I received a GPS unit for Christmas in 2007, at the time I thought it was neat, but didn’t really know what to do with it. I’ve always been one to follow where I was going on a map, and had a need to know where I was, so the GPS was an inspired gift choice. I went to the http://www.geocaching.com website I discovered a network of hidden caches all over the planet. I found my first geocache four days later, digging through the snow, in the dark, just 200m from my living room.
I was instantly smitten with the hobby. I’ve since been hunting for geocaches when the weather co-operated and I’ve been telling everyone I know about the exciting pastime. I took my nephews geocaching – they are 10 and 7 – and they love hunting for the hidden treasure – usually plastic containers with small prizes – take something, leave something. It is a great family activity, I’ve met many in my caching adventures. I get to take my technology addiction and combine it with my love for hiking and the outdoors.
After I realized how much my nephew loved geocaching I needed to find a way to use the technology with my students. Last spring I took my GPS unit on my field trip, where there were three caches, and I had my class find two of the caches at Beauvais Lake, near Pincher Creek, AB. Near the third cache was a moose with a day old calf, so we decided not to argue with her, a learning experience in itself. The students were more excited with the geocaching than they were with the rest of the trip, and they wanted to know every time I went out caching, and loved to look at the geocaching google map. We found several travel bugs, which I moved on, and the students still check with me to see where in the world they’ve ended up, even a year later.
The next year I applied for an Innovative Projects Grant from the local school board and received funding for five GPS units. I bought Garmin E trex Venture HC units. They have a nice colour display, easy USB transferring of waypoints and coodinates, and a geocaching mode. I’ve been using the five units every week, depending on the unpredictible weather of southern Alberta of course.
I started with hiding caches with simple clues. The students would collect one colour coded clue from each cache, then once all of the clues were collected, put them together to form a final answer. I did this with regions of Canada, arctic animals, and weather wind vocabulary.
I started to get more complex, hiding math problems in the caches. I even hid caches full of coins, with money problems on the lid. The students had to bring back the correct answer in coins. They loved finding actually money, and didn’t even notice they were solving decimal addition and subtraction problems.
At this point other teachers and tech division leaders started to take notice. Articles on the project were featured in the local Sunnysouth News and Lethbridge Herald. A news story was also put together by the CITYTV Calgary station – Click here to see it!
One of the favourite geocaching activites for my students was using the non fiction picture book, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. We read the book, about the first scientist to attempt to create models of dinosaurs based on fossils. Some of his models were destroyed and hidden in Central Park. In the caches were the “lost” bones of Waterhouse Hawkins. They collected the paper bones from each cache, then came back to the class and created all sorts of creative dinosaur skeleton combinations.
I presented the project at our division Tech PD day and I’ve gone out to another school to geocache another grade 5 class – it’s spreading! The students have started to hide their own caches for their classmates to find. The next step is creating caches to add to the www.geocaching.com network, as well as starting our own travel bug to track as it travels around the world.