Education:A look at navigational technology through Magellan's eyes

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Ferdinand Magellan, his life and exploits will be the center of this lesson. Readings about Magellan, the compass, the astrolabe, vocabulary lists, and maps will give students a general knowledge of the problems explorers faced and the reasons why they overcame those problems. Questions are provided for these hand outs. Students will come to appreciate the need for technological advancement in lowering the danger levels, increasing the success levels of explorers leading to more exploration and technology.


Grades: 7th through 11th grade social studies

Time Required: 90 - 120 minutes dependent upon reading lexile, detail and number of readings used.


6.2.12.B.1.a Explain major changes in world political boundaries between 1450 and 1770, and assess the extent of European political and military control in Africa, Asia, and the Americas by the mid-18th century.

6.2.12.C.1.e Determine the extent to which various technologies, (e.g., printing, the marine compass, canonry, Arabic numerals) derived from Europe's interactions with Islam and Asia provided the necessary tools for European exploration and conquest. Common Core State Standards:

RH. 6-8.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

RH. 6-8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as thy are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

RH. 6-8.8. Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

RH. 6-8.8. Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

RH. 9-10.3. Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

RH. 11-12.5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.


Students will be able to recognize the difficulties and hazards of exploration in the 15th century by learning about Ferdinand Magellan.

Students will be able to understand the need for improved forms of navigational technology.


lesson plan; readings/questions; map(s); markers/chalk; board or pad and easel

Anticipatory Set

How do people find their way to new places? (get directions from map, GPS, Google, etc.)

What do the above have in common to help you find your way? (street names, geographic features, roads with names or numbers, landmarks, etc.)

The noteworthy explorers of the Renaissance travelled by water, how could they find their way? (stars, sun, moon, nearby coastline, etc.)


Ask students to list navigational tools that sailors use.

Using this list and the vocabulary list, students will understand what these technologies do.

The reading about the compass will provide information about the Chinese origin of the compass. Without earlier curious explorers the compass would not exist.

Students will read about Ferdinand Magellan. Jigsaw methodology would be used if you wish to use all or most of the reading. Parts of the reading can be used independently of all other parts. A simpler reading is also provided.

Students should understand the hazards, the loss of life, including Magellan.

Students should appreciate the level of treasure and information which the voyage provided.

Students should appreciate the need for technology and the motivation to improve which each voyage demanded.


The readings offered vary in reading lexile, age appropriateness and ability. Classroom groups should be developed for mixed ability. Teachers can choose the readings, questions and assignments.


Ask students if they would have done Magellan's trip in his time - why?, why not?

Additional individual reports or textbook searches could lead to the study of other explorers and their accomplishments.

Students could write a letter or diary as one of the men on the voyage.


The following websites contain additional information and sources for this lesson.

Vocabulary List

  • compass
  • magnetic compass
  • electromagnetic compass
  • astrolabe
  • lodestone
  • meridian
  • negro
  • shoals
  • Moor
  • myrobolan
  • league


Using Magellan's Route 1519-1522 and the World History Sourcebook primary source, students can note events on the map.

Questions for Magellan's Route readings:

  1. Why did Magellan sail for Spain?
  2. Why is it so frigid at the Straits of Magellan?
  3. How long did Magellan survive at sea?
  4. Why did his crew continue the voyage?
  5. How long did the whole voyage take? How long does it take today?
  6. Why did the explorers need navigational tools?
  7. Why is Magellan given credit for the sail around the world, when he did not complete the trip?

Additional questions for use with the World History Sourcebook:

  1. Why is this log so detailed with references to latitude, direction and distance? How was the pilot able to do this?
  2. Why are most of the names of newly discovered places given Catholic saints names?
  3. What could lead to mutiny?
  4. Describe one of the groups of people the explorers encountered. How do you believe they related to each other?
  5. Using the explicit directions given in the reading, find 3 places on a world map.
  6. Imagine that you are at the port when Magellan's ship finally arrives. Describe the people on the ship, the goods on the ship and the reaction of those on land.
  7. What did this voyage accomplish? Was it worthwhile? What role did the navigational tools they used play on this trip?