Thursday, January 24, 2008


Earlier this school year, I applied on behalf of a group of us for a National Semiconductor Science in Action grant. As a group, we could apply for a $5000 grant. I got our three 5th grade teachers and the 6th grade teacher who covers science and math to be in the group with me. Yesterday, at a staff meeting after school, we found out (quite by surprise) that our proposal was approved to receive a grant!

Our project is like a dream come true for me. I teach computer technology to grades one through eight at a private school here in San Jose. Students come to our class once a week (or twice a week in middle school) to learn computer skills. Last year and this year, since I have come into this particular position, we have really tried to push for true technology integration into the curriculum our classroom teachers are already covering. We have had some success, especially this school year, in meeting their standards while also accomplishing our own goals, which generally involve Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher, in addition to online research skills, e-mail (in grades three through eight), and information literacy (citing sources of information and images). This year we have also been using Google Earth.

Another new addition to this year's program has been geocaching. We've had 4th graders answer questions about California Indians, and we've had 5th graders make decisions on behalf of the main character of the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This was done through an on-campus geocaching activity during our class time. I'm also going to have a mini-course (like a non-graded elective class) for middle school students during our third trimester. But I have long wanted to combine true scientific investigation, data entry and graphing, and this hobby of mine (that would be the geocaching) into a truly engaging activity for our older elementary and middle school students. Enter the grant project.

What we're going to do is set up real geocache containers, which would be hidden and published on the leading geocaching website, and have them be data collection sites for weather and water quality testing. I'll get some thermometer/hygrometers, mini cloud charts, and notebooks for recording temperature, humidity, cloud cover, and general weather for the 5th grade geocaches. I'll have water testing strips and notebooks in the 6th grade geocaches, which we will hide along creeks in our area. When people find the hidden containers, they will be directed to take readings and record them both in writing in the logbooks, and also on the website when they log their finds. (I am going to have take-away sheets so they can write down their notes to refer to later when they go online.)

We will monitor the geocaches and keep track of the data we collect. I am also really happy I live in the Bay Area, as there is a fantastic geocaching community here, and I know people will be eager to help out by visiting the geocaches and participating in the data collection. I just shared the news with them last night, and I have already gotten some messages with suggestions about possible hide locations and contacts with area volunteers who work with the creek managers and city officials.

Best of all, I know the students will be very enthusiastic to have this real data, gathered in real time, to track and graph (in our technology class, of course) in Excel and Chart Wizard.

I have my sinister ulterior motives too. Maybe kids will find out that the creeks become littered often and they will want to organize creek clean-ups. Maybe they and their family members will discover geocaching as a fun activity to do as a family, and they will learn more about the natural wonders in our own backyards and neighborhood parks. Maybe the kids will become even more environmentally aware and take a proactive role in rescuing our planet from the brink of destruction. I am so sneaky.

This is an exciting development for me and my colleagues. We are excited about how this project will take shape over the coming years. Watch this space for updates . . . almost semi-sorta-regularly.