Lesson: GPS Receiver Basics

Quick Look

Grade Level: 8 (7-9)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Lesson Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Geometry, Measurement

A collection of hand-held GPS receivers.
Students work with GPS receivers
Copyright © Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GPS_navigation_device#/media/File:GPS_Receivers_2007.jpg


Students familiarize themselves — through trial and error — with the basics of GPS receiver operation. They view a receiver's satellite visibility screen as they walk in various directions and monitor their progress on the receiver's map. Students may enter waypoints and use the GPS information to guide them back to specific locations.

Engineering Connection

Some engineers specialize in antenna design and placement for a range of conditions. Antennas are part of every cell phone and tower. In schools, shopping malls, warehouses, hospitals, offices, exhibition halls and airports they enable wireless Internet hot-spot coverage. In a shipping port, antennas collect data on the movement of shipping containers. On helicopters, they provide police, news or sports events with real-time video. Antennas mounted on bicycles or race cars enable continuous high-speed data links. They provide long-distance data transmission from ocean-based oil and gas platforms, buoys, ships, aircraft and spacecraft.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Understand the core concepts of GPS technology
  • Measure and calculate values (i.e distance and speed) from acquired data
  • Learn about GPS technology through hands-on experimentation

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Communication systems are made up of a source, encoder, transmitter, receiver, decoder, and destination. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Describe methods and equipment used to explore the solar system and beyond (Grade 8) More Details

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Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/lessons/view/cub_navigation_lesson09_activity1] to print or download.

More Curriculum Like This

GPS on the Move

During a scavenger hunt and an art project, students learn how to use a handheld GPS receiver for personal navigation.

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GIS, Mathematics and Engineering Integration

Students explore using a GPS device and basic GIS skills. They gain an understanding of the concepts of latitude and longitude, the geocaching phenomenon, and how location and direction features work while sending and receiving data to a GIS such as Google Earth.

Getting to the Point

Students learn how to determine location by triangulation. After the process of triangulation is described, students practice finding their locations on a worksheet, in the classroom and outdoors.

preview of 'Getting to the Point' Lesson
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It's summer vacation, and Jeremy is already bored with the long, hot days. Fortunately, though, his favorite uncle is visiting for a few days. Jeremy loves it when Uncle Fred comes because he is a mechanical engineer and always has the newest electronic gadgets. Yesterday, when Uncle Fred arrived, he opened his suitcase and began showing Jermey some of his new "toys." In particular, Jeremy's eye caught sight of a small hand-held device called a GPS receiver. Uncle Fred said that the receiver could help you find your way when hiking in the mountains or fishing. Coincidentally, Jeremy is anxious to go fishing in the pond across town; after all, he is 12 years old — old enough, he thinks, to go fishing alone. The problem: he does not know how to get to the pond because he has only been there by car with his mother and father. But, what if he uses Uncle Fred's GPS? He said that it can help you find where you are going, and Jeremy needs to know how to get to the pond. Jeremy heads out on his fishing trip with his "borrowed" GPS receiver.

Should Jeremy use Uncle Fred's GPS receiver? (Answer: No. Aside from the fact that he is using it without his permission, Jeremy does not know HOW to use the device. GPS receivers provide very accurate navigation, but only if you know how to use them properly.)

Lucky for you, this activity will teach you the basics of using a GPS receiver and how to label and use waypoints. Should you stumble across a GPS receiver while on summer break, you will be ready to go (as long as you are accompanied by an adult!).


Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.

  • How accurate do you think the GPS you are using are? (Answer: Very accurate if you know how to use them properly.)
  • What is the minimum number of satellites needed for the GPS to work? (Answer: Four.)
  • Do GPS receivers work indoors? (Answer: Not usually; most require you to be outdoors.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: Have the students record their observations on the activity worksheet; review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Post-Activity Assessment

Toss-a-Question: Provide the students with a list of questions (see below), without answers. Students work in groups and toss a ball or wad of paper back and forth. The student with the ball asks a question and then tosses the ball to someone to answer. If a student does not know the answer, s/he tosses the ball onward until someone gets it. Review the answers at the end. Possible questions/answers include:

  • What is the Satellite Page used for? (Answer: In a bullseye diagram, the receiver's current satellites in use are displayed.)
  • Why would we want to know which satellites are being used? (Answer: It is helpful information to determine your location in relation to the satellites. The satellites in the center of the bullseye are directly overhead; the satellites in the outermost ring are near the horizon.)
  • How good were the directions given by the receiver to get to your waypoint? (Answer: Pretty good if the points are farther apart, but not as reliable if the points are closer together.)
  • If time allows, incorporate other questions from Worksheet 1.


© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.


Matt Lundberg; Penny Axelrad; Janet Yowell; Malinda Schaefer Zarske

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Satellite Division of the Institute of Navigation (www.ion.org) and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. 

Last modified: August 20, 2017


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