Several years ago I moved to Washington DC to work at a museum. As a lifelong Bostonian the idea of moving to another city, even one that was only 500 miles away, was like moving to another planet - Boston, after all, is the city where "everybody knows your name," whereas DC seemed to be the city to which people relocate in order to further political ambitions by working 16 hour days in dark Capitol Hill offices. However, despite the differences of city atmosphere, I grew to love my adopted home. The museums, political events, unique neighborhoods and Virginia just across the Potomac all held fascinating nooks that were waiting to be discovered. For the first few weeks I rode my bicycle endlessly on my days off, exploring the lesser known monuments and parks. It was also during this time that I realized whenever I wore my museum ID card I became a walking information booth for tourists on the street. As much as I thought I knew about the locations of monuments, museums, and other points of interest, I was aware that there was so much out there that I hadn’t even heard of yet.
Enter geocaching. A co-worker introduced me to it and I was instantly hooked. The short explanation for geocaching is that it is essentially a treasure hunt. You get GPS coordinates, map them out, arrive at the specific location and then search for a container that holds a prize or log book to sign. For someone new to a city, I quickly discovered that this was a fun way to explore and learn about obscure neighborhoods and meet interesting people along the way. I also saw the potential for educational connections. Along with my co-worker we would frequently make up lists of coordinates that we would trade with each other. Sometimes they took us on a unique, solemn, personalized tours of Arlington National Cemetery, and other times they would bring us to locations of famous movies (the “Exorcist” house at Georgetown University, for example).
It goes without saying that not every school has the resources to outfit kids with GPS devices and that not every school is in a neighborhood where students can safely navigate the streets. However, these limitations shouldn’t hinder exploration of the larger world. Thanks to technology like Google Earth anyone with an internet connection can plug in coordinates and be transported across oceans to Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia. Rather than just reading about the Battle of Gettysburg, students could take a virtual tour to fully understand the terrain, movements, distances, etc. Teachers and students can create world tours based on any number of subjects or use more local geocaching to enhance an outdoor field trip. Whether used for fun, tourism, education, or fitness, geocaching is an engaging and unique way to explore not only the larger world but also the creativity and imagination of those who create caches.