Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Geocaching: Finding Mathematics in a Global Treasure Hunt

Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Geocaching: Finding Mathematics in a Global Treasure Hunt

Article excerpt

If you love taking mathematics lessons outdoors, then you will love this article. Leicha Bragg describes geocaching, which combines technology, treasure hunting and mathematics, and results in purposeful, authentic and engaging mathematics.

Teachers are encouraged to create or source authentic tasks that motivate, engage, and develop students' mathematical conceptual understanding. Meeting these criteria is a tall order for teachers with limited time and resources (Leong & Chick, 2011). Geocaching is an outdoor adventure that encapsulates what many educators teachers aspire to in a mathematics task: engagement, educational value, and fun. Geocaching is a global treasure hunt that invites students out of the classroom into a world of discovery. This paper unveils the 'secret world' of geocaching and describes a geocaching educational program that was purposely designed for primary students to increase their conceptual understanding of mathematics, particularly location, and instill a sense of wonder of mathematics in the environment. It is argued that geocaching offers teachers an authentic approach to develop mathematical understandings through the students' quest to explore their surroundings in search of 'riches'.

To get started, all that is required is a global positioning system (GPS) enabled device, Internet access, and a sense of adventure.

The basics of geocaching

Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a global treasure hunt with approximately 2.3 million geocaches hidden around the world and over six million geocachers--those who seek geocaches--searching all corners of the earth for them. The word geocache is derived from the terms geo (earth) and cache (hidden supply or treasure) (Christie, 2007). The basic geocache (see Figure 1) is a small watertight container that holds a pencil and a log book to record when the geocache is found. Small treasures are often placed inside the geocache so those who discover its location may have a physical reward for their find. The treasures inside the geocache are typically trinkets or inexpensive toys.

To get started, a member of the geocaching community hides their geocache, determines its location using GPS technology and posts a brief description of the geocache and location coordinates online at a geocaching website.

The most popular website is www.geocaching. com. Anyone with a GPS enabled device can search for the geocache. A recommended GPS designed purposefully for children interested in geocaching is the Geomate Jr. The Geomate Jr can be locked for private use on your school grounds with children creating their own school-based geocaching network before venturing beyond the school gate to explore the thousands of preprogrammed geocaches stored within the GPS. The geocaching etiquette is that finders record their name in the log book, exchange a treasure with something of equal or greater value, and re-hide the geocache in the same location ready for the next geocachers (see Figure 2).

The finders log their experience online for others to view at the geocaching website. An email is automatically forwarded to the owner of the geocache informing them that their geocache has been visited. Through regular input from the geocaching members, the owner is kept up-to-date with the geocache's condition, including whether it requires maintenance or has gone missing.

Geocaches come in various shapes and sizes. Some are carefully disguised as another object, for example as a fake stone or rat (see Figures 3 and 4). Others are hidden in unsuspecting places, such as under a rock or pavement tile (see Figure 5). Noted in the website description are two rating scales indicating the degree of difficulty to find the geocache and how challenging the terrain is to negotiate. A location such as in the middle of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne understandably earns a high rating for terrain difficulty due to underwater diving required to obtain it. …

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