2009-03-11 / Schools

Colts Neck pupils track travelbugs' adventures

BY REBECCA MORTON Staff Writer

COLTS NECK — Fourth grade pupils at the Conover Road Elementary School are traveling the world vicariously through four travelbugs that have been released into the wild. This geocaching project is a pilot program developed by teachers Michele Rogers and Nancy Plumfield.

The travelbugs are not real bugs. They are actually tags similar to a dog tag and each one has an identification code on it.

Each travelbug was given a colored keychain and a note on the keychain asked the person who found the travelbug to move it one cache closer to the west coast. The travelbugs can be found in caches (boxes) that are off the beaten path and can be found using coordinates of latitude and longitude.

Rogers said her family participates in geocaching on their own time and Plumfield said she recently read about the activity. The two women said there is an Internet Web site where people can register to be geochachers.

Once a person is a member of the Web site, he would enter his ZIP code and the coordinates for area caches would be provided. Participants would then take those coordinates and try to find the hidden caches. In the start of this particular project, four families volunteered to drop off the travelbugs at local caches. The families were provided with the coordinates for four caches and used global positioning technology to find the caches that were hidden.

After the travelbugs were deposited, area geocachers found the tags and moved them to other caches as had been requested on the tag. Each move may take a travelbug farther west. The Internet Web site tracks the progress of the bugs as the cachers log the identification number into the site with the tag's current coordinates.

The goal of the project was to enhance the pupils' geography and math lessons, while having the children use GPS technology. The children have been plotting the distances on a map each time a bug has arrived at a new location.

Rogers said there is a large map in the school hallway which is updated every time a travelbug is moved. The pupils are incorporating the travelbugs in other subject areas, such as history. Rogers said while studying the travels of Lewis and Clark, one child noted that they explored the western part of America just as the travelbugs are doing. In the spring the participating students will venture out onto the school grounds using handheld GPS units to further their studies on latitude and longitude.

Rogers said the pupils eagerly wait to see where the travelbugs will wind up. Though each travelbug was marked with a request to make it across the United States, one travelbug went on an adventure overseas. The teachers reported that one travelbug visited Sweden, France and Germany.

The children were excited when the individual holding the bug in Munich, Germany, posted a photo of the bug outside that city's Olympic Village. Plumfield said the children have printed out pictures that fellow geocachers have posted of the sites the school's travelbugs have seen.

Seeing the excitement the project has generated and the way the students have taken to their studies related to the project, Rogers said she and Plumfield would like to expand the program in the future. The teachers would like to see other grade levels explore other areas of the world, such as Central America. Both would like to have one of the school's travelbugs circumnavigate the globe.

The current travelbugs will continue to be tracked throughout the rest of the school year. Rogers said she would not be surprised to learn that pupils may continue to monitor the progress of the travelbugs during the summer vacation.

Plumfield said she would like to eventually place a Conover Road Elementary School cache somewhere near the school. Usually caches hold logbooks where those who discover them leave their name and the date of their visit. Plumfield said it would be nice for the students to see who travels through Colts Neck.

As for the families who placed the travelbugs to begin with, Rogers said they have become geocachers.

"I personally think it's great, it gets the family out and moving," Rogers said of the activity.

Plumfield said geocaching was a great thing for people to learn about, but said she also hopes it stays small enough where caches remain hidden and are not vandalized.

To learn more about geocaching visit www.geocaching.com.

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