Html Radio Button CSS

Compass Courses
Revised November 25, 2011

During this unit, we will teach each student the basic compass skills of orienteering. They will become familiar with compass terminology, degree readings, taking bearings, and pacing off distances. This unit will also provide the students with the opportunity to venture out on their own as they follow our compass courses laid out in the nature center.

State Grad Standards Emphasized:

  • Math Applications: Shape, Space and Measurement: concepts of space, solving problems in physical world
  • Math Applications: Number Sense: Concepts, relationships, and computational procedures in problem solving
  • Scientific Applications: Physical Systems: Interactions between systems encountered in everyday life
  • Decision Making: Physical Education: Activities, skills, and fitness


Before your visit, please review with your students:

  • The basic parts of a compass
  • How to read degrees and take a bearing
  • How to pace off distances
  • Unique aspects of orienteering
  • Appropriate dress for the weather and conditions

At River Bend:

  • During the introduction we will review the above material as needed
  • Discuss the details of River Bend's 17 compass courses
  • Provide the students with the opportunity to challenge themselves on one or more courses. We will stress the importance of following directions, trusting one's own effort, working with their partner, and accomplishment through determination and initiative.

In the closing we will discuss:

  • The life-long benefits of their compass skills
  • Who uses orienteering in their everyday lives
  • remind the students of their next visit
  • talk of upcoming events at River Bend
  • invite the students to return on their own with family and friends
  • discuss our new permanent orienteering courses

Back in the classroom:

  • Review any pre-trip suggestions not yet completed
  • Further explore how wintry conditions presented unique challenges but also opportunities for exploration and discovery.


Want to order a copy of our
Orienteering CD?
Click here to order now.

You can also view a sample of
the video below.

Orienteering Video

What is orienteering?

Orienteering, which originated in Scandinavia, is the skill of navigating through the natural world by using a compass. Orienteering is now done on all inhabited continents. Thanks to the magnetic properties of the Earth, a free floating magnetic needle will always point north-south and from there a direction, or bearing, can be set to lead you where you want to go.

Click here for a web page that can tell you more about the Earth and compasses.

What will we do at River Bend?

While some orienteering activities involve the use of a map, this compass course experience will only involve a compass and a data sheet. With a partner, you'll begin at the 'start' tag of one of our courses and, using the given direction and distance, find your way from one tag to another. Most courses have around a dozen or so tags, and you will likely get the chance to try more than one course.

What kind of compass will we use?

You will be using a Silva 7 style compass similar to the one pictured below. Getting to know the different parts of a compass is an important step in learning how to use one.

Orienteering Tag

Parts of a compass

Point to the question marks to learn the name of each part.

How does a compass tell us which direction to travel?

The floating needle of a compass only points north-south and NEVER by itself tells you which way to travel. But by setting the dial and reading the arrows, you can go in any direction designated by the tags on the course.

Setting your compass

Practice reading the compass bearing on the picture below. When you think you know what bearing a line is indicating, point to the question marks to see if you are right!

How might I use orienteering as an adult?

While new hi-tech devices (GPS) are often replacing compasses in common use, a number of professions and hobbyists still use compasses. Forest rangers, military units, timber cutters, hunters, hikers, outdoor teachers, and others often use a compass. There are a number of clubs all over the world that set up courses for people to use for fun. Here are the web sites for the Minnesota Orienteering Club, the U.S. Orienteering Federation, and the International Orienteering Federation. Many people do orienteering on skis, snowshoes, mountain bikes, horseback, and even at night!

When done competitively or in a club, orienteering is a timed event that brings a unique blend of long distance running, compass use, map reading, and outdoor knowledge that many people find incredibly challenging and fun.

River Bend has permanent orienteering courses that can be used.

Orienteering on the web

Along with the links shown above, the following links contain some interesting information on compasses and orienteering:

The Silva compass web site

Now this is SERIOUS orienteering, called "rogaining"

Finding directions without a compass


« Our mission is to help people discover, enjoy, understand, and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. »
   River Bend Nature Center a donor-supported, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
PO Box 186, 1000 Rustad Rd, Faribault, MN 55021-0186 USA
 507.332.7151  |
©2017 River Bend Nature Center. Faribault, MN, USA.
WordPress Blog  Facebook  Twitter  River Bend's YouTube Channel  River Bend on Google+  Instagram