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Students take learning outside
A multigrade science lesson gets students into the wild for a tech-age adventure: geocaching.
By Jeffery S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008
Mark Butler, an environmental resource teacher, points out a Mimosa plant to Wiregrass High School students Stefanie Borreli, 14, from left, Taylor Gibson, 15, Christen Caporali, 14, and Brandon Key, 14. The class was taking part in a geocaching project Monday at the Crystal Springs Preserve.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
Students of Jill Hrovoski's Integrated Science honors class use a hand-held GPS receiver to pinpoint their location as they take field notes on the grounds of the Crystal Springs Preserve.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
Science teacher Jill Hrovoski shows Taylor Gibson the seeds of a Coontie Fern. Hrovoski's students were taking part in the multigrade geocaching project Monday.
CRYSTAL SPRINGS - The team of Wiregrass Ranch High School freshmen had a choice: the pocked trunk of one oak tree, or the lichen- and moss-covered limbs of another.
Deeming the lichen "really cool," the students hiked across the Crystal Springs Preserve to their preferred tree and began detailing its stats.
Brandon Key snapped its photo, while Stefanie Borreli held up her portable GPS reader and reeled off the longitude and latitude to note-taker Taylor Gibson. Taylor and Christen Caporali identified the foliage as resurrection moss and red lichen, writing comments beside a penciled sketch of the plants on their log.
Having documented the site, the team moved on.
"What are we looking for, guys?" Taylor asked as they walked beside the spring.
"Adventure," Stefanie responded enthusiastically.
And that's what they found, whether in the form of a green spider weaving its web, a red-headed woodpecker rat-a-tatting overhead or sparkling water bubbling up from the aquifer through the sand. It was easy to forget on a crisp, sunny morning that they and 37 of their classmates also were participating in the Pasco County school district's first ever K-12 high-tech scavenger hunt.
The Wiregrass Ranch teens represented just the first leg of the four-month endeavor, which also will include about 50 students from John Long Middle and dozens more from Seven Oaks, Sand Pine, Double Branch and New River elementary schools.
The high schoolers' job: To select 25 spots in the preserve with enough specificity that others can find them. Back at school, they would use the photos, coordinates and other identifying details to create a custom Google map that they'll deliver to the middle school.
The middle schoolers will return later in the month to locate the sites and make their own observations, which they will turn into a written field guide for the elementary kids. To add more fun to the effort, the middle schoolers also will place small boxes with puzzle pieces at each location for the youngest group to collect.
It's called geocaching,and people all over the world do it. Using sets of clues and a global positioning system, they head out to far-flung locations in search of prizes and, perhaps more to the point, adventure. The hunt is at least half the fun.
Wiregrass Ranch technology specialist Samuel Parisi learned of geocaching while attending a summer seminar and decided to put it to use while creating a multigrade science and technology lesson. He wanted to come up with a project where students could construct and create their own knowledge and share it with others, rather than limit them to a classroom lecture.
"This is what we came up with," he said.
If the pilot program is successful, it is slated to expand to other Pasco school feeder patterns. Other high schools already have begun asking for information. Parisi also plans to put the lesson plan on a national Web site that educators share.
Science teacher Jill Hrovoski saw several benefits of the project. It forced the students to make decisions, for one, and it got them into the world they live in.
"Most of the stuff that we're going to see here is going to be what they see in this area," Hrovoski said. "They really get to see what this area looked like before Meadow Pointe came in."
It also engages the students because they know they are helping younger kids learn, too, added Lesley Wade, Wiregrass Ranch science department head.
"These kids are really proud of what they are doing," Wade said.
On that point, the teens agreed.
"I like it," Stefanie said, peering into the headwaters of the Hillsborough River. "We like to learn things with our hands. We like to get out here and be active."
Getting into nature certainly is a plus, Taylor agreed. "But knowing you're helping other people learn is good, too."
They trekked around the preserve, from water's edge to tree stump, intrigued by dragonflies and empty animal lairs. Teachers stood by ready to answer questions but mostly let the students explore on their own.
After finding their six geocache sites, the team of Christen, Brandon, Taylor and Stefanie did not make haste for the bus in the parking lot. They just kept wandering, only without taking notes.
Parisi couldn't have been more pleased.
"They are taking the theories taught in the classroom out of the classroom and into the real world," he said. "It's not learning for the sake of learning."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
Q&A: Geocaching kids
What is geocaching?
It's a popular adventure game for GPS users. Caches are set up in different places, to be discovered later.
How will this one work?
High schoolers find and describe 25 unique spots in the Crystal Springs Preserve. Middle schoolers will discover the caches later. By the way, caches usually contain some kind of "treasure," which middle schoolers will leave for elementary students.
Sounds fun. How can I learn more about geocaching?
Go to www.geocaching.com to explore the sport and find out about caches worldwide.