Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Geocaching - 'Active Technology' - Part 1

(Sidebar) My little brother started geocaching several years ago. When I first learned about it I thought "this is the geekiest hobby ever!" Then 2 years ago I started hearing about teachers using geocaching in the classroom and decided it was worth it. #1 - b/c geocaching merges my love of the outdoors with my love of technology. #2 - I believe that our kids need more time being active and using real world problem solving skills. So I began geocaching with my 3 & 5 yr olds, and we have been hooked ever since.

Real World Geocaching introduction:
Geocaching in the 'real world' involves going to geocaching.com, choosing caches you want to find, & entering them into your GPS receiver. There are over one million caches hidden accross the world. There are probably some hidden in your neighborhood and you don't even know it. Some are fairly simple to find, you may not even have to walk 10 steps from your car. Others can take you on some crazy adventures. No matter the cache, the act of caching will take you to places you have never been before.
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.

Here are some of the basic rules:
  • Sign the log book inside the cache as a means of claiming your find.
  • Leave no trace
  • Caches cannot be burried
  • Caches cannot be hidden on elementary or secondary schools, highways, bridges, dams, government buildings, , and airports.
Geocaching in Schools
Introduction: The key to geocaching in schools is make the content the center of the acitivity. Geocaching activities require good planning and team work on the parts of the teacher & the technology specialist (if you have one).

Materials needed:
  • Caches - PE cone, altoid tin, film canaster, gladware, ammo can, pringles can, etc...
  • GPS receiver - We use the Magellan Triton 300 & 400 (seen below)
Preparation: The teacher and tech person could start with the following questions:
- What will the students do at each cache with the content?
- What is the objective?
- How will the student be assessed?
- How many caches will each student find during a given day/period? (no more than 8 for a 55 minute class)
- Do we want to create multiple courses to prevent the students from following each other?
- Do the students need a practice day to learn how to use the GPSR?
- How many students per GPS unit? (2-3 is preferred. More than 5 students per GPS is hard)
- Where will we Geocache? (practice fields, park, field trip)
- When will Geocache? (Weather, fields available, etc)
- What will the backup plan be in case of bad weather?
- Do we have enough spare batteries to replace any that go bad while in use?

It's important to note that geocaching in the classroom will not include the use of geocaching.com, but rather you will need to plot your own points to use in your geocaching activity. This can be done using the GPS unit that your students will use to find the caches with. With the Magellan Vantage Point software (free) it is very simple to plan & plot your caches. You can mark points along the perimeter of the area you are going to use. Then downloadthose points onto the computer. Next you can, with the click of the mouse, place extra points within your caching area. Those points can then be uploaded onto each of GPS units.

Administration of Activity:
The setting up of a Geocaching course can be time consuming. I recommend recruiting some assistants, and procuring a device to help you transport supplies as you travel from point to point placing your geocaches. If you need to set up & take down multiple days, try spray painting a mark on the ground in order to speed up the set up time.
The following are a few checkpoints to think about on the day of the activity:
  • Does the front office know where my class will be?
  • Do I need to have a first aid kit, radio, or cell phone in case of emergency?
  • Do I have spare batteries?
  • Sunscreen?
  • Water?
  • A folding chair? (trust me, you will want one)
Lesson Ideas:

Stay tuned...Lesson ideas to come in future posts.