Geocaching and a new iPhone App

I’m not sure how many of you out there are using geocaching with your students, or even how many are familiar with geocaching. From the Geocaching website:

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. 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.

The basic idea is this: users log on to the site, get the coordinates for some container hidden nearby, use a GPS device to head to those coordinates and find the container. The educational value here is somewhat hidden but enormous once you begin to dig deeper.

  • Caches are often hidden at historical areas. A recent find in our area took us to the grave site of the first native born Governor of North Carolina who was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Dobbs Spaight.
  • The connections to technology and GPS satellite use can be used to discuss triangulation and the infiltration of technology into everyday life. GPS chips in cell phones, car and boat navigation systems, and other uses have made what was once a military-only service available, and used by, the masses.
  • There is also the Earth Science connection where you can examine landforms, talk about environmental issues, and deal with distances around the planet, etc.

Curricular Connections

Our school has used Geocaching as an activity to explore curricular goals. Earlier this year, after my classes created Reebops to study genetic traits, I hid a number of “Reebop Families” around campus and found the coordinates for those positions. Then I created some simple math problems for students to work out and determine the coordinates for the “last known Reebop sitings.”  They used their GPS units to navigate to the location, photographed the Reebops in the wild, and examined their family traits upon returning to the classroom. We then pulled up Google Earth and plotted the locations of the Reebop families around our campus, discussed why some exhibited one set of traits, while others showed different traits.  We discussed geographic separation of organisms and the effects on genetics, all the while the kids had the opportunity to get out and move and be active around our campus.  We also practiced “Cache In, Trash Out” as the kids took plastic bags with them to collect garbage around campus as they went looking for their Reebops.
iPhone/iTouch App

Recently, GroundSpeak, the organization behind the Geocaching.com site has released a Geocaching iPhone app.  This $9.99 app is one of the few that I have purchased, normally opting for a free alternative. Trust me when I say, the money was well spent.  Using the App, you are able to search for caches within your local area by searching your zip code, using current location data from your cell phone provider/wifi hotspot, or by using addresses associated with your contacts.  The App shows you a list of nearby caches, allows you to look at their description, coordinates, hints, and recent logged activity.  You are also able to post Field Notes about caches that you find. If you are an iPhone user these can be uploaded over AT&T’s 3G network, iTouch users are able to save their notes and upload them whenever there is a wifi connection.

Paperless Caching

One of my biggest annoyances with Geocaching was the previous need to plan out a route for my caching trips, including writing down the coordinates, hints, descriptions, and other information.  It was either that or print out gads of information to take with me.  Now, with the Geocaching App, I’m able to store caches for offline viewing.  Everything is stored including Hints and Logs.  Planning my route now involves following the map for areas near where I will be, clicking on the cache to see if it’s one I’d like to attempt, and saving it for offline use.

If you are an iPhone user, you can even use the phone’s built in GPS to navigate to the cache.  Being an iTouch user, I’m quite jealous of this and would love to see it in action.

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