You’ve poured over the cheatsheets,  you’ve scoured the blog post,  you may have even been on a geocache yourself!  Still…let’s not kid ourselves; organizing a successful educational geocache for the first time can be a little intimidating.

A few weeks ago I geocached with a bunch of kindergarteners.  Talk about engaged!  These kids were intrigued not only by the GPS unit itself, but couldn’t wait to find and complete the learning challenge hidden within the next geocache.  Students were exactly the way every teacher wants to see them…collaboratively engaged in active learning. As I helped the kindergarten team prepare for the big day, it occurred to me that there are a few things that every rookie educational geocacher should know.

1.        Keep it simple. From the learning activity hidden inside each geocache to the organization of waypoints.  Believe me…simple is best – especially when you and your class are just getting a handle on geocaching.

2.       Have your students work in small groups. If enough GPS units are available, groups of 3 work best for most grade levels.  Keeping groups small allows all students to take turns using the GPS unit to lead their team in finding a cache.  It also means that everyone will have to pull their weight in order to work collaboratively on the learning challenge hidden inside the cache.

3.       Stop walking in circles. Here in LCISD we have a lot of Garmin etrex units which we love.  That being said, every time I help a class geocache I see the funniest thing…inevitably one group will walk around, very carefully in a circle.  Usually they don’t even know they’re doing it.  The trouble is that the GPS unit needs to be going about 20 feet in a single, steady direction before it can triangulate where you are and point you (see compass tool below) in the right direction.

The solution: Be sure to tell your kids that they need to look at the numbers in the “distance to next” window.  If the numbers are going down…they’re moving toward the cache. If the numbers increase…students are moving in the wrong direction.

4.       Listen for the BEEP. Commercially available GPS units are not accurate to the inch, or even the foot.  They’re a little bit off.  So once you get about 40 feet or so from the cache, your GPS unit will usually beep to alert you that you need to begin a visual search.  Some students assume the GPS unit will lead them right on top of the cache.  This is not usually the case.  Once you hear the beep, a visual search for the cache should begin.

5.       Create reusable caches. For rookies, a cache is what is being hidden and marked by the GPS unit so that students can find it later. It may (and probably will) hold some type of learning activity, review, or challenge.   A cache (the container holding the directions and supplies) can be anything, but here are a few ideas that work well:

  • Manila folders – keep it simple, right?
  • Inexpensive, watertight, plastic containers – These work great, especially if you’ll be putting an iPod, or camera inside.  Several sports and outdoor stores carry camouflage  tape year round that can be used to wrap around the container’s sides and bottom (you don’t have to cover the lid, just put the cache top down if you’re hiding it on the ground.)  Believe me – if you spend a little time making these containers you’ll use them over and over!
  • Camouflage eggs – Believe it or not, these are available at most stores around Easter time.  They’re impossible to find at other times of the year, so stock up!
  • Baby food containers – Often free if you know a parent with a little one!  Camouflage tape can also be used to cover these small containers.

6.       Make a map. Even if you’re the only instructor involved in the cache, it’s often helpful to draw a quick map of “what’s hidden where” so that you know which cache corresponds to which learning activity.  This will help you as you monitor a group of students who are moving from cache to cache.

7.       Bring a friend or a bullhorn. If you’re monitoring a large group over a large area both another teacher AND a bullhorn may be necessary.  It goes without saying that you and the other teacher should spread out and positions yourselves so that you can monitor students at all times.  The bullhorn will save your voice, legs, or both.  The “alarm” on the bullhorn may also be used as an indicator letting students know they should move on to the next cache.

8.       Communicate. Be sure to let your entire campus know (especially if you’re in Elementary!) that your class will be geocaching.  This will help (but not totally prevent) things like younger students out at recess moving your caches, or older students being reported for seeming to wander around outside.

9.       “Stuff” the cache. Working collaboratively, moving around outside, and using a GPS unit is great, but the real focus of your geocache is the learning challenge or activity hidden within the cache right?   Need some ideas along those lines?  Here’s a list to get you started courtesy of http://digitalgoonies.com/ (Great blog to follow by the way!)   Don’t forget that putting learning tools like Digital Cameras and Flip Cams inside a cache – along with any other learning materials – allow students to record their learning for simple playback (and grading) later.  iPod Touches loaded with videos from Discovery Education or voice memos from the teacher are another great tool…just be sure to remember Tip #10!

10.   Bring it in. That’s right! Be sure to bring all caches and their contents inside once you’ve finished.  Once I lent my caches to a team of teachers who all assumed someone else’s class was going to bring my containers in when their class was done.  Long story short, several of my plastic containers sat outside all week, and though they were camouflaged, the district’s mower had no trouble finding… and annihilating them.

Whether you’re an experienced educational geocacher or rookie of the year – please be sure to share any other tips for a successful geocache with us!  GPS units, iPods, Digital Cameras, and Flip Cams are all available for check out through the district, and may even be available at your home campus already!  Check with your Elementary or Secondary CITS for more information.

Happy Geocaching!

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