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Dead Reckoning I

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 4-8

Common Core Standards
RS.4. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific or technical context relevant to grade level texts and topics.

Content Areas: Math, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: 45-50 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will practice plotting points on a grid. Students will practice identifying directions and distances.


  1. Plotting Sheets and spinners need to be prepared before the activity.
  2. Read aloud or have students read independently the background article about traditional navigation. Discuss how “dead reckoning” was the primary method of determining a ships position between sightings of land or a celestial observation.
  3. Introduce the Dead Reckoning activity as a kind of game to practice plotting skills. Because the directions and distances may be very random and nonsensical, the only object is to plot the courses accurately and find out where the luck of the spin takes you (it is possible that a ship may just travel in circles).
  4. Distribute the Dead Reckoning worksheet and spinner card. Read the worksheet directions together and demonstrate the use of the spinner. Clarify and questions.
  5. Have students work in pairs taking turns spinning, recording, and plotting their movements.
  6. Monitor students as they work to make sure they are plotting their movements accurately and labeling their movements.
  7. At the end of each round, have students describe the course their spinning took them. Reiterate that in this activity the course directions and distances were random. For real ships at sea the prevailing winds, currents, and desired destination would make a course much straighter.
  8. Continue additional rounds for as long as there is interest and need to practice plotting accurately.

Assessments: Collect worksheets to determine completeness and accuracy.

Materials/Resources: Spinners mounted on cards; Plotting worksheets

Special Considerations: Students challenged by special awareness or graphing should be paired with a more able partner.

Extensions: This activity could be reproduced on a larger scale in an open room with a tile floor that forms a grid. Individuals or teams of students could move across the floor according to the directions and distances determined by the spinner. It could be set up as a kind of race from one end of the room to the other.