Monday, September 21, 2009

Geocaching

Geocaching in the classroom

Maybe you've heard about geocaching and maybe you haven't. Our family started to geocache this summer after a workshop was held on what geocaching is and how it applies to the classroom. We hear about gps devices - TomTom, Garmin, and Magellan all come to mind. What makes this "digital treasure hunting" so unique are the many ways it can be used to to help students learn.

First of all, if you have not heard about geocaching, it is "a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment." You start by going to http://www.geocaching.com and registering for a free account. Then, you download the waypoints (where the geocaches are) to your gps device. Our family uses the Garmin etrex Vista HCx. Once you get the waypoints onto your GPS, you're on your way to finding this "digital treasure." The treasure may contain trinkets you can trade for something else you may have brought with you. Other geocaches just contain a log for you to sign your visit. When you find your treasure, you go back to the website (http://www.geocaching.com) and log your visit.

We have been doing this throughout the summer as a family activity and hope to continue throughout the school year. One of us drives, one looks at the notes (for which we use an iPod ) and one of us tells the driver where to go (using the gps). The interesting thing is that we let the kids determine the route. We give them the tool and they tell us where we need to go. It has been really interesting to discuss longitude and latitude with them as they can link that to what they've learned about longitude and latitude in the classroom. You can also overlay your "track" (where you traveled) into Google Earth as well as determine the distance you have traveled. The GPS even tells you how fast your are driving.

So, how does geocaching relate to education? Think about hiding a geocache that travels. Those are called travel bugs. Place a travel bug in a geocache and tell it where you would like it to end up in its description on the geocaching website. Folks who find the travel bug take it from geocache to geocache until it reaches its destination. You can use the website to track where the bug currently resides. Mr. Leon Stall, a secondary social studies teacher in Gibbon, has been doing this for one year. His 12th grade U.S. Government class project involves circulating "BUFFY", their school mascot, around to the elected officials that represent citizens of Gibbon, Nebraska. Their goal is to have "BUFFY'S" picture taken with all of their elected officials all the way to President of the United States. If you want to look at his site for more information, you can go to http://www.mrstall.com/. When you get to his site, scroll down to the very bottom and click on "Government" or "Geography" under "Traveling Buffys". There are many more educational examples, hopefully you get the idea.

At the service unit, we are working on a way to purchase a GPS set that we would use to train and let our schools borrow. We hope to have a session next semester during the spring. Please refer to our upcoming workshop list if geocaching interests you.




3 comments:

dstall said...

Great article! I can tell you really love doing that with your family and see a great deal of potential for teachers to use this in your classroom. I am continually impressed with the different ways that teachers of all disciplines are using GPS for their lessons. I also think there is a lot of potential for state parks and museums to use GPS for a more interactive experience for their visitors.

Tom said...

Great description! As a fellow geocacher and educator, I'm glad to see when others see the opportunity for the students in our schools. I've used GPS with my students and let them cache around the school for a couple of years. They absolutely love it!

Cathy Frank said...

My son's 5th grade class just had an Outdoor Education Day field trip where they some geochaching, and the kids had a blast. I was thinking what a fun birthday party activity this would be - to hide things around a lake, park or recreation area and ultimately let the kids find a treasure of birthday loot. How cheap can you go for GPS units that will still work decently?