This past Friday I had the pleasure of supporting AMNH educational staff (namely, Nathan J. Bellomy) to bring geocaching to YouthCaN. YouthCaN is an international, youth-led organization that was once founded with iEARN at the museum and uses technology to inspire, connect and educate people worldwide about environmental issues. Geocaching is a twelve-year old global scavenger hunt that brings together real world objects and GPS-devices to offer an experience in blended learning, user-generated content, mobile gaming, and more.
Could the YouthCaN youth go into central park and use geocaching to advance their interest in environmental issues? That is precisely what we aimed to find out.
The four youth, Yanairy, Cindy, Kevin and Heme, left the museum with Nathan and iEARN’s Jennifer Russell, for a three hour park expedition. Equipped with iPads, the geocaching app, warm jackets and little else, they set out to 1) find geocaches and 2) place a new trackable.
The first geocache they found was at a beautiful water location, called appropriately enough, Lakeside View. To my great embarrassment, after one of the youth stumbled through a bush, I pointed to a hole in the rock behind her as an example of the type of place one might find a cache. In she looked and there it was. Whoops.
In any case, they were excited to explore the contents, taking some items and leaving some of their own for others to find (some tiny rubber animal from the museum store). “Mind the thorns,” they left in the cache’s digital log, along with this photo:
After some debate, they decided to head out for Riftstone, one of my favorite. After looking around a pair of rock walls, they eventually found it. “YouthCaN NYC found this one on Black Friday!” they added to the log, along with the following photo:
The posts were written on the geocaching app on the iPad and the associated photos were submitting the same way, taken by the youth on the iPads as well. None of the youth had ever geocached before but picked it up right away and had little difficulty directing themselves. (Net access was provided by a wifi tether to my iPhone, btw, which worked quite well and cost just a few dollars).
Within Riftstone, the youth also left a trackable, an item designed to travel from one cache to another, to fulfill its mission. The youth named their trackable – a spider also purchased in the museum store – Take a Hike. It’s mission: “Take me on a hike in a park and take pictures of interesting things you see in the environment around you as you go. Take me to parks outside of New York City and to amazing parks around the world.” You can track its progress here.
Our third attempt was a “no find,” Resolve, right across the street from the entrance to the museum. The first clue begins with following the gaze of the mounted Teddy Roosevelt at the museum entrance. It was too tempting to pass up. But unlike the first two caches, this was a puzzle cache – we had to solve it to find it. And we failed, which is normal for geocaching.
“YouthCaN NYC here!” they logged. “We found two caches today, but sadly, this was not one of them. :(”
Two finds out of three, especially for a first outing, was pretty good, and learning to know when to stop looking is as important as learning how to find one.
As we returned to the museum, I asked them a few questions. It went something like this:
Me: How was Geocaching?
Hema: It was really fun, using the map and trekking around Central Park.
Me: Did you learn anything?
Cindy: Yeah. I have a really bad sense of direction.
Kevin: It was great. It’s a fun way to explore the natural environment.
Me: Is this a good activity for YouthCaN?
Kevin: I think it is good. It is fun to go out and search for boxes and, when you find one, you feel really rewarded, because you get to place something there and log it.
Me: How do the things you learned geocaching align with what you learn in YouthCaN?
Hema: The fact you are hiking around Central Park and looking at your natural environment in the middle of the city.
Yanairy: I thought it was really interesting. It made me want to dig into the soil, even though I know I can’t (as I know that is one of the rules) so I guess that teaches you not to destroy the environment.
Cindy: And we led it.
Kevin: That’s right. It was youth led. And YouthCaN stands for youth connected and networking.
Hema: And definitely, there is a lot of networking, by sharing information and little trinkets.
And when I asked if they would do it again, they all responded with an enthusiastic “yes” (and one chilled youth added, with a smile, “In the summer…”)
View more of photos from the trip here.