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Geocaching Aids Student Interest, Teamwork Across Classes, Research Says

By guest blogger Jacob Bell

While hunting for hidden treasure has long been an out-of-school pastime for students, new research suggests the activity can also help teachers in a variety of subjects foster student collaboration, engagement, and discovery learning.

Documented in the latest edition of The Geography Teacher, a journal published by the National Council for Geographic Education, the research looked at how increasing teachers' skills and instructional knowledge with regard to geocaching—the use of GPS technology to hunt and find hidden items—affected student learning.

The research focused on 10 teachers from a rural Oklahoma school district, each of whom attended a summer workshop in GPS technology and incorporating geocaching into classroom curricula. The selected teachers spanned grades 3 through 8, with those at the middle school level teaching subjects like social studies, algebra and geometry, language arts, and vocal music.

Through analyzing lesson plans as well as the common words, phrases, and themes found in reflections that the teachers submitted at four follow-up visits during the school year, researchers found that geocaching activities facilitated teamwork, excitement, and hands-on learning among students regardless of the subject they were learning.

Specifically, the results showed that 95 percent of the reflections were about how using geocaching aided student cooperation, learning, and engagement. The authors also concluded the activities pushed the teachers to be more effective educators and break out of their comfort zones. The other 5 percent of reflections centered on the mistakes students made while using the GPS or participating in the geocaching assignments.

Teacher responses also suggested that the follow-up visits with researchers prodded the teachers to integrate GPS receivers and geocaching into their lessons, thereby increasing their practice and confidence with the technology. Such responses, according to the researchers, imply that it is imperative to check in with teachers who are attempting to use new classroom technology.

"Teachers commented that it would have been easy to fall into routines and not incorporate newly learned skills if they had not received additional assistance and encouragement from the authors," according to the study.

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