Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using Geocaching to Build Map Skills and Student Engagement

I have recently become very intrigued by the idea of Geocaching.  For those of you who don't know what this interesting hobby is, take a look at Geocaching.com.  Simply put, Geocaching is the hobby of using GPS to discover hidden caches of interesting good that people have hidden in manner of places.  I live in the Dallas area and there are about 100 geocaches within 15-20 minutes of my house.  Caches are hidden to varying degrees of camoflauge and take varying degrees of expertise and fitness to find.  They also can have a variety of loot in them, sometimes even money!  The catch is that you have to put something in when you take something out. 

What's better is that I have found an app for locating and identifying the difficulty and rewards of various caches in your areas.  Even better still is that it's free!  The app is call OpenCaching and it links to Opencaching.com .  You can easily find caches in your local area or range far and wide in search of caches in destinations that you might be going to in the future.  The site is free to use and once you create an account (also free) you can search for, log, and register your own hidden caches! 

I may just be a nerdy teacher type, but this sounds like a ton of fun.  It's kind of like being a pirate looking for buried treasure.  For those of you with children, this could be a great activity to get you out of the house and spend some quality time with the boys and girls. 

It doesn't take a world-class teacher to see that this hobby has a ton of implications for the classroom. Here are a few ideas for some lesson ideas that you can utilize with Geocaching.

1) In order to develop map skills like cardinal direction knowledge, map reading, and direction/instruction writing, hide a cache on campus and register it with Opencaching.com. Allow students to use the Opencaching app on an iPod Touch to search out the cache.  When they are done, they need to be able to write a detailed instruction sheet using cardinal directions and approximate distances so that another student can find the cache.  Here's an example of an activity that I put together that utilizes map skills.  Feel free to use it.  Geocaching Activity.

2) Use the cache itself as an engagement tool.  As in #1, hide a cache on your school campus and register it.  Allow students to use the Opencaching app to find it.  Inside should be some sort of academic activity, such as a puzzle using recently taugh mathematics concepts.  Upon finishing the activity correctly, students are allowed to take a treasure out of the cache.

3) Have a class create their own cache and fill it with objects that symbolize and tell about what they are learning in class.  Have them decide on a location (from a predetermined list of locations that you set) to hide the cache off-campus and ask them to devise a means of camoflaging the cache.  Then go and hide it!

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you have used, are using, or want to use Geocaching in your classroom, leave a comment and share your ideas and experiences here.  I would love to hear how this is being used to enrich students' educational experience. 


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