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Geocaching, a teaching treasure

LAKE WYLIE -- Kimberly Terry, a fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Crowders Creek Middle School found that one of the best way for children to understand the world they live in is through geocaching.

Geocaching is an international "adventure sport." Using "way points" downloaded to handheld GPS devices along with written clues, geocachers become explorers of their own communities as well as the world. Their goal: finding hidden treasures or caches.

"Through geocaching students learn many valuable skills including map skills, problem solving, cooperative learning, and how a GPS works," Terry said.

Terry first experienced geocaching while working at a camp during summer 2007.

"We stopped off in a park to try geocaching and found a Tupperware container covered in fake ivy in an ivy patch," she said. "I was instantly hooked."

Since then, she has geocached in several states and countries, including Italy Germany Austria and Switzerland.

Educational tool

Realizing the educational value of geocaching, Terry applied for grants and received funding from the South Carolina Geography Alliance. She started a club with 11 students and three GPS devices. Now, Crowders Middle School hosts three goecaching teams (approximately 35 members) and 14 GPS units. Terry said Clover LEAF and donorschoose.org organizations made it possible for her to add 11 more GPS units to accommodate the growing number of interested students.

"Students love the idea of going on field trips and hunting for hidden treasures," Terry said, "but many of them are also very interested in the technology and geography."

Each Crowders Creek and Seek team participates in five field trips a year. Teams are limited to 14 members because the vans used for field trips can seat only 15.

Geocaching also can teach children about the environment. In the spring, Crowder students participated in a geocaching activity called CITO or "Cache In Trash Out" at the Museum of York County's Earth Day Birthday.

"It was very successful," Terry said. "We introduced geocaching to several families and collected many bags of trash."

Finding cache

Finding a cache usually means finding treasure, or swag. Along with a logbook, there usually are small trinkets, such as trading cards, games, wooden nickels with names of fellow geocachers and possibly travelbugs, items that have a registered tag. Geocachers who find a travelbug, log its location and then take it to place in another cache somewhere else.

"Our bugs have made it to Central Park in New York, Alaska and even Europe," Terry said.

Along with the GPS devices, Terry's students come to understanding the intrinsic part the Internet plays in the seeking experience. Geocaching.com is the main Internet site for the international geocaching community. Here, participants register their geocaching personas, learn how to find and create caches, track travel bugs, and become members of an international society of like minded people.

Fun for all

Locally, the York County Geocaching Organization, of which Terry is a member, works with Rock Hill Parks and Recreation Department and the York County Visitor's Bureau to promote geocaching. Terry said a Web site, YoGoSC.org, was created in October.

"It's a great family activity," Terry said, "that gets people out exploring their environment, exercising and treasure hunting.

"I think that geocaching is continuing to grow as an adventure sport and I am thrilled to be on the cutting edge of incorporating it into the schools."

In the fall, Terry moves to Griggs Road Elementary. She hopes for funding to create a geocaching program there, plus "we also have many parents and students involved in getting clubs started at the new Oakridge and Clover Middle Schools," she said. "I would love to train others in getting a program started."

Want to know more?

To learn more, log onto geocaching.com. The site for geocaching, registration is free. A premium package offers enhancements for dedicated geocachers. Everything a beginner needs to start participating in the geocaching adventure is here. How to: create a geocaching persona; seek caches, from easy to difficult; log in and leave comments, create caches; learn the lingo and much more. Also, there is information on choosing hand held GPS devices.

Some cell phones, such as iPhones and Blackberrys have navigation capabilities. Even automobile navigation systems, such as Garmin Nuvu allow input of coordinates and will get you to the general vicinity of caches.

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