The race was on Wednesday morning, with Maryville High School students running from one side of the campus to the other, all in search of six cups.
No Holy Grail sighting, but instead an innovative teaching technique that got the 33 students in Bob Kirkland’s Human Geography class up and moving, thinking and figuring.
It was Kirkland’s own version of “The Amazing Race Comes to MHS.”
Kirkland split his class into eight teams and gave each team hand-held GPS units to use to find the clues Kirkland planted throughout campus. Each team worked together to first use coordinates to take them where the cup containing written clues were placed. Then they had to figure out what the clue, written in the form of a riddle, meant. There were six cups situated at various locations in the high school and outside on the campus. The first team to arrive back at Kirkland’s class having successfully found all six clues won.
Kirkland has been teaching Human Geography for seven years at Maryville High School. “The idea for the lesson came from geocaching, which has become a world-wide phenomenon. People are traveling all over the world finding hidden treasure,” he said.
Kirkland said he learned more about how to use GPS devices in lesson plans at a technology conference a few years ago. At the end of the 2010-11 school year, he spoke with Roger Murphy with the Coordinated School Health program. The program is designed to incorporate health and physical activity into the curriculum for students.
Murphy used $850 in grant money to purchase eight hand-held GPS units for Kirkland’s class. “I took a lesson plan already being used and modified it for my kids and for Maryville High School,” he said.
Kirkland said teachers use the GPS devices so students can learn how to find different locations. “My intention was to get the kids moving by turning the lesson into something like ‘The Amazing Race,’” he said, referring to the CBS reality show where two-member teams compete in a scavenger hunt spanning the entire world.
The winning team’s reward was a candy bar of their choice. “It was the carrot, a little sugar doesn’t hurt,” Kirkland said.
The team of Andrew Curtis, Rachel Kirsch, Megan Van Son and Courtney Gale won.
Kirkland was pleased with how well the lesson turned out. “I think they had a blast. They were laughing and screaming. You could see when they figured out a clue, their faces would light up, and there was a sense of accomplishment,” he said.
Madeline Ingram, a sophomore, said, one of the team’s clues was “Watch Nadal and Federer” and that led them to the tennis courts.
“It was cool. We got to work together in groups.”
Emily Ferrell, a sophomore, had never used a GPS but picked it up quickly. “It was a little hectic because we had to figure out how to use the GPS first,” she said.
Andrew Curtis, a sophomore, said the challenge was in figuring out how to use the GPS units and then figuring out what the clues meant once they found them. Competing with the other teams was the most enjoyable aspect of the lesson, he said.
“Our first clue was, ‘Find engine 51,” which was the parking space 51 beside the fire hydrant. We found the fire hydrant and the cup with the next clue. The challenge was finding the coordinates and paying attention to the coordinates,” he said.
Akshata Dusa, a sophomore, said she enjoyed the change of pace. “It was fun not to have to sit in class the whole hour and a half,” she said.
Malerie Lazar, a sophomore, had a similar reaction. “It was fun working with people you don’t talk to as much,” she said. “I had used a GPS in my car but the handheld GPS was different.”
Andy Bihl, a freshman, said he had never used a GPS before and teammate Nadia Jabbour, a freshman, said Kirkland gave them brief instructions and sent them on their way. “He has a sense of humor,” she said of how confused some of the students initially were before they figured out how to use the GPS devices.
Brianna Curtis, a sophomore, said she enjoyed the exercise. “Your competitive side comes out,” she said. “You’re out running back and forth from one side of the school to the other.”