Could you find something as small as a pencil eraser by using only a global positioning system (GPS) unit and a set of coordinates? Well, now you have a chance to find out.
Students in the West Yellowstone School’s ninth grade earth space science class and eighth grade technology class have been involved with a geocaching project since school began a few months ago. On Monday, students went around town and surrounding Gallatin National Forest land to place nine various geocache devices as part of the project.
It all began with the school’s technology instructor Jo Stevens, who wrote a grant to the Montana Association of Geographic Information Professionals (MAGIP) for a grant of $1,000 to purchase five GPS handheld devices. Both Stevens and science instructor Sara Randle have been actively involved with moving the project along.
The devices were purchased to be used for science, business and technology curriculum.
“We wanted to bring GPS and geographic information system (GIS) into the classroom,” Stevens said. “Sara (Randle) and I chose geocaching as our main project, and to also use the GPS units for other classroom uses.
Since the beginning of the school year, the students have been learning about longitude, latitude and using the GPS units hands on.
“We wanted to create an activity to get kids interested in GIS and GPS, and this is a real life application that gets the kids out of the classroom,” Stevens said. “We also wanted to show the positives that geocaching has with local businesses.”
According to Stevens, the newly placed nine caches will help promote geotourism by bringing geocaching enthusiasts to West Yellowstone.
“People can make it part of their vacation while here,” she said. “How can we promote West Yellowstone as part of a national park vacation? If we could do something to keep people here an extra day, it helps promote better economic growth.”
Now that the caches are in place, the students will submit the longitude and latitude of the devices on www.geocaching.com and wait for a geocache volunteer that covers both Montana and Idaho to come and find all of the devices to ensure the students are complying with geocache guidelines. Once that is complete, the information will be published on the website for geocache enthusiasts from around the world to see.
Once the snow melts in the upcoming spring, students will go out and locate the caches to make sure they stayed in the correct spot throughout the harsh winter.
Future lessons with the devices include data analysis, maintaining the geocaches and reviewing visitor numbers for years to come.
All in all, Stevens said things went well for placing the devices on a frigid Monday morning with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground.
“It was cold but the kids were really excited,” she said. “They were proud to be part of something that will be around after they are finished with high school.”
Stevens says she’s pleased with the support of the town council, who approved an application to maintain an encroachment on city property for the three caches placed within the city limits.
“I’m also thankful for the parents and volunteers who helped out,” she said. “It couldn’t have been done without them.”
Volunteers included Brad Loomis, Kelli Sanders, Melissa Alder and Sherrie Williams.