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Introducing Geocaching to Students

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Getting Started

You may want to use an online GPS simulator in order to practice using the GPS. An excellent simulator of a Garmin GPSmap76 can be found here.

How does GPS work?

A good initial activity is to turn the handheld unit on and get students to observe the initial page which shows the unit acquiring a satellite.

The Trimble web site has animations that explain what is going on, however this presentation rapidly gets complicated.

Other resources that will help you to explain how a GPS works are: How Stuff Works and the Garmin web site.

Limitations of GPS Navigation

You may want to continue with a discussion around some of the limitations of GPS navigation:

  • The blocking of radio signals from GPS satellites by solid objects
  • Information you get in the field from a GPS is straight-line navigation, does not consider obstacles
  • Elevation information not as accurate (EPE - estmated position error)
  • GPS needs velocity to determine direction you are heading (distance = velocity / time)
  • Depends on batteries
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What is a Waypoint?

The next stage might be to get students to learn the basics of creating a waypoint (or GPS location). Waypoints are significant locations that you mark which you may want to return to later. Usually it takes the press of one button to mark a waypoint, and then your GPS unit will give you the option to name it. On the Geko 201 this is just a matter of pressing the OK button for a couple of seconds. It is good to show students how to edit the names of waypoints.

What is a Basemap?

Basic basemaps are usually included in your GPS unit. They give you navigation information of fixed features in a given area; for example rivers, lakes, cities and towns. You might explore the details of the information of your current location with your students. What is included and what is missing?

What is a Track?

Once the basics of waypoints have been understood, the next stage is to get students to observe the electronic 'breadcrumb trail' that is left behind as you walk. This is the track. Students should be shown how to clear the track log and save and name new tracks.

What information can be recorded with a GPS?

Students should be shown how the unit monitors their speed, elevation and other variables The trip computer page illustrates a number of data fields that can be displayed on the screen.

A good activity would be to get students to reset the trip computer and then compete with each other over 5 minutes to see who can record the fastest speed or travel the furthest distance. A more sedate activity would be to find the highest elevation in the school grounds.

Lynn M. Lary an Instructional Technology Specialist from Eugene, Oregon has produced some nice documents for introducing geocaching to your students.

  1. Ideas for Introducing GPS to Your Students (RTF document)
  2. Entering Waypoints on a Magellan (PDF document)
  3. Sample Geocaching Hints (RTF document)
  4. Sample Student Worksheets (RTF document)
  5. Cache Logsheets/Student Directions (RTF document)

Other resources that you may find useful are:

  1. Handy Brochure for Parents, Staff and Students
  2. Folding Business Card


Juicy Geography: Teaching with GPS

Back to Geocaching for Educators

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