Navigating with FALA

Co-authored by Kim Cleary

On October 8, 2019, Seeds of Stewardship, equipped with a pile of topo maps and a box of compasses, met 18 sixth and seventh grade students enrolled in Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy’s Outdoor Exploration class. Over the course of a class period, we introduced students to the Arizona Trail, Seeds of Stewardship, and foundational map and compass skills.

We walked a short distance to a nearby park for our lesson, which encompassed hands-on learning and fun activities. Once we settled outside, we broke out some topographic maps for students to observe and become acquainted with their features. Studying our maps of the San Francisco Peaks, which were clearly visible from the park, we learned how the 2-D images on a map corresponded to the 3-D landscape before us.

We focused on identifying several important and common topographic features, such as peaks, springs, drainages, streams, and lakes. To reinforce these different features, students found examples on their maps, and then we played a game of Simon Says, topographic-features-style. During this game, “Simon” would hold up an image of a topographic feature, and students would respond by doing a matching movement. Students collectively came up with movements to represent the various features, and the game began! 

As students gained more confidence in their map skills, we brought in the next element of the lesson: compasses. First, we learned the anatomy of a compass, depicting the names and purpose of each part. Then, each student was given a compass to observe and navigate with. We learned how to orient ourselves in the four cardinal directions. To remember where north, east, south, and west lie, these students preferred the mnemonic, Never Eat Soggy Worms!

Once the class mastered putting “red fred in the shed” to orient themselves, students partnered up for Compass Madness, an activity that gave them practice following directions with their compasses. The activity sent them on a journey, wherein they took a given number of paces in different directions; when the instructions were followed correctly, students would ultimately end up in the same spot they started. The class had so much fun with this activity that they insisted on repeating it to improve their accuracy and challenging themselves with another set of directions that was slightly more difficult.

While our time with the students was short, we packed in a lot of hands-on learning, and students left with a new set of skills useful for our future outdoor adventures with them!