Unplugged Activity: World Landmarks

In this activity, you will learn the difference between relative coordinates and absolute coordinates, and you will practice to become familiar with them.


  • Globe or map with longitude and latitude markers
  • Mapping or GPS software (optional)

If you have access to a world map or a globe, you can find your own real-world position (where you are in the world - your latitude and longitude) as well as where different landmarks, like the Empire State Building and the Great Pyramids of Giza, are relative to your current position in the world.

Your world position and relative positions

  1. Find your own real-world position - the latitude and longitude of where you are right now.
  2. Choose a world landmark and look up the landmark’s real-world position - its latitude and longitude.
  3. Calculate the position of the landmark relative to your current location.


  • Depending on your access to maps, globes, or GPS apps and the age and skills of the students, you might want to have the students use their country/region or state capitols for their world position. You can also adjust how precise you are in recording latitude and longitude. This activity uses just the basic degrees without the more precise minutes and seconds.
  • Most mapping software like Bing Maps has a “My Location” feature that will give you your coordinates:

World landmark

  • On Earth, the latitude at the equator is 0°, and at the North Pole it is 90° north. A degree of latitude covers about 70 miles or about 112 kilometers.

For example, assume that you are currently at the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington:

  1. Your world position would be 47° north and 122° west of the world origin point.
  2. Assume that you choose the Empire State Building as a landmark. The world coordinates of the Empire State Building are 40° north and 73° west of the world origin point.

  3. To calculate the position of the Empire State Building relative to your current position:

  • Your position is (47, 122)
  • The Empire State Building is at (40, 73)
  • The relative position of the Empire State Building to you is (47-40=7, 122-73=49), or (~7, ~49):

    7° south of you and 49° east of you. Remember that these relative position coordinates have a ~ (tilde) before each of the numbers, whereas absolute world positions don’t have a tilde.