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Games-Based Learning: Geocaching To Address Environmental Issues

Education posts

I started work at American Museum of Natural History last October as the new associate director for digital learning. I am really excited about all the programs we are developing within Youth Initiatives in the Education Department and thrilled to have this opportunity to share some highlights with you, now and again, on the Museum’s site, amnh.org.

I’d like to start with a short series about recent efforts to bring game play and game design into Museum halls. The first entry is below.

Games-Based Learning, Part 1: Geocaching To Address Environmental Issues

Last fall the Museum’s educational staff brought geocaching to YouthCaN, an international, youth-led organization that was founded at the Museum together with iEARN and uses technology to inspire, connect, and educate people worldwide about environmental issues. Geocaching is a 12-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.

Four youth set out on a three-hour expedition equipped with iPads, the official geocaching app, warm jackets, and little else. Their goal, in part, was to place a new “trackable.” Trackables are objects that move from one geocache to any of the more than 1 million geocaches around the world. But each trackable has a mission—something its owner wants people to do with it when it’s found.

YouthCaN named their trackable—a spider purchased in the Museum store—Take a Hike. Its 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.”

Saying Farewell to “Take A Hike.”

©AMNH/B. Joseph


When I asked the youth how the things they learned geocaching aligned with what they learned in YouthCaN, this is what they had to say:

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 there is a lot of networking, by sharing information and little trinkets.

The Museum is known for its worldwide expeditions to advance scientific knowledge. This trackable, in its own way, set out on its own expedition, with a promise to send back updates along the way. And it has. In its first three months, it travelled 4,830 miles.

It has been to this snowy park in Ontario...

Geocaching 1

… a San Diego port...

Geocaching 2

and more:


When asked if they would do it again, the YouthCaN participants responded with an enthusiastic “yes” (and one youth added, with a smile, “In the summer…”)

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