For most of us, geocaching is a hobby—a way to get outside and explore the world around us. To Stanley Polley, a 4th and 7th grade science teacher at the Loveland Classical School, geocaching is much more than that. Two years ago, he began to teach geocaching—most notably Mystery caches—in his classroom as a way to engage and inspire his students. He soon discovered, that “Educaching” was not only a hit with the kids, but a great educational tool as well.
Dr. Polley let us pick his brain about how he brings geocaching into the classroom. This is what we learned.
What inspired you to start a geocaching program with your students?
The first time I used geocaching in the classroom was two years ago, teaching 6th graders about constellations and the life cycle of stars. Our class sent out 4 Travel Bugs, and as they moved, students used online resources to determine what constellation would be visible at night from the exact coordinates of the geocache each TB was in.
Can you walk us through the organization of your geocaching program?
I use geocaching in many ways, including an elaborate Classroom Competition and Academic Mystery Caching.
Classroom Competition: I split all of my classes into smaller science themed teams, and give students/teams opportunities to earn points. The team with the highest point value at the end of the year enjoys a decadent donut party. At the start of each year each team creates highly personalized team Geocache and team Travel Bugs. The number of cache finds, pictures logged, and TB miles traveled impact each teams point total. Students can also check-out GPS units to go find our class caches, as well as the 30+ Science/Math/Music Mystery Caches.
Academic Mystery Caches: Individual students can earn points for their team by solving scientific problems in the form of Mystery caches. There are currently 33 active Mystery Caches. The puzzle caches vary greatly in difficulty so that content can be differentiated for students at different ability levels. Physical copies of each puzzle are available in each classroom as well, so that students without consistent internet access have an opportunity to solve the puzzle and check-out a GPS to find the physical cache. By solving a Mystery Cache, students earn points for their teams regardless of whether they actually go to find the cache at the physical location.
These Mystery Cache puzzles are not homework, yet students ask me for new puzzles on a daily basis. In fact, a policy had to be established that they don’t have the physical copies of the puzzles out during other classes. That’s exactly what I want to see, ravenous learners.
I have expanded the Mystery Cache curriculum to include puzzles from multiple subjects, including Math, Music, and History. In collaboration with math teacher Lindsay Stahl, we have created dozens of supplemental academic opportunities for students of all different ability levels. Soon a series of caches will be published in collaboration with our Art, Latin, and English faculty. The types of Mystery caches will change through the year to align with the curriculum.
What were your biggest challenges when setting up the program?
The biggest challenge has been communicating the nuts-and-bolts of Mystery geocaches to parents and students. Early on I had a few student cachers searching diligently at the virtual coordinates. I’ve started placing virtual coordinates in a nearby lake to avoid confusion. I have no scuba diving stories yet. ☺
What values do you believe geocaching brings to students?
All of my complex science, math, and history puzzles are completely optional. The fact that students love to do these puzzles anyways shows tremendous character and loyalty to their teams. Our school’s motto is “Fallamur ut floreamus,” which means “Let us falter that we may flourish” in Latin. The academic puzzles my students solve require a lot of faltering, which make the flourishing all the sweeter.
Overall, how have your students reacted to geocaching in the classroom?
They seem to love it. It’s awesome to see how excited my students get when I show them new Travel Bug pictures or report a find of their team cache. A handful of students have become fanatics, as a group logging over 1500+ finds, 82 hidden caches, and 35+ new geocaching accounts.
“The Scarlet Beaver made science class a class to look forward to every day. The competition of the different teams and earning points through travel bugs and geocaches made it the best class in school. Now I Geocache on a daily bases. It is my favorite hobby and my biggest addiction.”
Benjamin Treat, 8th Grade Butterf (719 Finds)
What advice can you give to teachers who’d like to set up a similar geocaching program in their classrooms?
I would say that it takes a lot of consistency. The reason the classroom competition works is because I start each class with a very brief update on the team scores and any activity for each team’s travel bug, geocaches, and students who solved an Academic Puzzle.
You also started a geocaching club at your school. Could you tell us more about it?
The geocaching club has been a blast. The club focuses on making and hiding creative caches. The only rule of geocaching club is that the caches they create have to be Mystery Caches, with a puzzle that uses what they are learning from one of their classes. Club members have made Chemistry, Music, and Latin puzzle caches, with many more to come. Soon we will be organizing CITO events to support our community.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Life is Good! Cache-On!
Dr. Polley geocaches under the usernames MrPolleyClass and The Scarlet Beaver. If you are an educator and have an interest in incorporating geocaching in your classroom, Dr. Polley is a fantastic resource. Feel free to reach out to him through Geocaching.com.
And on another note, if you’ve hidden a Mystery cache, know that your geocache description could be circulating around his classroom!
Geocaching partnered with Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney to create a fun set of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul trackable tags to celebrate the book’s release last year. What you may not know is that the Wimpy Kid trackables came about because Jeff Kinney is a geocacher. He enjoys taking his kids out on geocaching adventures. We are thrilled that he wanted to share one of his geocaching experiences with us.
If you are following his series, you will be excited to learn that the next book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School, will be released on November 3, 2015. This book is particularly exciting because it will go on sale on the same day in 90 countries around the world, which has never been done by any book before!
Kinney shared one of his geocaching experiences with us, in his own words.
By Jeff Kinney
When I first learned about geocaching a few years back, I was thoroughly confused. People have stored little treasures in hiding places all around me? It seemed like an odd pastime to me. But mysterious and exciting at the same time.
I was looking for something fun (and cheap) to do with my two sons. And so I downloaded the Geocaching app. I was ready to head off into the wilderness some miles away, armed with a walking stick and an iPhone, braving ticks and scrambling over felled trees. But as a swarm of blue dots filled the map on my screen, I was surprised (alarmed?) to find that there was a hidden treasure not 200 yards from the back of my house.
Now this was exciting. I made sure my kids had adequate footwear and we headed out, stepping from the verdant grass of our backyard into actual raw nature. There was some scrambling and some hopping over creeks formed by snow melt runoff. There was some negotiating of brambles. There may have even been some burs. I’ll admit, I’m not exactly the outdoor type, so the thrill of forging my way through the wild… with two of my progeny in tow… had the feeling of real danger.
Eventually, we reached a clearing where power lines cut through the woods (OK, so maybe it wasn’t raw nature). By now, we were getting close. The pulsing blue dot was nearby, but where could the hiding spot be? These were early days of GPS pinpointing, and the dot hopped madly around the screen. It seemed that our quarry was on the move, taunting us.
I was waiting for the dot to stop. Then we’d creep up on it, look down, and find the treasure at our feet.
My kids must’ve detected the confusion on my face. This was a strange ordeal for them to begin with, so the sight of me spinning in place and shaking my iPhone violently didn’t give them a feeling of confidence.
But then I realized I needed to start thinking like the first person who had decided that this was the place to hide a cache. I gave up on the teleporting dot on my phone and started using my eyes.
My eyes fell to a fallen tree. It was all starting to come together. But where was the cache? Under the tree? Oh no! Did someone place a cache in this spot and a tree fell on it? This was going to be very hard to explain to my sons.
By then, my eldest son had climbed over the tree to investigate it from a different angle. And that’s when he found it. A plastic box, hidden in a hole in the log.
A real eureka moment. Inside the box was a giant pencil. A decent treasure for the effort put in. We added our names to the log, proud members of a long list of explorers who had come to the same spot, but from different starting places.
Neither of my kids saw me palm a baseball I had brought from home and slip it into the box before putting it back in the fallen tree. I didn’t need the tears.
A good bite-sized adventure and one I’ve repeated in locales further from home.
Geocoins—it’s hard to imagine Geocaching without them, Travel Bugs, or any other kind of trackable. But for an entire year and half after geocaching was born (in May of the year 2000), that was how geocaching was done. Caching primarily involved of using GPS technology to discover ammo cans hidden deep in the woods, then the seekers would write long entries into pre-placed log books.
Not only is Jon a legend of geocaching, he’s also a Charter Member and now works as a System Analyst/Lackey with Groundspeak. We caught up with Jon between bug fixes, forums posts, meetings to keep everyone in the loop, and geocaching on his lunch break, to find out more about how geocoins came to be.
What gave you the idea to place a geocoin?
Back in 2001, I was coming up on my 100th cache find. I wanted a signature item to launch in time for that milestone, and had heard about military challenge coins from a fellow cacher. They sounded like the perfect geocaching item – compact, easy to carry, durable – so I designed and minted a set of personalized coins that I dubbed “geocoins.”
When was the first Geocoin placed? The coin was placed September 30th of 2001. I placed it in a cache that still stands out today in my mind as one of the best (even though it has since been archived) – Light House Point. It involved a rickety aluminum ladder that you could only access during low tide. I climbed the ladder. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it because I have a fear of heights. But knowing I wanted to place that coin in a special cache got me up the ladder.
So the first coin was placed in that cache?
I kept the first one for my personal collection. So it was number two… 002. That was the first one placed.
And then what happened?
I placed in there, and didn’t think that much about it. Well you know, it started off really slowly. It was about 6 months after I placed or minted my coins and placed them that anyone else started making coins that I know of. They became desired items. So rather than people seeing them and moving them on, the goal was to get to it first and keep it for their collection. It was almost like a Beanie Baby craze. There was the Geocoin craze.
How many Geocoins do you think you’ve placed out in the world at this point? I’ve sent out over 1200 of my Moun10Bike geocoins so far, and over 1500 coins if you count my coinaments (a Christmas tree ornament that is trackable and shaped like a coin)!
How many Geocoins do you own? I stopped counting in 2006. At that point it was around 1000. I have at least five times that many now.
What is something that most people would be surprised to learn about you? Hmmm, I’m pretty boring. Would it surprise people if I said that my wife and son can barely tolerate caching?
Any parting thoughts? From computers to the web, to gadgets, and then foremost the outdoors, I just couldn’t ask for a better hobby.
Sure is crazy to think that any experiences you’ve had with geocoins, Travel Bugs, or trackables lead back to Jon Stanley. Do you collect geocoins, or geocache with trackables? How have they changed the way you cache? Tell us your stories below!
For tweens, the world suddenly opens up on many levels: They can take the bus to their friend’s house by themselves. A group of them can see a movie together without grownups in the next row. They start to discover interests and hobbies through their friends, and not because their parents tell them it’s for their own good. For those who may not know, “tweens” are young men and women between the ages of 10-12 years old. They are in-between being a kid and being a teenager.
So what do you do with a tween who won’t ever put down their smartphone besides take it away from them? How about an activity that gets everyone outside, interacting with the world, and includes a smartphone? Yep, you guessed it: geocaching.
My daughter Maxine, her friends Rebecca and Oscar are all in 7th grade. A few weeks ago on a typical Seattle day – overcast, with intermittent drizzle and sun breaks – we went geocaching. We brought our trusty dog Clover along for the ride.
We started our journey in West Seattle when we found a clever geocache on tree-lined street in an adorable neighborhood. Then we went to a hillside park with an amazing view of the Seattle skyline. That one was tricky and we spent a lot of time looking for it with our dog sniffing everywhere. But finally there was that “A-ha!” moment, and we found it!
Then we decided to hit some of the best caches in Seattle: The HQ GeoTour. We all know how physically challenging Geocaching can be, and certainly I didn’t want these kids to wilt on me, so we hit the Geocaching HQ kitchen first (working at Geocaching HQ certainly has its perks). Their bottomless metabolisms tore through chips, soda, Cup Noodles, candy, more chips, more Cup Noodles and more candy. [Special shout-out to HQ-er Maria for keeping us all carb-ed up and ready to roll.]