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Size, Motion, Distance - Finding Your Way

Journal Entry - Take out your science journal and answer the following question(s) (use drawings as appropriate):

How are constellations used for navigation and calendars?

Sea Fever by John Masefield
I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and sky
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by.

Before GPS systems and the art of mapmaking, travelers used the stars to help them find their way from place to place. 

Sailors used the stars to help them guide their ships at night.  African-Americans used the Big Dipper (which led to the North Star) to help them find their way to freedom.  The pioneers also used the constellations to help them find their way West.


  • Pictures of constellations
  • Blindfold


  1. Teacher sets up a course using the constellation pictures.
  2. Have three students come up. One person will be the navigator. One person will be blindfolded. The third person will walk with the blindfolded person for safety.
  3. Navigator talks blindfolded student through course without using constellation names.
  4. Take blindfold off of student. Navigator gives directions using constellation names.


  1. Compare the time it took for the student to go through course both times.
  2. How did using the constellations help in the navigation?

What is the Date?
People in ancient cultures noticed that certain constellations appeared in the sky only in certain times of the year. For example, the Egyptians counted the number of days between the appearances of Sirius. They found that there was 365 days in each year. By dividing the year into 365, the Egyptians created a calendar. They noticed that Sirius always came back a few days before the annual flooding of the Nile River, so this helped with the planting of crops.

Ancient Time
Which do you think was more accurate, a calendar made from the moon’s cycle or a calendar made from the cycle of the stars?  Create your own calendar based on either of these cycles.  You can name your own months and have whatever number of days in each month you choose.  Would your calendar work?  It might be helpful to do some research on how the ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, and Chinese developed their calendars. Use this Web site for your research.

utah state board of education This Sci-ber Text was developed by the Utah State Board of Education and Utah educators.