Showing posts with label Exploration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exploration. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TOS Crew Review: Educaching

Living in today's high tech world, most are familiar with the wonders of a Global Positioning System-better known as GPS.  So using it to find your buddy's house or that location for the office picnic is great-but what else can one do with it,?  Well, there is Geocaching.  If you are a Boy Scout (or parent of one), or are lucky enough to have stumbled across this info-then Geocaching (sounds like geo cashing) may be a familiar term to you.  Basically, it involves using your hand held GPS device to locate a hidden cache (sounds like "cash") or treasure, that has had its location noted online in a data base for you to find.  It is a world-wide activity that has really become popular in recent years.  That sounds interesting you say, but how about something more "educational" in nature?  Is that out there?

Actually, there is just such a product.  It is called Educaching though-as well as it should be, since you are following a curricula that has several areas covered (educationally speaking) using a GPS, with your students.  So what you have is a program that teaches (the good "not in your face" approach that is "fun" and not "boring") while the children are searching for the cache that is relevant to the lesson.  Talk about a neat way of modernizing the old  (using clues on paper to denote the next location)  approach to a treasure hunt.

The Educaching curricula is designed to meet the national and state education standards (I am not that concerned with such things-but alas, some of you may need that info in order to meet your state's requirements),  which are duly noted in the 20 different lessons contained within the guide.  There are also sections covering how to use your GPS, definitions of the terms used, and helpful insight on how to purchase a device that is best for your situation.  Everything you need for the lesson is noted, and when possible- provided within it.  I found the Teacher Training section to be quite useful, as I have had limited exposure to our GPS unit, due to it being gone with my husband (he needs it for his work) when he is traveling,  more than it is here at home.

Keep in mind, this program was written for a classroom setting, so it may be difficult for some lessons to work as intended, or they simply may have more activities than a typical homeschooler would need to complete-or want to, depending what educational method you prefer. I just picked out the sections that would work for us, and left the rest.  It didn't deplete from the goal of the lesson, and the kids certainly didn't notice.  That said-I started out with the beginner level lessons for our kids, because they had never used the hand-held GPS, prior to this review.  I read through each lesson to determine if it would suit the varying age levels of my children [it states that it is for grades 4-8; being that I have a highschooler and an early elementary student-we were "out" of the suggested age range. I wasn't deterred, as I wasn't expecting my teenager to do this for anything other than for fun, and my boy will grow into the more difficult ones soon enough], I then decided on the activities that would interest them.  After doing the introductory lesson (which offers the students the chance to work through the GPS's buttons/gizmos, and how to properly find the designated cache location-we were ready to try the others.

This was our first test run.  Daddy (the dude with the GPS experience) assisted with the entire lesson-which is wonderful, as he usually doesn't get the opportunity to do so very often.  The kids figured it out pretty quickly-so we were ready to move along to another lesson later that week. I did laminate (no surprise there) the teacher's and student's map (so as not to go through reams of paper) to get more use out of them, and just provided the kids with a wet-erase marker and a clipboard for the excursions. The children seemed to enjoy these activities (mostly the boy) but I did find some things that could (and did) curtail its use, at times. Please note what the boy is wearing-as this will be discussed shortly (no pun intended).

What you have here is our Dinosaur Bone Hunt.  This lesson required the teacher (that would be me) to first copy off the sheet with the various bones of this mystery dino,  then strategically hide them,  set their waypoints into the GPS and mark their location on the master map. The students were to then search for the "bones" (which I put into 5 baggies with varying sections in each), using their newly learned GPS skills.  When all of the bones were collected, they  then were to come back to "class" to create a dinosaur that they felt best fit the bones they found.   For us, seeing that we only have 2 "students" in our wee little homeschool-the suggested  4-5 person team had to be reworked a bit.  So our two ended up switching back and forth with the recording [the Scribe] of the waypoint coordinates, and serving as the official Navigator; while I took on the role of the Photographer, and Daddy served as the Reader.  It was very helpful to have at least one child or an adult handy, who could accurately read the info off of the GPS, so the excursion does not take forever to complete.  At first my teen was a bit unimpressed, but after one find, she quickly became engrossed in the activity-so we found it truly can be used with all ages successfully. I  was impressed with what the kids came up with for their mystery dinosaurs-and their names were pretty funny too.  I built the Partiasaurus after watching their attempts-I simply couldn't resist the urge not to-it was a really fun activity. 

What are the "pitfalls" of this product you ask?  Obviously, with such a program, there is going to be a shelling out of greenbacks in order to have the necessary equipment to complete the lessons.  For the Educaching, program, that would be the GPS device-which can run about a hundred dollars (or more) each. We have one available to us, because as noted-my husband has to have one for his work, so we didn't need to invest anything. But for the families who do not have one already (check your mobile phones, as I have heard that certain systems have that built into them), I recommend that you see if you can borrow a GPS unit first, copy off one of the free downloadable sample lessons, and give it a test run-before buying. The folks at Educaching also have a couple different Classroom Kits which include the Guide and a GPS device(s), to help get you started.

Furthermore, a  few unfortunate situations presented themselves as we worked through the activities. First off, living in a state (such as mine) where the clouds can be thicker than a metropolitan phone book-there is potential to experience lost satellite reception. **[additional note here-I was made aware that there is a "high sensitivity feature" which is basic on most, if not all, manufactured newer [GPS] units.  It provides users excellent reception under heavy tree canopy, or on a cloudy day.  In fact, Garmin (they run about $135) now only produces hand held receivers with this feature. Well how cool is that?  I have to go check out our GPS unit to see if this is there or not-again, if you are looking into purchasing a unit-this would be one feature to check for.  We personally cannot expend the money to buy one of our own right now-so we are stuck with what we have. I actually think our batteries were a bit oldish-which would explain some of the moments of lost reception, so be sure to have fresh ones in there before you head out to do your Educaching. ] In fact, we had so many cloudy, rainy (another problem because this has to be done outdoors) days during the review period, that I started to give up hope that we'd ever have a chance to get out and try it. And since our area can boast about being one of the windiest places (seriously) around-we were stymied by gusts that could have swept up the kids (along with the caches), and planted them in the land of Oz, all  in a blink of the eye! At least we knew they would have been able to figure out their longitude and latitude coordinates with their GPS device!  Seriously though, it simply has not been a great fall with which to give this project a whirl. So weather can be a great deterrent to using this curricula.

Secondly-and here is where I need you to recall the boy's outfit of shorts and flip flops, it is a seasonal type of activity. If you live in mild weathered states, no problem-but for those of us in the polar region (well it feels like it lately) you can have very few days were you can get out and actually "enjoy" (I say enjoy because I am sure you could do this during mild winter days-but that opens up a whole new can of worms that frankly, I simply do not want to bother with) the process. If you look closely at the pictures of the kids doing their Dino Hunt-you will see quite a drastic change in their attire-we froze our tender vittles off that day [but we had to do it because it was going to be one of the only "nice" days for a while, and I was running out time to get these done!)-it was 35 degrees, and blustery. That is just another example of how one's plans can be waylaid due to the weather. So thinking about the area where you live, is an important factor in whether or not it is feasible.

Lastly, I did find that it felt like a lot of work for one or two students.  I think this would better suit a family with a lot of munchkins or work in a co-op/group setting much better.  I was having a hard time justifying the preparation VS the outcome.  I had to go through the lesson, collect the items, get a moment to go out and "hide" them (and because we do not have a ton of areas in our yard that can successfully cloak the caches, I had to venture out into the neighborhood-which was risky, as I had to work around sprinkler systems, hope that curious folks wouldn't tamper with the caches and so forth) and then return to do get the lesson started.  I definitely think it would work better with more participants, and have suggested it as a possible class for our homeschool group.  One of the main ideas (at least in my opinion) with this type of curricula, is to get the children to work in groups, as a team-so with 2 (and sometimes it was just my son) that simply was difficult to accomplish.  So,  figuring your student count into the equation is important, as well.  It can, and does work for smaller "class" sizes-it just involves adjusting and tweaking  to get over a few extra hurdles in order to complete the assignment. We did enjoy the actual search part of it (once we were able to get out and do it), and my son has requested to do several more-which will now have to wait until spring-so for us, it was a pretty decent experience.  If your children enjoy such activities, and you need more guidance and/or lessons plans, the Educaching Curriculum is a great choice.

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Educaching Homepage

$32.00 eBook Version
$32.00 Book with CD, with additional $6.95 shipping fee. **I have to say that unless you live overseas, have dial-up, or in an area where the mail is super slow-go this route-as it is only $7 (plus tax)  more to have the printed copy and CD ready to go.

*I also wanted to note here:  their website is one of the nicest designs I have come across in some time.  It is very professional -a very nice cache to explore, indeed. 

Be sure to visit our TOS Crew Review Homepage to read more posts on this product and many other homeschooling products.

**Educaching provided me with the free copy of Educaching Guide eBook, in order to test and use it with my family, so I could write this review.