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Orienteering is a great activity for the classroom.  It teaches kids about map reading, topography, and use of the compass.  There is an opportunity to do distance estimation and practice using arithmetic in a real-world application.  But above all, it teaches critical thinking skills: Where am I? What is the evidence that I am where I think I am? Where do I want to go? What are my choices for how to get there, and which are the best, and why? What will I see along the way as evidence that I am going the right way?  

Orienteering can also provide an opportunity to get outside of the classroom, experience nature, get some exercise, and build kids' ability to work successfully in teams.  

NEOC member Barbara Bryant has worked with several schools in the Boston area over the past ten years.  In that time she has developed a curriculum that she varies in age-appropriate ways for the students and teachers she works with. Here is a link to a slideshow that gives an introduction to the curriculum. Barb would be happy to speak with teachers who would like to include orienteering in their classroom.

Generally the way she approaches orienteering is to start with classroom and schoolyard work on map reading and route planning. Sometimes they go to nearby parks, or learn to navigate on a map of the residential area near the school. It all culminates in a field trip to the woods with a real orienteering map. The kids work in teams, both on the field trip, and ahead of time in planning their routes and how they'll work together.

NEOC member Jason Tong has developed a short presentation for classrooms, to introduce the sport of orienteering. His presentation is as follows:

  • Some Q&A to see what the students know and get comfortable (5 min)
  • Pass out some full color orienteering maps with courses and explain briefly how the sport works. (10 min)
  • Show an aerial photo of the school yard (from Google Maps) the show a hand sketched map of the school yard with features abstracted (buildings trees fences, etc.) Discuss how the actual orienteering map was made using a similar process (10 min)
  • Show them how to sketch a map of the room, showing windows doors, tables, etc. (5 min)
  • Let them work on their own map (20 min)
  • Have each student place an item somewhere in the room and mark it on their map - then give the map to someone else for them to use to find the object. Discuss the result (if they couldn't find the object, discuss why - was the map wrong, did the hider or seeker read the map wrong, etc.)

After this exercise, you can expand it in whatever direction you want to go - make more detailed indoor maps, introducing scale and compass direction.  Go outdoors and map the schoolyard or a park if you have access.

Although orienteering involves many useful skills, it is also a sport.  The sport aspect gives the subject a little buzz to interest students in the scientific side.

The national organization has some resources: see http://www.orienteeringusa.org/youth-leaders.


Transcript of video

Maya: My name’s Maya
Arun: My name is Arun
Sam: My name is Sam
Casey: Casey
Isabel: Isabel
Zedal: Zedal
Joe: Joe
Kiara: My name’s Kiara
Jaylen: My name is Jaylen
Emerson: My name is Emerson
Claire: My name’s Claire
Eva: My name’s Eva
Barb: So you guys went orienteering, right?
All: Yeah
Barb: I’d like to hear about your experience of it
Casey: It was fun.
Zedal: It was really fun. It was so fun because we went together as a team and everything.
Casey: It was tiring. It was fun though.
Zedal: It was good exercise
Isabel: We did really good.
Jaylen: I helped my teammates a lot and learned to make my teammates my friends.
Arun: I like orienteering a lot except I didn’t like the part about walking there and walking back because it could take up a lot of energy for the actual course.
Sam: Oo, can we go to the Fells?
Barb: You want to go to the Fells?
Sam: Yeah.
Barb: I would like to do that.
Sam: Or the Blue Hills, that would be fun.
Barb: Yeah. Do you want to do it as teams again, or how would you like to do it?
Sam: Single person.
Arun: Single person? Oh my god.
Sam: Single or double.
Arun: I think we should go for double. Because if someone’s tired, and the control is up ahead...
Sam: Or if someone gets hurt.
Arun: Yeah, because if you’re hurt and you don’t have anyone else, it could be really bad.
Jaylen: It was really fun, and exciting, and painful.
Barb: Can you tell me about the orienteering you did?
Kiara: It was fun.
Barb: What role did you play on your team?
Kiara: Direction Diviner.
Barb: Did you use the compass?
Kiara: Yes.
Barb: Did it work?
Kiara: [Nods]
Maya: When Kiara didn’t know which way to go, I helped her out to figure out which way to go. I helped her figure out to use her compass.
Sam: I was the Feature Reader.
Arun: I was the Direction Diviner. Except there was one thing wrong. I had a second job which I never used because we didn’t need it, and basically, all the other jobs were needless. So basically I just led them all over the place.
Barb: Really?
Arun: Yeah.
Sam: I just ran ahead because there were no features to read.
Barb: Who was what role?
Isabel: Well, I was the estimate.... counter....
Casey: I was the Direction Diviner.
Zedal: I was the Planner.
Joe: I was the Feature Reader.
Emerson: Well, I was the Direction Diviner, which meant I was in charge of the compass, and, trust me, reading a compass is hard.
Arun: Feature Reader in the woods could be actually quite helpful, because the map doesn’t tell you if there are newly placed objects around here. So if we see a boulder, and it isn’t on the map, and we don’t know where we are, we could think of somewhere else where a boulder is on the map. So that’s why a Feature Reader could be good.
Casey: My role was Direction Diviner.
Sam: And if you don’t have a teacher with you, then you can run in the forest. And I like running in the forest.
Jaylen: He did a good job helping us with everything. And putting us in the right direction.
Emerson: Me and Jaylen were worried we might run into something uninviting, so we simply grabbed sticks and... We were - I was very scared running down this big hill.
Jaylen: There was this big piece right in the middle and I was running; wham - I fell.
Isabel: We did really well. I think what we need to work on, though, was not talking about other things.
Zedal: Like side conversations.
Isabel: Like, me and Zedal.
Eva: When we found it, we looked on the map to see - if it wasn’t ours - like puzzle number 41, we looked for it on the map and then we estimated how far we had to go.
Claire: And then we had to walk down the really big hill, and everyone helped each other get down it.
Eva: Orienteering is exciting
Zedal: It was really fun.
Jaylen: Orienteering is really fun, and you have to work together as a team to do it. All of us together were a good match. Me, the Distance Estimator, which I really didn’t have to do anything. Emerson, the Guider. Eva, the Planner. And, Claire the Feature Reader. We all did great together. We could have done a little better, but still, we did a good job.
Emerson: Orienteering is fun and it’s really tough, hard, scary, and dangerous!
Arun: It’s like just running around, basically.
Claire: Orienteering is fun and exciting and also challenging, but challenging in a good way.
Sam: Orienteering is fun, lots of exercise, and it teaches you how to read a map and a compass, and you don’t get lost as easily.
Maya: Orienteering is great!
Arun: Orienteering is a very fun sport, I think, because you can run around and use the map, and teach yourself how to navigate if you’re lost. And also it lets you be with nature, and at the same time, you’re not destroying it.

Interested in teaching orienteering?

NEOC often gets requests from schools, scouts and other youth groups to give presentations on orienteering.  If you are interested in being listed on this page as a teacher or just wish to be notified of teaching opportunites, please contact Jason Tong.

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