It has been a really interesting week in Radical Nation, y’all. You see, Dr. Griz — a Geocaching Travel Bug that my class set free EIGHT YEARS ago made his way back to Salem Middle School after a 34 THOUSAND MILE journey through 90 caches in 4 different countries.
Here he is:
If you’re like MOST people, you’re probably wondering what Geocaching is, right?
Geocaching — as defined by the experts at Geocaching.com — is “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”
Think about that for a minute: How much fun does a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game” sound to you? More importantly, how much fun would a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game” sound to your students?
Whether you’ve ever gone looking for them or not, there are literally DOZENS of geocaches of all different shapes and sizes hidden in and around your town right now. Need proof? Type your zip code into the search box on this webpage and see what comes up. You’ll be blown away. I promise. And all you need in order to find them is a Smartphone with the Geocaching App installed, a bit of free time, and a willingness to go for a walk.
Travel Bugs like Dr. Griz are called Trackables — and they are left in caches by people like you and me who want to see just how far they will go. Geocachers who find Travel Bugs pick them up, move them around from cache to cache and record their current location on the Travel Bug’s home page at the Geocaching website. Want to see what that looks like? Check out Dr. Griz’s homepage here.
That’s where Trackables become REALLY COOL. Not only can you see a map of everywhere that a Travel Bug has been — here’s where Dr. Griz has spent the last 8 years — the geocachers who move Travel Bugs around often take pictures and leave notes for the owners that are a ton of fun to read.
Dr. Griz was originally taken to New Zealand with a bunch of other Travel Bugs by the father of one of my students who is WAY into geocaching. All of the bugs were left in the same cache with directions attached that explained to geocachers that the goal for each bug was to make it home to Raleigh, North Carolina. Participants — including my class — watched our bug’s progress through the Geocaching website and/or through a separate site set up by the father of my student.
After several months, I lost track of Dr. Griz — until this week when he was mailed back to me by a geocacher who found him in Georgia, took him to Turk and Caicos, and then tracked me down online.
The entire experience has left me convinced that Geocaching needs to play a bigger role in the work that I do with students in our school. Here are three reasons why:
Our kids need to spend more time outside: It is all too easy to get trapped behind screens in today’s world, isn’t it? Heck, there are days — even weeks — where I do NOTHING outside. And the same goes for our kids. In many cases, they are losing touch with the natural world — and that could have alarming consequences , both for their own well-being and for the future stewardship of our planet.
And even if you don’t buy into the “we need to love nature” argument, Geocaching should play a larger role in the lives of today’s kids because it’s a physical activity — and most of our kids could DEFINITELY use a little more physical activity in their lives.
Our kids need to see that embracing digital tools doesn’t mean abandoning other people: People like to argue that digital spaces are turning us all into selfish loners who like to ignore one another — and in many cases, that’s true. Digital tools CAN make life more isolated and lonely and impersonal. Need proof? Send someone a Hallmark eCard for their next birthday and see how thrilled they will be.
But digital tools make pretty remarkable collective efforts possible, too. Swim in the fact that DOZENS of complete strangers moved Dr. Griz TENS OF THOUSANDS of miles around the world to get him home for a bunch of middle schoolers that they’d never met. Poke through the comments and pictures that they left on his log page and TELL ME that folks who embrace digital tools are selfish, impersonal loners.
That’s an important lesson, isn’t it? Don’t our kids need to realize that anything is possible from behind a screen — INCLUDING random acts of kindness between strangers that bring us together rather than push us apart?
Our kids need to learn about the geography of the world: Ask Lauren Katlin — Ms. South Carolina 2007 — and she’ll tell you that “most US Americans” don’t know where “the Iraq” is because they don’t have maps. Most kids will tell you, however, that they don’t know where “the Iraq” is because learning geography in traditional classrooms can be pretty darn boring. Memorizing maps is a lot like memorizing spelling words, y’all — when it’s done in isolation, learning ain’t ever going to happen.
But what if every class in YOUR school set a Travel Bug free on the first day of kindergarten and then tracked its travels for the next twelve years? What if every kid had a map in their binders — or on their iPads or in their digital textbooks — where they recorded each stop on their Travel Bug’s journeys? What if the world maps hanging in our hallways had the current locations of every class’s Travel Bug marked, complete with details about what life is like in that part of the world for kids to explore?
Isn’t it possible that kids would take geography a little more seriously if they were looking at the world through the eyes of a traveling trinket that they were invested in?
Any of this make sense to you? More importantly, any middle school teachers interested enough in Geocaching to give it a whirl? If so, want to do a bit of collaborating with me?
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