Geocaching, Part 2 – How can it be used in education?

My last post was about geocaching – what it is and some of the fun I’ve had doing it.
A relevant question comes up when educators discuss geocaching: So what does all this have to do with education? How can this be used in (or out of) the classroom?
I’ve tried to come up with good answers to that question, and what’s wonderful, is that in my experience of writing these two blog articles, I learned more, grew more, and am more inspired than I would have been if I hadn’t blogged about this. So, here’s my best ideas at this time. I hope to improve on this list, and refine these ideas. It’s likely that I’ll blog again at that time!

  1. Send groups of students, in turn, to the 4 corners of the school campus and record the coordinates. Show these coordinates to students either on the GPS unit itself, or on GoogleEarth to the whole class with a projector.
  2. Send groups of students to coordinates that will put them at certain places on the school campus (library, office, cafeteria, bus stop, etc.) Again, use GoogleEarth with the whole class.
  3. Send along an iPod, with audio files to play when they are at those certain points. The names of the audio files’ names should be somewhat cryptic, so as not to give away the location (such as the coordinates themselves).
  4. Make this a kind of virtual cache, (where people aren’t supposed to find an actual hidden container, but they find a plaque of some kind that has information on it. This information is emailed to the hide-er of the cache). The school version of this could be asking about the plaque from the founding of the school, or something about the flag pole
  5. If this is on a field trip, like one of the California missions, virtual cache waypoints could direct students to certain places around the mission. Many educators have used worksheets with questions that can only be answered as students progress around the location of a field trip. Maybe geocaching techniques could have something to contribute here…
  6. Finally, my favorite application to this outdoor sport (yes, it’s considered a sport, not just a hobby – when you do some caching that requires some significant hiking, you’ll agree)… Anyway, my favorite application of this involves Scicon – The Clemmie Gil School of Science and Conservation! I’ve blogged about Scicon before (this year and last year). I’m still thinking about how to incorporate this activity with all the hikes and locations up there. Maybe have caches for students to find at places like the hermit’s cabin (at the top of Sky Trail), Eagle Point, etc. Maybe places like some of the spots that teachers take our students, could have coordinates to find would make good caches, too.

Objectives. What would an educational activity in California in 2007 be without objectives?! Actually, it’s a very valid question – What’s the point? The above activities are nifty, interesting, and easy for techies to get excited about, but what about the non-techies, and the unconvinced?

  1. Math: The concept of the x-y axis is something that comes up in 6th grade math standards, and is much more vital in 7th grade math standards.
  2. Science: The concept of the x-y axis being analogous to the latitude/longitude is key! Our understanding of world geography, and that we have a place on this planet that is unique, and can be described with numbers is an important idea. The more our world moves in this direction, the more this idea will be crucial to our students functioning in their jobs. GoogleEarth should definitely be used as a tool, as well.
  3. Language Arts: Especially if students are reading and writing blogs with students in other parts of the world, they could communicate about their location. Understanding that their friends across the globe have different coordinates could really bring the reality of this to life. They’re not just numbers! Someone with whom they’ve communicated is at coordinates much different than ours – wow!
  4. Social Studies: Finding the coordinates of certain places around the world would be interesting for the same reason as above, but would also help to put these other locations into context. Of course, this is particularly helpful for 6th grade Social Studies standards in California, which is about Ancient Civilizations. As I’ve learned from my friend Tom, Florida’s 6th grade standards are about World Geography, which is an even closer match!
  5. Others? I’m sure there are many more ideas of how to integrate GPS’s and geocaching into education. If you have any other ideas, please comment on this article to continue the conversation!

Geocaching, Part 1 – What is it?

It’s official – I’m a geocacher!
I’ve been doing a lot of geocaching this Easter break. For those of you who don’t know what geocaching is, here are some links I’ve assembled: http://del.icio.us/wark/geocaching

Basically, geocaching is a big treasure-hunting game that people with GPS devices play with each other. A cache is hidden somewhere, and the hide-er makes note of the GPS coordinates (latitude & longitude), gives a creative name and description, and logs it on a site like geocaching.com. There might be some trinkets in the cache (you’re encouraged to take something, and leave something), but there’s always a log book. You’re supposed to sign the log book, and hide it back where you found it. Then, you go back to geocaching.com and log your find. This way, your profile shows all the caches you’ve found, and others looking for that cache later can see the logs, as well. As geocachers interact with each other in this way, a community if built. For instance, we have found several caches hidden by “The Plunketts”, and we’ve gotten familiar with their style.

Muggles,” named after people without magical abilities in the Harry Potter books, are those that don’t know about geocaching. In the case of urban caches, where there would be the potential for someone unaware of the whole concept to destroy, move, throw away, or otherwise sabotage the cache, being aware of muggles is verrrrry important. In fact, one cache that caused us significant difficulty was placed in an area where there was a security guard!

I must admit, I wouldn’t be much of a ‘cacher if I was alone. My wife and I ‘cache under the name “orangewormz.” We got the idea from the fact that we both like Apple computers (and worms like Apples – hence the “worm” part), and my wife has red hair (which is more orange -y than red – hence the “orange” part). Then, we wanted to spell it a nifty way, so we changed the “s” to a “z”.

So what does all this have to do with education? How can this be used in the classroom (actually, outside the classrom, but you know what I mean!)? I’ve been racking my brain to come up with good answers to that question. After trying to come up with some answers to that question, and writing several ideas for different subject areas, it became apparent that it deserved its own posting!