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Primary Education News
News A geocaching treasure hunt helped my students learn about the landscape
Deputy headteacher Stephen Lockyer went geocaching along Hadrian's Wall to show students how to use maps, co-ordinates and GPS
Fine, I'll admit it, I have a very low boredom threshold. This has benefits and costs being a teacher, but I like to think of it as a boon. If I get bored easily, then I try to plan activities which my children can get interested in quickly, remain interested and learn a lot about themselves and the topic we are covering.
The best lesson I ever taught was away from the classroom, involved very little preparation on my part (it had all been prepared already by volunteers), and totally captivated a group of tired and hungry nine and 10 year olds over three days. We had already booked to walk the most popular stretch of Hadrian's Wall when it suddenly occurred to me that I should check to see if there were any geocaches along the route we were walking.
Geocaching can rightfully claim to be one of the fastest growing outdoor activities. Started in 2001, it has become more and more popular, catching the eye of teachers and schoolchildren the world over. Put simply, geocaching is a real world treasure hunt with a technological twist. Geocachers hide containers filled with small gifts in all manner of places, upload the co-ordinates to the official website and then leave them for others to find. To find a geocache, you simply put the coordinates in your GPS-enabled phone. Once found, you sign a tiny notebook and swap a treasure - in reality this is a cracker-type toy; pleasing but with little monetary value.
There is a simple pleasure to finding geocaches, as they are often in some of the unlikeliest of places. While some are hidden in the base of a tree, others are underneath rocks or magnetically attached to signposts. All of them are in publicly accessible locations, save a few in popular tourist locations where permission has been given for a geocache to be on their property. Close to two million geocaches are hidden around the world, all hidden by volunteers, and the co-ordinates often come with local information and history. It is an exciting activity which gives pupils the thrill of feeling a little like a secret agent.
Before we left, I went online and found 13 sites which we would pass on the way to the wall. I printed the coordinates, a large colour Ordance Survey map of the location (Bing maps allows this facility for non-commercial use) and the hint to find the geocache. I laminated these sheets and told my Hadrian's walkers to bring a cracker toy to exchange. My preparation was done.
Once we were on our trip, I explained how geocaches worked and we began our fun. Each day, we would look at the area to walk and identify the locations of that days' geocaches. At each point of the walk, I got a group of 10 children together and gave them the clue (useful, as co-ordinates can vary by as much as three metres on different devices), and set them off to find the geocache. They were much easier to find with 10 pairs of eyes. We let a few children make swaps and always left a note of thanks. They got how geocaching works straight away. Other good geocaching trails include old railway and cycle paths, open parks and towpaths.
Buoyed by their enthusiasm, once back, we set up our own geocaches in the school neighbourhood. Making your own geocache box couldn't be simpler. Collect together a few pencils, a spiral notebook and as many little treasures as you can fit in a small 'lock and lock' style lunchbox. 4" by 6" is a great starting size, then label it as a 'geocaching box'. Labels can be printed out online.
Geocaching helps pupils really focus on the landscape, encourages them to consider their environment and has the added benefit of helping them create their own niche tourist attraction.
Very often with map reading, it is a false environment, with an obvious destination. By using maps in conjunction with geocaches, the pupils have to take into account their surroundings in a much more focussed manner. They need to compare their landscape to the map, plot a direction to the co-ordinates safely, use waypoints and other natural formations and contours to identify geocache locations. Finally, they need to learn a good basic understanding of coordinates.
Geocaching can be used to cover all of the proposed geography programme of study in the draft national curriculum. It is, however, the the last three strands of key stage 2's geography expectations which are calling out to be covered with geocaching in mind. Namely, using maps, atlases, globes and digital/computer mapping to locate countries and describe features studied, as well as using the eight points of a compass, four-figure grid references, symbols and keys (including the use of Ordnance Survey maps) to build their knowledge of the United Kingdom and the wider world. Students will also learn how to carry out fieldwork to observe, measure and record the human and physical features in the local area using a range of methods, including sketch maps, plans and graphs, and digital technologies.
Despite all the planning and incredible Roman finds we saw on our trip to Hadrian's Wall, geocaching was without a doubt one of the highlights for the children. With minimal effort and maximum learning, what's not to like?