This is by far probably the MOST difficult review I've had to do as a member of the TOS Crew. And as I explain what Educaching is, those of you who know me well will understand how this was a marriage of polar opposites from the get-go. But it is for those of you who are NOT technologically challenged as I am that I am writing this review because YOU will probably LOVE this product every bit as much as I hated it :-). (And it KILLS me to hate it, because this company has such a strong Christian base, so please, PLEASE keep reading so you can judge for yourself.)
Educaching was born after the author went geocaching with some family members. Here's what he has to say:
Teachers and students can use the amazing technology of GPS to participate in hunts that center around learning! I began to think of ways to do this with my own students, and after speaking with my principal and receiving funds to purchase GPS receivers, I began to write this manual of how I and other teachers could use this technology in the classroom.
Now, if you've never been geocaching, you might need a bit of an explanation. And the Educaching book does a great job of explaining what geocaching is, how it works, and how it perfectly segues into educational activities that bridge across many different subjects to provide a truly integrated form of learning. But if you have to idea what geocaching is, here's my really simplistic explanation. Geocaching is a high tech scavenger hunt. People hide little treasures (caches) and others try to find them. It's very similar to letterboxing, except that geocaching makes use of a handheld GPS system instead of a series of clues to guide you to your destination.
Taking that a step further, in Educaching the teacher is the one hiding the "caches" and the students are the ones using the GPS devices to find these caches and do whatever it is that the caches instruct them to do (or the teacher instructs them to do) to take what they find in the caches and apply it to their lesson. And to help you get started, the Educaching book has 20 sample lessons, starting with beginner ones and working up to advanced, to help stimulate your creative juices for applying this technology in your classroom or homeschool. And since this book is written for traditional school teachers as well, there are some sections that a homeschooler might not find helpful, like how to apply for grants to fund your GPS purchase.
The good: The idea behind Educaching is simple and brilliant. Kids like technology. Kids love treasure hunts. Why not combine the two? And Educaching allows teachers to take topics that are sometimes sedentary in their presentation and gets kids up and moving and makes them an active part of the learning process. The manual devotes plenty of space to teacher training so you know how to set up caches and takes you and your students through some beginning exercises to get familiar with the GPS and how it works. And the 20 lesson plans included show you how wide the implications for GPS in education are. The manual is a wonderful springboard to start you thinking about how to apply modern technology in the classroom or homeschool. At $32, the book is reasonably priced IF this type of activity is something that would appeal to you and your students.
The bad: This is incredibly teacher-time intensive. Really. You have to first learn the ins and outs of using a handheld GPS (if this is not something you already know how to do). And you have to take your lesson and figure out how you would take it from its traditional format and make it into a treasure hunt...what goes in the caches? What do the students do with them after they find them? Yes, the manual gives you basic ideas, but it still is a learning curve. You have to find hiding places for all your caches. You have to map out where you put them. You have to make a map for the students. You have to take the GPS device and mark the coordinates either on paper for the students to input or on the GPS itself. You have to do a trial run to be sure everything works the way you think it will. And, you have to go back and clean up all your caches afterward. It takes tons of planning and a good amount of time, all for a relatively short activity.
The ugly: Anyone who knows me knows technology and I are not compatible. But the kids and I have gone letterboxing, and this seemed like the next step. Only reviewers with a GPS (or access to a GPS) got this product, but I knew my friend's family went geocaching regularly and they said I could borrow theirs, so I figured I would give it a try. But then I got an iPhone, and they have GPS, so I figured I would just use the phone. (I'm telling you all this, because I am sure someone else out there will think the same thing.) That's where the problems started. The iPhone 3G do not have an internal compass, so you have to download a compass app. And it has to be one that you can input GPS coordinates into. My crazy-smart computer engineer husband spent the better part of a DAY trying to find me a free or low cost app that would do what I needed, but in the end none did. See, GPS is really cool, but it is not profoundly accurate. At least not on my phone or, based on the experience of others that I read about, on less expensive GPS devices. They are accurate to about 7-15 METERS. That's like having a 21 foot radius of error. For finding a tiny Tupperware container. Yeah. NOT easy. The activity my kids and I were trying to do was "Which Tree is Which" and it went along perfectly with Mimi's lapbooking assignment to collect leaves from different trees. Except that the GPS on my phone could not get us anywhere close to a specific tree despite the fact that I stood right in front of it and marked the coordinates. In fact, anywhere within sight of the tree generally showed as being "at the target"-not very discriminating. Luckily "the hubs" and I checked this all out first, but we wasted literal hours trying to find a way to get it more precise. If you were looking for a tiny item you'd never find it, and if you were looking for a large thing (like a tree) it was hard to know which one was the actual target. Oh, and GPS units have to have an unobstructed view of the sky, so they don't really work anywhere near trees, which makes it really hard to target one. Nor do they work if you are under cover. Nor do they work if it's really cloudy. Nor can you see the screen on the GOS if it's NOT really cloudy.
Basically, you have to have a big, wide-open field for this to work best, but big, wide-open fields don't generally have good hiding spots, and if they are good hiding spots, the GPS probably can't find them. ARGH! It was an exercise in futility. And it's hard to identify trees in tree-less fields, LOL.
So fast forward to today, when all the forces of the universe finally aligned and God took pity on me. We borrowed a "real" (read"expensive") GPS from a friend who hunts. This is the mac-daddy of GPS's. This thing costs $300ish. And if I owned one, and knew how to do all the things it can do, I might enjoy Educaching more. But even with this improved technology, my kids HATED it. Really. I dragged them out there kicking and screaming. It may be that here in FL it is 87 degrees with a heat index over 90 right now, and trudging along through the great outdoors just is no-one's idea of fun.Or it may be that the kids recognized that the whole thing would be much easier if I just said to them, "go find a bunch of different trees and take their picture and collect some leaves". In any event, my oldest (who embraces technology full on) hated it. His sister hated it. My youngest abandoned me.
Only TJ was intrigued with the cool GPS enough to give it a try, but not even he was interested for long.
They are only smiling in this picture because I used some creative persuasion to encourage their good behavior.
Here's what I was having to try to navigate with on my phone. It was impossible.
Here's the "real" GPS. It makes all the difference in the world.
So what is the bottom line? If you are technology inclined, and you are familiar with a GPS, own a really good one, and would LOVE the chance to include it in your learning, than this is perfect for you. If you just want to get your kids up and mobile more in their studies, this might be a good way to do it. But if you are NOT technology inclined, be prepared for a HUGE learning curve. I felt over and over that it would be much easier just to revert to "absolutely relative" directions (go to the mailbox and walk 20 paces). We would have been done in a quarter of the time, and the kids would have enjoyed it more. Personally, I don't think the average person's GPS is capable of making Educaching all that it can be, but maybe someday soon that will be different. If you happen to have a mac-daddy hunting GPS, you should give it a try, as you will have much greater success with it than those with a cheaper counterpart (see NOTE below).
Several other TOS Crew members reviewed this product, so please go HERE to read what they thought. And I encourage you to go HERE to download a free sample lesson to see if Educaching is for you. If so, the book is available at that same site for $32 in a downloadable e-book, or $32 plus shipping and handling if you want it in a hard copy.
A NOTE FROM THE FOLKS AT EDUCACHING: In the last couple of years the manufacturers of GPS receivers have made great advances in equipment features and capabilities across the whole product platform that greatly reduce user frustration. Some of the reviewers make comments about poor signal reception (which may affect decision to purchase the GPS curriculum product) that can be easily resolved with using equipment that has high sensitivity features. The high sensitivity feature is basic on most, if not all, manufacturers newer units. It provides users excellent reception under heavy tree canopy, or on a cloudy day. In fact, Garmin now only produces hand held receivers with this feature. It's like radios in cars. You can't buy a car off the lot without it. These units can be purchased direct from Garmin for $135, or from dealers like Amazon, which lists the Gamin eTrex H (h stands for high sensitivity) for $75.
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Educaching book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.