Campus Architectural Survey or “I Never Really Noticed That Before”

By Thomas Lapre, October 28, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Three fifty-minute class periods


Schools vary widely in their design and concept. The perception of what a school is also varies depending on whether you are a student, teacher, parent, or detached outsider. To parents, memories of a favorite activity or teacher are often placed in the setting of classrooms, playgrounds, gymnasiums, or auditorium stages that were the backdrop for these memories. Students' perceptions of school are often emotionally tied to the activities they experience there. Teachers also develop strong emotional ties to the buildings in which they work. The buildings which are the setting for our school experiences often go unnoticed unless major changes occur to them. As these buildings age, change will inevitably take place, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically. This multistage project begins with students examining their school buildings with an eye for physical detail. Later as data is collected, schools will be compared based on similar features, age, original design function, size, and changes that have evolved. In this first lesson, students will be taught how to measure the footprint of the campus as well as specific measurements of the interior and exterior of the structures themselves. They will be shown how to use a Lensatic compass so that they can accurately plot the geographical location of the campus as well as various structures on that campus. After compiling the data, they will analyze it and respond to questions based on what they have observed. In future lessons they will chart the data on a spreadsheet sketch the campus to scale, determine the layers of changes that have occurred, use their findings to compare to data from other schools, and finally project where school design is heading for the future.

National Standards

Mathematics Standard 1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem solving process Standard 3. Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the process of computation Standard 4. Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis Geography Standard 3. Understands the characteristics and uses of spatial organization of the earth's surfaces Standard 14. Understands how human action modifies the physical environment Technology Standard 2. Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs Standard 4. Understands the nature of technological design

Common Core State Standards

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Science & Technical Subjects 

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.


Students will:
  • compute the area of the campus
  • compute the average area of each classroom in the school
  • compute the volume of each classroom
  • determine the various geographical bearings of the campus and its buildings
  • compile data in a spreadsheet
  • answer questions based on their observations about the campus and its design
  • sketch a drawing to scale of the campus and its buildings


  • computer
  • Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Works


  • 100 foot tape measure
  • Lensatic compass
  • graph paper
  • pencils & pens
  • notebook
  • chalk
  • yardstick or meter stick
  • protractor


  • area: the surface included within a a set of lines; the number of unit squares equal in measure to the surface
  • bearing: the situation or horizontal direction of one point with respect to another or to the compass
  • volume: mass or the representation of mass in art or architecture
  • scale: an indication of the relationship between the distances on a map and the corresponding actual distances
  • spread sheet: an accounting program for a computer; the ledger layout modeled by such a program
  • magnetic north: the northerly direction in the earth’s magnetic field indicated by the north-seeking pole of the compass needle
  • true north: marked in the skies by the north celestial pole; for most practical purposes, this is the position of the star Polaris
  • footprint: the area on a surface covered by something, for instance, a building


1.  Divide students into teams of three. Instruct the students that two team members will measure and one will record the data. 2.  As a class, look at a map of the school. Assign each team a specific area of the school to measure and sketch. Each team will measure the perimeter and area of their space.
  • One team will be assigned to measure the perimeter of the campus and to sketch the locations of various structures on the campus with respect to points on a compass.
  • Another team will be assigned to measure and sketch the outside dimensions of campus buildings.
  • Other teams will be assigned the task of measuring and sketching the interior structures such as rooms, hallways, and stairs. Assign a separate team to each floor or large area.
3.  Once all the measurements are made and recorded the teams will meet and compile their data on a spreadsheet. After compiling the data students will answer the attached questions about the data and discuss both what they found and what they learned about their campus.


Students will answer a series of questions about the data they have collected. Students will demonstrate the use of a Lensatic compass and be able to explain the correct orientation of the compass and how it is used to align the campus sketch. Students will be able to design a spreadsheet to compile and analyze collected data.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students could use their new survey skills to examine their home environments and their neighborhoods to understand how design plays a role in their living space. Students could compare different home and neighborhood designs looking for advantages and disadvantages in each.

Teacher Reflection

After writing this plan, I discovered some things that I had not anticipated. Fortunately, I used a small group of my students to do a "Trial Run" before using the lesson on a larger group. First, we had a little trouble doing the campus measurements because of the wind. There was a slight breeze that day and it made it nearly impossible to keep the measuring tape (it was cloth) straight and level. We ended up measuring in increments of fifty feet in order to control the tape. It was a mini math lesson to add the incremental measurements. In the future we may convert them to fractions of the whole. Next, we had a little difficulty communicating with each other because of the distances involved in measuring the campus. Three hundred feed may not seem that far away, but our school is located on a busy street so traffic noise makes it difficult to hear one another. After a few minutes we developed some hand signals to indicate our intentions (Thank you NFL referees). This worked out quite well.
Finally, New Orleans has a terrible soil subsidence problem. This was something I had not anticipated as a problem when it came time to measuring distances. It was a challenge to measure over sidewalks which were cracked, separated and elevate or sinking in places. Tree roots also presented a problem in keeping the tape level. Overall the lesson went quite well. The students were asked to estimate distances before actual measurements were taken. They were a little surprised at how difficult it can be to estimate distances. The students seemed to enjoy doing the actual field work. They also had to learn to compensate for areas which were not level. In the future it might be interesting to compare measurements taken with measuring tape to those made with one of the new laser devices. Safety factors will have to be addressed here.

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