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Pros: The virtual-to-real-world treasure hunts provide a fun activity that can, with guidance, teach kids about math, geography, and other subjects.
Cons: There’s no guarantee the geocaches that other users place will contain appropriate content.
Bottom Line: Kids learn problem-solving, teamwork, and mapping skills, but the site doesn’t provide instruction or explanations for most of those topics; educators will have to fill in the gaps.
If used safely, Geocaching can provide some entertaining geography and investigation lessons. Kids can find out how to load coordinates into a GPS, which offers tech skill experience and can help them learn to estimate distance. Teachers can also show students how to search for nearby geocaches on the site by keying in information such as a zip code or latitude and longitude, which can be used as a jumping-off point to discuss graphs, measurement, and other math concepts. Some geocaches require that you first find a clue or solve a complex puzzle. But even simple caches should provide a challenge. They rarely seem to be in plain sight, which makes finding the geocache so fun that kids may not even realize they’re learning about concepts like map reading, following directions, and critical thinking.
Geocaching serves as a home base for an ongoing, user-supported, real-world treasure hunt. Using a GPS system, smartphone, maps, and other instruments, users try to find hidden containers (geocaches, also called caches) that other users have left in locations around the world. Users can track items they've found on the site, share stories, and log the location of caches they've hidden.
The containers, which range in size, are sometimes disguised -- such as a faux pine cone hanging in a tree -- and usually contain a log book. Users sometimes also leave trinkets. Site administrators don’t physically check each location, but volunteers review each description submitted to the site to ensure it meets geocaching guidelines (no public or private property is defaced, the cache isn't buried, etc.). Still, to ensure kids don't come across anything suspect, teachers may want to restrict their site use to geocaches classmates have hidden.
Geocaching encourages kids to explore the world around them and also offers lessons on how maps work, geography, and estimation. Kids search for geocaches by keying in an address, state, latitude and longitude, or other item, which can prompt discussions on creating graphs, measuring distances, and other math concepts. A glossary of terms provides definitions for site-specific words and geographical terms. Because some items may be near historical locations, the activity could also offer a potential social studies tie-in.
Kids can better learn to collaborate and cooperate if they work in groups to find a cache. They'll definitely work their critical-thinking skills as they try to track down the item. And discussing their finds on the site can help kids practice communication and writing.