley Olds
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Jun 22, 2010


This activity provides a brief introduction to GPS and provides a student activity to practice creating and reading time series plots with simplified GPS data and with authentic GPS data from Iceland.

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This activity is taught within a suite of activities on the application of GPS and Geodesy to study plate tectonics and other sciences. While I teach this to faculty of undergraduate and upper-secondary students, this activity has been taught in introductory geology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

reading and creating a simple graph, concept of tectonic plates, basic algebraic skills,

How the activity is situated in the course

after tectonic plates, used as a technique to have students discover that the plates are moving


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Explain the components of GPS data.
  • Determine velocity vectors from GPS time series plots.
  • Describe how GPS vectors relate to plate motion / deformation.
  • Identify uses of GPS in applications in addition to driving and hiking.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

analysis of GPS time series plots

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity provides a brief introduction to GPS and provides a student activity to practice creating and reading time series plots with simplified GPS data. Students graph how a tectonic plate (and the GPS unit attached to it) has moved over a five year time period by moving a GPS model across a North-East coordinate graph. Students practice these skills by analyzing GPS time series from two GPS stations in Iceland.

Teaching Tips

Adaptations that allow this activity to be successful in an online environment

Need to really transform to an online environment. I did have one participant draw the vectors on an online map of Iceland - however, only one person gets to do this, so I'd like to figure out other techniques for this.

Elements of this activity that are most effective

Recommendations for other faculty adapting this activity to their own course:

Determining whether students have met the goals

After practicing reading two component GPS data, students check their understanding with a series of graphs to determine direction of motion. The final section has the students plot vectors onto a map.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Reading Time Series Plots --Discussion  

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