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  • This article is an introduction to GPS – how it works via satellite systems and trilateration, and how it is used in industry, transport and recreation. There are also sections on the risks when GPS fails – either through signal issues or malicious human interference. It turns out that microseconds are enough to cause problems!

    Rights: Crown 2019

    Connected article: The Global Positioning System

    An article in the 2019 level 4 Connected journal Seeing Beyond, published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

    Illustration by Judith Carnaby.

    The article points out that GPS technology has changed the way we live. It has a suggestion for a navigational experiment: follow a GPS route one way and use a paper map or your memory for the return trip.

    Diagrams, which explain constellation satellites and trilateration are useful to help students practise the science capability ‘interpret representations’.

    Teacher support material

    Check your school resource area for the article from the 2019 level 4 Connected journal Seeing Beyond, download it as a Google slide presentation from Tāhūrangi or order it from the Ministry of Education.

    Rights: Crown 2019

    2019 Connected Level 4: Seeing Beyond

    The cover of the 2019 level 4 Connected journal Seeing Beyond, published by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand. This issue includes the articles Maths crafts, Fake facts, Defending the dark and The Global Positioning System.

    Photo of Aoraki/Mt Cook taken from the Aoraki MacKenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, by Glen Butler.

    The teacher support material (TSM) can be downloaded from Tāhūrangi (Word and PDF files available). It has two learning activities that support science, technology and mathematics and statistics – Trilateration and the geometry of spheres and Putting GPS to work – along with resource links.

    Related content

    GPS satellites are in medium-Earth orbits. Find out about different satellites and orbits is this interactive.

    GPS systems are vital to our understanding of slow slip earthquakes. Use the activity Something creepy is happening to plot and interpret a graph using data from an actual slow slip event in New Zealand.

    Did you know that for over a decade, major earthquakes around the world have been interfering with our Earth-bound GPS sites? Find out how this could be introducing errors into our network of satellites and ground stations in the article, GPS skew-whiff.

    The Connected article Sensing Data reports on how Christchurch city planners used GPS-tracking data to make the city a healthier place.

    Check out our entire range of Connected articles here. We’ve curated them by topic and concepts.

    Useful links

    The Connected journals can be ordered from the Down the Back of the Chair website. Access to these resources is restricted to Ministry-approved education providers. To find out if you are eligible for a login or if you have forgotten your login details, contact their customer services team on 0800 660 662 or email


    The Connected series is published annually by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

      Published 20 March 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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