Thursday, June 11, 2009

Geocaching First Fun Test

I'm not sure how long ago I heard about geocaching. From the first time I heard about it, I knew I had to try it with my students. I had my first opportunity yesterday. The image includes my son holding the first cache we found.

Planning, Planning, Planning
This year, I had a bit of money left in the technology funding budget to purchase a Garmin etrex Venture HC. I have no experience with geocaching, so I've been collecting bookmarks for a while.

I kept trying to figure out how to arrange a field trip or a class period or two with the GPS and finally realized that our annual walk-a-thon/ field day would be perfect.

The DEN decided to have a Geocaching Day and in preparation they had a few webinars scheduled. Last week, I sat through the archived event and was really happy with the content. The event was led by Bridget Belardi. She has a nice wiki page on geocaching and it includes lots of teacher resources and her set of slides from the webinar.

I put together a short flipchart in Activstudio to get a feel for what students knew about geocaching, explain the activity, and let students register to try it on the field day.

Explaining Geocaching in the Classroom
I took some photos from the web to show what a geocache could look like. I asked questions like:
  • What is a geocache?
  • What is required?
  • What would you be looking for?
Next we took a look at an image of satellites circling the globe and I helped the students understand the concept of needing at least three satellites to get a lock on your position on the GPS unit.

Only one student had ever heard of geocaching and that same student had found all the caches at this park with his family. A fair number of students wanted to try geocaching at the park.

In advance of the field day I thought I would have to hide a geocache, but was stunned to find someone had already hidden a themes worth of caches. There are seven named after the Seven Dwarfs. Each cache has a number that will lead to the Snow White cache.

The Day Arrives
After a walk from the school to the park, I got out my list of seventh grade students who expressed an interest in trying geocaching. The students were tired from the walk and wanted to sit and watch a baseball game. Some sixth grade students overheard that I was trying to get a group to try the geocaching and wanted to go instead.

As we walked, I explained what we were going to do. They had a lot of fun following the arrow on the GPS unit. I knew, in advance, that the geocaches were all off the path that goes around the park. It took a bit to convince the students that we couldn't simply follow the GPS directions to head west because we would have to walk through a pond.

I was impressed with how well the unit worked! It was a really overcast day and I heard that some GPS units have trouble with cloud cover. This unit worked like a champ. We finally closed in to within 20 feet of the cache. I explained that we may not get a better lock on the location than 20 feet, so we started looking. My son had the unit at that point and actually got within 5 feet of the cache with the GPS.

I was a little worried that the students would get tired of hunting before we found the cache. They were really surprised that I didn't know where the cache was and that a stranger hid it. Luckily, I noticed a hole in a tree and what looked like a film canaster. I asked for a volunteer to reach in and get it. Sure enough, it was the cache. It was hidden in an M&M tube that was covered in camoflague contact paper. Inside was a little pen and a scroll of paper to sign.

They immediately wanted to find another cache. We tried another. This time, it was a really tiny two inch canaster covered in black tape and attached to a tree limb with a twist tie. It took a lot of searching, but armed with the excitment of having found one, they were determined to find this cache.

They would have liked to have found a third, but I wanted to see if I could take another group out. Unfortunately, by the time we got back, it was almost time to walk back to school.

Ideas for Next Year
A lot of teachers were really interested in what we were doing. I want to find a grade level and do a really thorough job of tying geocaching into the curriculum. There are so many ways to do this: longitude and latitude, measuring feet and fractions of miles, compass points, or hiding our own cache with a travel bug inside.

One of the many benefits of summer vacation is the luxury of planning time. I can't wait to do this over the coming years with many more students.


  1. Great article. We'll be using your ideas in WI.

  2. I'm glad you found the article useful. Good luck in your adventures. I think this is an amazing project filled with fun and learning.

  3. Right post at the right time. My summer goal is to learn about geocaching and figure out how to use it with my students. Thank you for the blog post with the great resources. You did a wonderful job of explaining the process. Thanks again.

  4. You're welcome Patti. I was not sure how it was going to work out, but I'm so happy we did it. The resources were really helpful in giving me the confidence to do it before the year ended. I think you'll have a lot of fun.

  5. Sounds like you and your students had a great day! I work as a Technology Mentor in NB, Canada and we have been Training our students in GPS technology for the past three years. We began searching for caches, and have now developed units that tie into the various subject curriculums. For example we recently took a Grade 3 class out on a gps hunt, in which he we hid and marked several caches containing slips of paper with names of Fairy Tale characters, settings, conflicts, story starters, etc. Each student took a slip of paper from each cache. At the end of the geocaching activity, the students then returned to the classroom to write their own fairy tale based on the info they found in the caches. For example a student might have had "ogre", "haunted castle" "lost wallet" "It all began with a phone call..." From that they would write their fairy tale. The kids had a blast and actually loved writing them. We are actually going to finish up by ahving them read them aloud and we'll record them, turn them into audio files, and compile them onto cd's as a souvenir of our GPS outing :)

    We do all sorts of similar activities with students from Grades 3-12 including Pirate units, Science, Math, Geography, etc. We even did a modified version of the board game Clue and created a murder mystery,and hid clues inside of caches. I guess what I am trying to say is that you can have so much fun with Geocaching!

  6. Thank you for that great idea of hiding story clues inside caches. I love the tie-in you made to writing through the hidden slips of paper. I'm going to have to try that idea, too. Once I get this going, it seems the possibilities are endless!

  7. Isn't geocaching awesome. I got a grant for 10 and have been keeping track of some of the activities. You might find it useful.


  8. Thanks for the link, Anna. It was an incredible experience. Now I'm curious to learn about Bernie Dodge's idea about Place Puzzles. I was online a bit while Cheryl Oakes was on Cover It Live and it seems like there might be another good idea there too. I didn't follow the whole thing, but what I saw so far intrigues me. Did you attend this session?

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