Challenge Students Discover Geocaching

  • Caching-In On Imagination


    “Imagine,” suggested Sayville District Challenge teacher Cindy MacDonell to her elementary students, if there were small ‘treasure boxes’ hidden right in your community, in places you walk or drive by everyday. Imagine finding one of these boxes and being able to claim a treasure from it!” Thanks to Mrs. MacDonell’s Challenge program, her Challenge students did more than just imagine.


    After her students completed a five-week, geography-based mystery that required research, creative thinking, and cooperative problem-solving, Mrs. MacDonell introduced them to the family-friendly sport of “geocaching.” The students were excited to discover that treasure boxes, called “geocaches,” really existed. They learned that a computer consultant planted the first geocache and posted its coordinates online in 2000 (the year the Clinton Administration allowed public access to accurate GPS signals). They also researched how geocachers successfully located geocaches—by triangulating accurate longitude/latitude coordinates from a posted web site with the use of hand-held global positioning system (GPS) units.


    The Sayville students were fascinated to discover that geocaches can be found anywhere—in urban and rural locations, off nature trails, near monuments, in parks, by the water, in the center of a town, at playgrounds, as well as scenic spots. They realized that the search had levels of difficulty depending on the cleverness of the hiding spots or the types of terrain. Some geocaches were as small as a 35mm film canisters or magnetic key holders; others were as large as plastic storage containers. Even the tiniest geocaches contained the required sign-in log, but the larger ones also included tradable trinkets, called “swag.” (Seasoned geocachers know to sign the log, swap a cache’s trinket with their own personal swag, and to log their finds on the global web site, The web site, which provides a wealth of information, also provides them with the next coordinates for another hunt. Some caches, containing “first-to-find” prizes, traceable “travel bugs,” or “geocoins,” link the geocache sites and give the search process a competitive flair.)


    As Mrs. MacDonell’s students grasped the complexities of the sport and its special lingo, they developed problem-solving techniques and strategies. “The Challenge students were amazed to see how many caches were located within walking distance of their own neighborhoods,” Mrs MacDonell commented about their online research.


    After engaging in practice simulations in the schoolyard, the students were paired-up for their final projects—to design themed geocache boxes, replete with logbooks and treasure swag and to hide them somewhere on school grounds for the other Challenge students to locate. (See photos below.) 


    Mrs. MacDonell described the days of the final hunts. “Teams like Cryptic Cachers, Cache Phantoms, and Animal Adventures, armed with their GPS units and detective skills, set out to find multiple geocaches and trade swag.” Even though the Challenge students were restricted to school grounds for their lesson, this taste for discovery inspired many to form family teams during the summer and pursue geocaching at home and on vacation.