Thursday, October 22, 2009

Educaching: using GPS technology in the classroom

Last year Steve gave himself a GPS (Global Positioning System) for Christmas.  It was one of those Black Friday specials that he couldn't pass up.  And then it sat in its box for 8 months.  We didn't use it until we took our big vacation this summer.  We named it Gertrude Penelope Smith and called her "Gertie", which was appropriate since she spoke to us in a female voice.  It didn't take long before we all fell in love with Gertie, and we began talking to her, as well.

Gertie was a hit with the kids.  They loved her, and argued over the chance to hold her and play with her features.  It started a family feud when my 14 year old secretly changed the language from American English to British English.  Gertie was replaced with Guinevere (Guinnie), and the kids revolted!  We let Guinnie visit for awhile, but we were all glad when Gertie returned.  She was a good traveling companion and helped break up the monotony of a long trip.

Jason Hubbard, the author of Educaching knows that children love technology.  He knows that GPS fascinates kids, and he wants to help parents and teachers capture that interest and use it in the classroom.   His goal is to make learning more fun and meaningful to children, by involving the technology they love in their education.

When we were first offered the chance to review Educaching as part of the Homeschool Crew, I had to check to see if "Gertie", our GPS unit, could be used for geocaching.  After an internet search, I concluded that although it wasn't ideal, it could be used for geocaching.  Our family was excited and looking forward to educaching.

When I downloaded the Educaching e-book, I read through the e-book.  The concept sounded great -- making learning active and hands-on.  I was glad the e-book included lots of ideas of HOW to use it, because that is often the most frustrating part of applying a new idea to your homeschool.

The Educaching curriculum is designed for a classroom setting, but it can be adapted for use in homeschools or homeschool groups, as well.  The book explains what educaching is, gives introductory lesson ideas, field sheets, as well as suggestions on how to use educaching across the curriculum.  Since it is written by a public school teacher for that setting, there are sections on winning over a school board or principal, and applying for grants to buy GPS systems that don't apply to homeschoolers.  Although my husband wished we could get a grant to buy a few hand-held GPS units, I doubt that would work.  It might work for a homeschool group or co-op.

As I stated earlier, this is a very interesting way to take your lessons outside, and make them active and hands-on for the kinesthetic learners.  But, it is a very time-consuming process.  You have to plan your lesson, go out and hide the educaches, set your coordinates in your unit, and then complete the lesson with your students.  Allow extra time for unforeseen problems to arise.   A family that is already geocaching will find this a breeze to implement in their education plan.

It will help if you make yourself very comfortable with your GPS unit and its instructions in advance.  I was comfortable using ours in the car for driving, but had not attempted to use it in a geocaching capacity before.  We've never geocached, so this was all new to us.  Unfortunately, we've had the coldest first half of October on record, so we hadn't tested this yet.  We had a few days of warm weather this week before rain and cool weather was expected to return, so I knew this was my last chance.

We live on 7 acres, and I figured we had plenty of space to educache on our own property.  I improvised cache containers using gallon-sized freezer bags with small cans of soup inside to weigh them down.   I hid my caches, which included math questions and trivia questions to solve before advancing, setting coordinates as I went.  I made two mistakes.  I didn't make a list of my locations in order to refer back to, and I didn't mark the caches with their number.  You'll see why this is important in a minute.

After I had set the coordinates in my favorites, I tried to find them and be led back to them.  It took me awhile to figure out the correct settings to use in this capacity.  It also took  me awhile to figure out how to know which way to walk.  (I guess my third mistake was not reading my GPS manual more carefully.)  The little marker didn't always point the direction we needed to head, so we'd start walking and find out we were going the wrong way, then try to correct our path.  This was hard to do on our GPS unit, with only two streets to use as reference points.  They were also far enough away that they didn't show up all the time.  I finally thought I had it figured out and brought the kids outside.

I put my 12 year old in charge of "Gertie", and we followed her.  Unfortunately, we discovered then that the GPS couldn't factor in buildings in our way, or other obstacles like barbwire fences.  It tried to take us on a direct path to the next hiding location, which wasn't always possible.  We also realized it wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped in leading us to the exact location.  (Now this could be my 12 year old's issue, but she walked past the location a few times and I had to stop her.)

Then things got even more crazy ... I am not sure if our GPS unit is just not set up to work in this capacity,  if it was user error, or if the trees were interfering with the satellite system ... but we found the wrong caches at times.  I thought they were far enough apart, but apparently not.  Since they weren't marked and I didn't have a list, I just went with the flow ... having this vague sense that we were out of order.  It wasn't until later that we realized we had definitely messed up.  This confusion only lengthened our educaching hunt, and by the time we found caches 10, 11, and 12 my 8 year old had completely lost his ability to focus on the puzzles inside.

Important notes to remember:

  1. Read your GPS instruction manual in advance. 

  2. Test out its ability to locate coordinates and lead them to you on foot in advance  (or else buy one designed for use in the wilderness instead of on roads)

  3. Number your cache containers

  4. Keep a list of the order of your hiding spots  (Having a teacher map was included in the Educaching curriculum, but I skipped that step.  My fault!)

  5. Don't make your hunt too long

After all that, what do I think?

I like the concept of educaching, although the preparation time involved will keep us from doing it very often.  I will be re-reading my GPS manual, and I will head out to the nearby pasture for my next attempt, where there aren't trees, fences, and buildings to interfere with the process.  I definitely think the Educaching e-book is a helpful resource to show teachers how to utilize this method of education in their classroom, and is easily adapted for homeschool use.  My children did enjoy the hunt, and are looking forward to future hunts if we can figure out the problems we were having with our GPS unit.   Hopefully future educaching experiences will take less time.

The Nitty-Gritty Details:
The Educaching e-book is sold as a PDF download for $32.00.  You can also buy a printed version for $32.00 plus $6.95 shipping/handling in the USA.   This book contains all the instructions you will need for beginning to educache with your students, but it does NOT include a GPS unit or cache containers.  They also sell a variety of kits, which do include GPS units.

If you're curious to see what educaching is about, or would like the chance to try before you buy, you can view a few sample lessons.  

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, the Educaching e-book was given to me free, in exchange for an honest review.  I was not compensated in any other way.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner at the top to read more reviews on this product by other Homeschool Crew members.
Trusting in Him,

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