For most of us, geocaching is a hobby—a way to get outside and explore the world around us. To Stanley Polley, a 4th and 7th grade science teacher at the Loveland Classical School, geocaching is much more than that. Two years ago, he began to teach geocaching—most notably Mystery caches—in his classroom as a way to engage and inspire his students. He soon discovered, that “Educaching” was not only a hit with the kids, but a great educational tool as well.
Dr. Polley let us pick his brain about how he brings geocaching into the classroom. This is what we learned.
What inspired you to start a geocaching program with your students?
The first time I used geocaching in the classroom was two years ago, teaching 6th graders about constellations and the life cycle of stars. Our class sent out 4 Travel Bugs, and as they moved, students used online resources to determine what constellation would be visible at night from the exact coordinates of the geocache each TB was in.
Can you walk us through the organization of your geocaching program?
I use geocaching in a many ways, including an elaborate Classroom Competition and Academic Mystery Caching.
Classroom Competition: I split all of my classes into smaller science themed teams, and give students/teams opportunities to earn points. The team with the highest point value at the end of the year enjoys a decadent donut party. At the start of each year each team creates highly personalized team Geocache and team Travel Bugs. The number of cache finds, pictures logged, and TB miles traveled impact each teams point total. Students can also check-out GPS units to go find our class caches, as well as the 30+ Science/Math/Music Mystery Caches.
Academic Mystery Caches: Individual students can earn points for their team by solving scientific problems in the form of Mystery caches. There are currently 33 active Mystery Caches. The puzzle caches vary greatly in difficulty so that content can be differentiated for students at different ability levels. Physical copies of each puzzle are available in each classroom as well, so that students without consistent internet access have an opportunity to solve the puzzle and check-out a GPS to find the physical cache. By solving a Mystery Cache, students earn points for their teams regardless of whether they actually go to find the cache at the physical location.
These Mystery Cache puzzles are not homework, yet students ask me for new puzzles on a daily basis. In fact, a policy had to be established that they don’t have the physical copies of the puzzles out during other classes. That’s exactly what I want to see, ravenous learners.
I have expanded the Mystery Cache curriculum to include puzzles from multiple subjects, including Math, Music, and History. In collaboration with math teacher Lindsay Stahl, we have created dozens of supplemental academic opportunities for students of all different ability levels. Soon a series of caches will be published in collaboration with our Art, Latin, and English faculty. The types of Mystery caches will change through the year to align with the curriculum.
What were your biggest challenges when setting up the program?
The biggest challenge has been communicating the nuts-and-bolts of Mystery geocaches to parents and students. Early on I had a few student cachers searching diligently at the virtual coordinates. I’ve started placing virtual coordinates in a nearby lake to avoid confusion. I have no scuba diving stories yet. ☺
What values do you believe geocaching brings to students?
All of my complex science, math, and history puzzles are completely optional. The fact that students love to do these puzzles anyways shows tremendous character and loyalty to their teams. Our school’s motto is “Fallamur ut floreamus,” which means “Let us falter that we may flourish” in Latin. The academic puzzles my students solve require a lot of faltering, which make the flourishing all the sweeter.
Overall, how have your students reacted to geocaching in the classroom?
They seem to love it. It’s awesome to see how excited my students get when I show them new Travel Bug pictures or report a find of their team cache. A handful of students have become fanatics, as a group logging over 1500+ finds, 82 hidden caches, and 35+ new geocaching accounts.
“The Scarlet Beaver made science class a class to look forward to every day. The competition of the different teams and earning points through travel bugs and geocaches made it the best class in school. Now I Geocache on a daily bases. It is my favorite hobby and my biggest addiction.”
Benjamin Treat, 8th Grade
Butterf (719 Finds)
What advice can you give to teachers who’d like to set up a similar geocaching program in their classrooms?
I would say that it takes a lot of consistency. The reason the classroom competition works is because I start each class with a very brief update on the team scores and any activity for each team’s travel bug, geocaches, and students who solved an Academic Puzzle.
You also started a geocaching club at your school. Could you tell us more about it?
The geocaching club has been a blast. The club focuses on making and hiding creative caches. The only rule of geocaching club is that the caches they create have to be Mystery Caches, with a puzzle that uses what they are learning from one of their classes. Club members have made Chemistry, Music, and Latin puzzle caches, with many more to come. Soon we will be organizing CITO events to support our community.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Life is Good! Cache-On!
Dr. Polley geocaches under the usernames MrPolleyClass and The Scarlet Beaver. If you are an educator and have an interest in incorporating geocaching in your classroom, Dr. Polley is a fantastic resource. Feel free to reach out to him through Geocaching.com.
And on another note, if you’ve hidden a Mystery cache, know that your geocache description could be circulating around his classroom!