Mapping Out the Compass Rose April 29, 2015 07:39

The compass rose has appeared on charts and maps since the 1300's when the portolan charts first made their appearance. The term "rose" comes from the figure's compass points resembling the petals of a rose. Can you see the resemblance?

Originally, the compass rose was used to indicate the directions of the winds (and it was then known as a wind rose), but the 32 points of the compass rose come from the directions of the eight major winds, the eight half-winds and the sixteen quarter-winds. Each point is indicated by degrees, with 0º for North, 90º for East, 180º for South and 270º for West.

The 32 points are therefore simple bisections of the directions of the four winds (but the Chinese divided the compass into 12 major directions based on the signs of the Zodiac). North is usually at the top, and each direction is abbreviated using its first letter (N for North, E for East, etc.)

The compass rose above is divided into subsections so NE is northeast, NNE is north-northeast, NbE is north by northeast, etc. One of the first things western apprentice seamen had to know were the names of the points. Naming them all off perfectly was known as "boxing the compass." Read more at

Here are some simpler but very colorful versions of the compass rose:

For compass rose trivia and some in-depth history, visit

Similar to the wind rose, the compass rose was thought to resemble the rose flower. The compass rose was used to help orient a map in the proper reading direction and gave the relative directions for certain points on the chart. Show some compass rose images to your students. Bring a few maps that contain a compass rose and let your students hold them so north is at the top. Have the students find a few places on the maps as you give them directions to move north 10 miles then west 20 miles, and then northeast 10 miles. See if they can follow your directions to find a common destination.

You can print this compass rose as a worksheet for your students to color and label with the directions N, S, E and W. Older students can also label NW, NE, SW and SE and then draw a map from their desks to the bookshelf, hallway, water fountain, or to a friend's desk. Have students exchange their maps. See who can follow the map correctly and wind up at the intended destination:
Click here to download the Excel Math Compass Rose worksheet 
In Excel Math Grade 3 Lesson 10, students learn to follow directions on a map. The Lesson Sheet shows a map of a community. In the United States, maps are laid out with north toward the top of the page, west to the left, east to the right, and south toward the bottom of the page. Not all cultures draw their maps this way! When we look at a map, we look for the north-south-east-west symbol that will show how the places on the map relate to “the real world.”
In Excel Math Lesson 29 of Grade 6, students are asked to read maps of their city or state drawn to scale. Using your own state or city map, lead a discussion with the class about how to represent long distances on maps and how those representations need to be in accurate proportion to the actual distances. Try to have different maps with different scales. Let your students find a few distances on the map, calculating the distances using the map scale.

New to Excel Math? Learn more and download samples on our website:

Tell us how you incorporate map reading into your math class. Leave a comment in the box below.