Lesson: Making GPS Art: Draw It, Walk It, Log It, Display It!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 8 (7-9)

Time Required: 30 minutes

Lesson Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Geometry, Measurement

An aerial photograph of a corn field shows a map of the U.S., the words "God Bless America," and mazes on the outer edges of the field that have been cut into the field. The design was "mapped out" using inexpensive software, and then the farmer plowed the field accordingly using data loaded into a GPS receiver.
Figure 1. GPS art made in a corn field.
Copyright © Institute of Navigation Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 4 (winter 2002-3) Used with permission. http://ion.org/newsletter/


Students design their own logos, pictures or other graphic images and then use handheld GPS receivers to map them out. They write out the image on a field or playground, walk the route, and log GPS data. Displaying the collected data on the GPS receiver screen results in the finished artwork. The process requires students to use geometry, sketch, measure distances and make scaling calculations, and familiarizes them with technological devices. A student worksheet is provided.

Engineering Connection

Engineers design GPS technology for many applications. In industry, GPS has uses in agriculture, surveying, map making from aerial photographs, public safety and telecommunications. GPS is used in recreation, sports and transportation on land, water, air and space. Science provides a wide range of applications: archaeology, atmospheric science, environmental, geology, oceanography and wildlife. In some cases, tiny transponders and transmitters are applied to birds, animals, products, shipments and measurement devices to collect data such as location, movement, altitude/depth and speed.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Use geometry and scaling in order to draw a sketch.
  • Use numbers to count, measure, label, and indicate distances and points on a GPS receiver.
  • Measure and calculate values from acquired data.
  • Understand how technology is needed to explore space.

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.

  • Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale. (Grade 7) More Details

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  • Make formal geometric constructions with a variety of tools and methods (compass and straightedge, string, reflective devices, paper folding, dynamic geometric software, etc.). Copying a segment; copying an angle; bisecting a segment; bisecting an angle; constructing perpendicular lines, including the perpendicular bisector of a line segment; and constructing a line parallel to a given line through a point not on the line. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Information and communication systems allow information to be transferred from human to human, human to machine, and machine to human. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale. (Grade 7) 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_activity2] to print or download.

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The global positioning system (GPS)—a satellite-based radio navigation system owned by the U.S. government and operated by the U.S. Airforce—has some very serious uses, such as for ship navigation at sea, airplane landing systems, and search and rescue operations.

However, GPS can also be used for fun activities and recreational purposes. For example, have you ever played in a maze that has been cut into a corn field? Did you wonder how that corn maze was created? Well, today farmers and recreational clubs can use GPS to design and plow mazes into fields.

(Show students Figure 1, an aerial photograph of a real corn maze.)

Take a look at this photograph of a real corn maze in a corn field. It was designed using GPS technology and inexpensive software. To design the maze, a GPS engineer made an image of the desired picture using mapping software to produce a set of coordinates that would connect to form a picture—kind of like connecting the dots.

Then these coordinates were downloaded into driving instructions on the farmer's tractor-mounted GPS receiver. The farmer plowed the maze—that is, connected the dots—following the GPS instructions. Amazing!

In today's activity, you will learn how to create your own GPS art and have fun while learning more about the global positioning system.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Estimates: Ask students to make estimates:

  • What is the largest size letters that a person could write his/her name, such as in the sand or in a corn field?
  • How would they do it? What objects would they use?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: Have students complete the GPS Art Worksheet. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Post-Activity Assessment

Problem Solving: Have students engage in open discussion to suggest solutions to questions/problems. For example:

  • What scale did you use to map your picture? Was the scale large or small? Why?


© 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: December 1, 2019


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