Inventors (KS3)

Boardroom challenge: the longitude problem

Long before Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, there was another high profile opportunity for innovators and inventors that captured the imagination of a nation. The Longitude Act was passed in 1714 and offered rewards of up to £20,000 for anyone who could solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.

This cross-curricular pack of images, films and activities provides a launch pad to investigate the history of enterprise, drawing together aspects of KS3 PSHEE and History.

Learning aims

Pupils will learn about the 18th century search for an accurate way of measuring longitude at sea as a case study to find out what skills are required for a successful enterprise.

We’ve suggested a few activities that fit well with KS3 history but you could use the sources any way you like.  

What’s in this resource?

• An overview of the history of the Board of Longitude
• Short films introducing the history of the Board of Longitude and telling the story of the development of the Nautical Almanac
• A selection of primary sources relating to the Board of Longitude
• Activity suggestions and ideas for ways you could use these resources in the classroom

Image bank

John HarrisonJohn Harrison  Sir Isaac Newton...Newton's opinion H4H4 K1K1
Gooch watchesWatches in Brazil Compare dutiesChecking for mistakes  Longitude Act 1Longitude Act 1  Longitude Act 2Longitude Act 2 
Longitude Act 3Longitude Act 3  Nevil MaskelyneNevil Maskelyne  Mary EdwardsMary Edwards  MudgeMudge 
WalkerAn alternative solution Keach RobbinsCheating the system Astronomers on voyagesAstronomers on voyages  Board of Longitude - Board roomBoard room 

Films: Board of Longitude Archive

This film introduces the Board of Longitude and the 18th-century search for an accurate way of finding longitude at sea. The papers in the Board's archive record scientific endeavour, fateful voyages, bitter feuds and lifetimes of commitment to a common cause.

Reading the fine print

KS3 History:  Using evidence

This activity examines why it’s important to read terms and conditions. In 1714, Parliament passed the Longitude Act. The Act offered rewards of up to £20,000 for anyone who could solve the problem of finding longitude at sea but the terms were flawed. Pupils examine extracts from the Act to find loopholes in the terms.

• Activity outline (doc)

Films: Nautical almanac

This film tells the story of how the Nautical Almanac was produced thanks to work of a band of human computers. This publication helped sailors find their position at sea.

The reliability of computers

KS3 History: Using evidence

How reliable is Wikipedia? Anybody can edit an entry on Wikipedia, so how do we know if what we’re reading is true? This activity uses Nevil Maskelyne’s system of human computers as an example to identify what controls ensure high quality, accurate information. Pupils then analyse Wikipedia and determine if it’s a reliable source of information.

• Activity outline (doc)
• Film quiz (doc)
• How does it work? (doc)

Pitch to the Board