It’s a modern version of a pirate treasure map. But instead of gold and jewels, students participating in “geocaching” are on a quest for knowledge.
Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” anywhere in the world.
A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook with a pen or pencil. The geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. After signing the log, the cache is placed back exactly where the person found it. Larger containers can also contain items for trading, such as toys or trinkets, usually of more sentimental worth than financial.
“Kids love to be actively involved. Geocaching is a geographic scavenger hunt that is found not just in our community, but across the globe,” said Elizabeth Weder, a geography teacher at Highland Middle School. “It’s a great way to get families involved in leaning about geography right in their own backyards or continuing those lessons on your next vacation.”
Weder and Dawn Hubbard, who also teaches geography at HMS, recently received a $2,000 Educational Impact Grant from the Highland Business Education Alliance (BEA) to bring geocaching into their curriculum. The grant paid for eight Chromebook laptops and eight Geomate Jr. GPS devices.
Weder and Hubbard applied for the grant after testing the idea amongst their students this past school year. The idea was a hit and interest in geography skyrocketed, but the teachers quickly realized the high cost of the equipment and their lack of funding.
“We were inspired to pursue the BEA Impact Grant, because we viewed it as an opportunity to acquire resources that will help us more effectively teach students about using real world geography skills in their own community along with technology to engage students,” Weder said.
Each year, the grant is awarded to proposals that are unique and impact a large number of students. The program chosen must also be sustainable for multiple years, which is why the BEA chose Weder and Hubbard’s proposal.
“Dawn and I were thrilled, honored, and humbled by the generosity of the BEA to help provide resources needed to be innovative,” Weder said. “We are excited to positively impact our students with the support of our wonderful community.”
Among other proposals were a number of applicants ranging from projects like a Tower Garden Growing System, which would focus on a therapeutic learning tool for students with social and emotional needs, and Lyons Chromebooks & Promethean Activboards.
“The committee thought this was very unique way students can embrace technology in our community,” said BEA Chairman Kevin Hemann. “We also want the students to learn more about their community by getting out and exploring Highland and the surrounding community. Geocaching will include parent involvement to encourage ‘techreation’, combining technology and fitness within the community of Highland.”
As of right now, the program is an extension of seventh-grade geography, but they hope to see it expand beyond their classroom.
“Initially, this will take place in the seventh-grade geography curriculum, but the potential could be schoolwide with the development of a possible intramural or club,” Weder said. “As more families get involved in Geocaching, it can impact all ages who like to get outside and explore their world.”
The BEA promotes and encourages new opportunities for learning, with an emphasis on credibility. Each year the BEA awards mini-grants in the fall of the school year and the Impact Grant in the spring of the school year. A mini-grant is worth $250, while the amount for the Impact grant can fluctuate depending on how many sponsors contribute.
“This project will affect approximately 640 middle school students and potentially the entire community as people become aware and participate,” Hemann said.