What is Geocaching and how can we use it enhance student learning?

If you haven’t heard of geocaching yet, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve heard of it but are wondering how to incorporate it into an authentic learning experience, then hold on tight. It’s great to do with a group of students, with your own kids or even just on your own. If you’re still looking for some inspiration for Outdoor Classroom Day this Thursday, you might be in luck!

With the app now available, Geocaching is no longer a “sport” reserved for anorak-wearing, GPS-toting stamp collectors. It’s more accessible than ever and it’s actually pretty cool. So, how can we use this real-world treasure hunt to ignite curiosity and wonder in our students and children? What better way to discuss with children that there is far more going on around them, if only they’d divert their attention to it! Here’s a brief overview of Geocaching and 3 ways that we’ve utilised it to enhance student learning.

What is it?

According to their website, Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt happening right now all around you. With 3 million caches in 191 countries across the world, the chances are that there is one pretty close to you right now. There are a variety of different caches that you can find, the simplest type generally consisting of a hidden plastic container holding a logbook. But if you’re lucky, you might find coins for swapping and a variety of trackable travel bugs too.

To access the Geocaching database, you download the app, register with an email address and start searching. If you really get the bug, you can the pay €29/year (or equivalent in your local currency) for the premium membership which gives you access to more, better quality caches.

A note on ‘Muggles’: Geocaching uses the word ‘Muggles’ to refer to non-geocachers and sometimes a cache description will even contain a warning of ‘high muggle activity’. To a ‘muggle’, someone looking under a bench or sticking their head in a bush could look a little odd. It can spark curiosity and in the past, ‘Muggles’ have been known to remove or damage geocaches.

1) Get out there

In the past, we’ve used a world map and started with a discussion about latitude and longitude. Once you’ve uncovered the fact that people use these complicated numbers play a treasure hunting game, curiosity is peaking and it’s time to get out there.

To keep it simple, we tend to stick with traditional caches. Because caches come in all shapes and sizes, the hunt can be a rollercoaster of emotions. A black cylinder hidden under a rock might be easy to find. On the other hand, searching for a magnetic nano which is no larger than your thumbnail might have you rethinking your life choices to date.

Whether you’re heading out with a group of students or just your own children, it’s important to have a discussion about the expectations for the activity beforehand. As it’s a game played by people all over the world, there is an inherent responsibility to leave caches how we find them so that they can be found by others afterwards.

Homemade Geocaches on one of our GPS units

If you’re worried about students interfering with Geocaches, another option is to create your own. This is more labour intensive for you, but it can also be a lot of fun. If you have some GPS devices, you can input locations to allow students to find caches or it’s also possible to have a printed sheet with a map and relevant details. Approaching it this way means that you could set up your own series of geocaches around your school grounds which would not be part of the Geocaching database and therefore less affected by post-lesson interference…

2) Create your own

Creating your own geocaches is a great. Each cache on the app comes with a whole host of information which can be easily replicated in a student-friendly way to encourage writing.

Finding a suitable hiding place comes first. Provide your students with a selection of containers, as well as the tools to camouflage and hide their cache and see what they come up with. Magnets are always a popular choice but the more variety the better. If your Geocaching adventure only included a couple of simple finds, you can give them photos of more examples to get their creative juices flowing.

Once hidden, our students use Book Creator to make their Geocache pages which can be then shared with others that go in search of the cache. We take the time to deconstruct and analyse what this page needs to include and we usually come up with the following:

  • Size, difficulty & terrain ratings
  • Location information
  • History of the area
  • Muggle warning
  • Hint
  • Map/directions

One year, these even featured as part of our Student-Led Learning Conferences. Students hid the caches and then parents had to interpret the pages before heading out on the hunt.

3) Travel Bug Race

A travel bug is a piece of metal with a code on it (affiliate link) which can be tracked through the geocaching system as it gets moved across the world by different people. One year, we bought one per 4th grade class and equipped each one with its own personalised 3D printed tag. They were all dropped in a “TB-Hotel” in the centre of Düsseldorf with the goal of being the first to reach 10,000miles. The passing of time over the next weeks and months did little to quell the student’s enthusiasm. To be honest, they didn’t want to talk about much else. “Never mind your benefit risk assessment, where is our Travel Bug now and are we winning?”

Being an International School, students usually have a fairly good awareness of different countries in the world and our connections to them. That being said, using the tracker bug race helps our students to further develop an appreciation for where we are in the world.

So there you have it, a brief overview of Geocaching and how you might be able to work it into your own Outdoor Learning program. Get out there and find those hidden treasures. Stay safe.

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