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Go Geocaching and Don’t Forget Your Sheep

Here’s a little geocaching scenario for you. You’re about to embark on your next geocaching adventure. Your mind starts racing through the all-too-familiar checklist: GPS (check), pen (check), extra batteries (check)… wait, you’re forgetting something. What could it be? Extra batteries? Nope. You almost forgot to bring your stuffed-animal sheep. Whew, that was a close call.

That’s the actual geocaching checklist for Ontario’s Cheryl Shaw and her husband Dave Devine. They call themselves “Team Sheep.”

Cheryl and Dave (minus sheep)

Cheryl and Dave started geocaching just over a year ago. Almost all of their 401 finds share something in common— a picture of their stuffed animal sheep with the cache. Cheryl says, “I now own more pictures of that sheep than I do of my family.”

The whole practice of posing a stuffed animal by a cache began innocently enough.

Cheryl says, “It all started with some travel coin I picked up. They wanted a picture with the coin and me. But somehow I didn’t feel like being photographed that day. So I looked around my house for something cutesy to photograph with the coin and found ‘sheep’ sitting on my sewing table. ‘Good enough,’ I thought, and out the door I went to go caching. Since then, I have photographed the sheep at every cache we have found.”

Sheep proposes

The sheep, and his wardrobe, evolved. He now has several outfits, everything from a karate uniform, fatigues and a hockey jersey to seasonal outfits for Easter, Halloween and Christmas. He even has a tux.

Cheryl says that the sheep recently got serious about a relationship: “Last week he even proposed to a fellow cacher ring and all!”

The other cacher had just gotten engaged. Cheryl says the sheep has developed his own personality. The log that accompanies the proposal picture reads: “We told the geo sheep about how Lisa got engaged and he was a little heartbroken, ‘Tell her that if things don’t work out with that nano guy I’m available!’ he said.’Sure thing’ we said, ‘You were definitely her second choice.'”

“It certainly adds to the fun to geocache with an avatar,” Cheryl says. “Cache owners have appreciated the sheep pictures. When people contact me they act like sheep is real, such as ‘say hi to sheep for me, or sheep looked very handsome today or sorry I missed meeting the sheep.'” She has even received fan mail for sheep.

Even if you never see sheep on your geocaching rounds, Cheryl hopes the idea travels. “I would thoroughly recommend that other cachers use an avatar. It’s fun. It’s more than just signing a log and running away. We try very hard to pose the sheep and take several pictures, choosing the best one for the web page.”

She says that there are other benefits to using an avatar as well.  “We tend to remember all our caches better, and best of all sheep always has some smart remark or stupid joke about the cache. (He can get away with saying things I can’t.)”

With more than 400 cache logs in one year, there’s no telling where sheep may show up next. If you’re in the Ottawa, Ontario area, you can now visit Cheryl’s first “sheep-themed” cache, “The Sheeps’ Revenge” (GC25CMF).

Would you ever consider using an avatar? What sort of avatar would you use?

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Geocaching Class – Geocaching.com’s Lost & Found Video

Teachers are using geocaching to take their lesson plans out of the classroom and into the real world. Students learn about GPS technology, navigation, spatial concepts, math and more through geocaching. Watch how one teacher from McKinney, Texas, USA employees geocaching to educate her students about science. The Lost & Found video takes you along during a typical school day as Mrs. Burford’s elementary school class learns through geocaching.

You can find even more resources for educators in our GPS in Education Forum.

Watch all the Lost & Found videos highlighting unique geocachers and the worldwide adventure of geocaching.

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Boy Scouts Geocaching Merit Badge – Geocaching.com’s Lost & Found Video

This year, the Boy Scouts of America announced their plans for a new Geocaching Merit Badge. Watch our latest Lost & Found video to see how Boy Scout Troop 75 incorporates geocaching into their program. The scout troop from from Manhattan, Kansas also demonstrates some of the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed to earn the badge.

Requirements for the Geocaching Merit Badge are available online.  The official Geocaching Merit Badge patch is in final development and expected to be released in the near future.

Groundspeak is currently hosting a booth at the BSA 2010 National Scout Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. Scouts there can borrow GPS devices to seek out geocaches hidden in the area during the event, which runs from July 26 – August 4, 2010.

Watch all the Lost & Found stories, which highlight the worldwide adventure of geocaching.

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The Reverse Geocaching Puzzle Box – Geocaching.com’s Lost & Found Video

Inventor Mikal Hart shifts geocaching in reverse.  Hart’s “Reverse Geocaching Puzzle Box” is a locked box that needs you to deliver it to a secret location.  The box won’t unlock until you take it to this pre-programmed destination.

The GPS-enabled box presents users with a deceivingly simple button and a small display.  You press the button and the display reads a distance. Players only have 50 chances to move the box to the correct location before the box locks forever.

There are many more geocaching adventures. Take a look at all the Lost & Found videos here.

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Geocaching: The Best Work Out for Your Hippocampus or is it?

Haven’t you always dreamed of a bulging hippocampus? Another question at this point, might be: what’s a hippocampus?

The hippocampus is the portion of the brain believed to store maps of our surroundings.  It allows us to navigate around this crazy mixed-up world.  It’s your inner GPS.  If you’re going to the grocery store, your parents’ house or the place by that Thai restaurant your friend told you about? Yeah, your hippocampus gets you there.

A famous study into the inner wiring of London taxi drivers’ brains discovered something, well, unexpected.  The late 1990’s  research found the drivers hippocampi were much larger than normal, non-taxi-driver, hippocampi.

Taxi drivers navigating with their hippocampus.

The more the taxi drivers navigated the complex web of London streets, blind alleys and winding lanes, the larger their hippocampi grew.

The oyster-sized and colored portion of our mind also plays a role in long-term memory.  And I believe geocaching flexes your hippocampus.

Now there’s no study for what’s next (yet), but geocaching must be an amazing work out for your hippocampus.  You’re continuously navigating and building maps of your surroundings.  You’re challenging your ability to move from A to B. Finding a geocache pumps up your awareness of your location.  The concept sounds fairly simple.

But some fear we rely on our GPS devices and mapping sites far too much.

Last year a Los Angeles woman, Lauren Rosenberg, was struck by a car while crossing a highway in Utah.  In May, she filed a lawsuit against Google. According to The Washington Post, Rosenberg’s lawyer claims Google Maps provided walking directions that sent Rosenberg into harm’s way.  She ended up on a busy road with no sidewalks. She followed the directions sent to her Blackberry – which Rosenberg claims did not come with a warning about missing sidewalks.

She got hit by a car. She accumulated massive medical bills.  She sued.  There was clearly a loss of “situational awareness.”

So, which is it? Do we rely on maps and GPS devices too much? Or does the act of geocaching and navigating help grow the awareness of our surroundings?

VOTE in the Geocaching.com Poll in the sidebar to your right.