Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Geocaching and Education, part 4 - Equipment and Gear

This is post #4 in a series of free resources for educators interested in using geocaching in education and other community groups like scouts or camps. The material is pulled directly from Educaching GPS Based Curriculum for Teachers. If interested in more resources, check out
Jason Hubbard, Author

Equipment and Gear, Part 1:
To begin Educaching, you must have the appropriate equipment. This section will discuss what you must have to get started. We will explore the features available on most GPS devices, and then take a look at some “must have” features versus some nice, but not necessary ones. We will present the other equipment you will need for implementing the lessons such as containers, string, tent stakes (for plotting areas of land), and measuring tapes. 
GPS Receivers
One of the most exciting parts of Educaching is working with a high-tech gadget! When compared to the price of a computer, there is a lot that a student can do with a handy, cost-efficient tool like a GPS receiver!
Just imagine the features a GPS receiver can provide: 
locations anywhere on Earth
built-in maps
electronic compass
sunrise/sunset times
best hunting/fishing times
built-in geolocation games (some models)
easy computer connection for downloading waypoints
uploading routes to see where you’ve been on computer maps
and much more!
However, the GPS receiver is also the most expensive piece of gear required for Educaching, and you definitely will want more than one! Do not let this fact discourage you from doing something as innovative and exciting as Educaching. In the Acquiring GPS section you will find helpful ways to obtain enough GPS receivers for Educaching at your school. Some very functional and cost-efficient models can be purchased for approximately $100 each. Other models with more features and increased accuracy can be purchased for around $200. You can spend much more than this on a GPS receiver that has color and other options, but this type of receiver provides more than is required to work with the lesson plans.  
Let’s begin by taking a look at the features that are standard on most GPS receivers.
  • Altitude – When the unit is fixed on at least 4 satellites, it can give a 3-dimensional fix on your location (latitude, longitude, and altitude). Note: When your unit is receiving signals from 3 satellites, it will only give you latitude and longitude, and reception from less than 3 satellites will not be able to triangulate your position.
  • Antenna – For most units, the antenna is within the unit and may get better reception when the unit is held a certain way (ie. in a vertical or horizontal position…read your user manual to determine which is best). A higher priced model might sport a cell phone-like antenna or may have a jack for the attachment of a remote antenna, which receives better reception in a car or under heavy tree cover.
  • Basemap – Generally, the higher priced receiver you acquire, the more maps that will come stored already in its memory. Basemaps provide a map background on your unit to show major cities and roads. Many low-priced GPS receivers do not have basemaps loaded, but you do not need a basemap for Educaching.
  • Battery Life – This is a feature that should not be overlooked! You don’t want to always be changing batteries on your classroom set of receivers. There are some battery-saver modes on most GPS receivers to help extend battery life. Be sure you have the budget to maintain a sufficient inventory on hand of batteries. 
  • Channels – Most receivers are equipped with 12 channels to help process satellite information faster.  Receivers with less than 12 channels will not be sufficient for processing the Educaching tasks.  
  • Clock – This is a helpful feature to keep your students on task and help them wrap up their hunt at the appropriate time. The time can usually be set to a standard 12 hour or military 24 hour clock.
  • Compass – GPS receivers give you compass information, as long as you’re moving. If a student stops walking, the electronic needle may jump around or stop moving altogether. It may be helpful to equip students with a small, inexpensive compass you can attach to the lanyard of each GPSr and teach students the basics of using one.
  • Computer Compatibility – Many receivers come with a USB or PC interface cable for easy attachment to a computer. The benefits of this are numerous to Educaching. The major benefit is that you can download several waypoints for an Educache hunt into each of your students’ units quickly, prior to the hunt if you’d like. This helps students by saving time and preventing errors by incorrectly entering data into the unit. Seek out product web sites for valuable information regarding computer compatibility and be sure a unit does what you want it to, before you buy it!
  • Memory – Receivers use an internal memory (like a computer) to store your saved waypoints and basemap data (if available). Memory storage space ranges from 1Mb of data (enough to store plenty of waypoints and data for Educaching, but not enough memory for basemaps) up to several gigabytes (this allows for a great deal of maps to be stored on the unit). 
  • Timer – Many receivers have a start/stop timer with lap feature. This would be extremely helpful, for example, in the lesson The Estimation Olympics, where the students must time certain events during their hunt.
  • Tracks – This is a feature that shows where you’ve been with your GPS receiver.  On the receiver’s screen there will be a series of dots, called trackpoints, that display the path traveled. This standard feature can be very helpful to students during Educaching as they plot perimeters during a math lesson or if they want to “walk” the trail of a shape for an art lesson.
  • Waypoints/Routes – Waypoints are stored coordinates that you enter for the students to find. Basic models will hold up to 500, which is plenty. Routes are a series of waypoints that can be followed from beginning to end. So, if you want students to find educaches in a particular order, you can save a route for them in the receiver’s memory that will lead them one by one to each educache in the predetermined order.
  • WAAS enabled – Some models are equipped with this feature that increases the accuracy of finding educaches that are hidden. When WAAS is enabled, you can get within 3 meters of an educache, as opposed to 15 meters. However, be aware that enabling this feature drains the unit’s battery life much more quickly.
  • Waterproof – Usually there is a rating on each GPSr that identifies how water resistant the unit is. Since students are going to be using these receivers, you obviously want the most rugged and durable units you can find. At the least, you will want to acquire a protective case for each unit to extend its life. Otherwise, you may find it necessary to acquire new equipment after only one year of use.
  • Waypoint Averaging – This is usually a standard on a GPS receiver and is definitely a feature you want. When you hide an educache, you must use your receiver to locate the coordinates and mark the waypoint. Sometimes the GPS satellites can give information that is a little off, so you can use waypoint averaging to “average” the information from all the satellites’ signals to give you the most accurate location of your educache. By waypoint averaging, you make it easier for your students to rely on their equipment and lower any frustration level.