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September 6, 2011 Easing the Middle School Transition: "Getting to Know You" Geocaching By Addie Albano
Grades 6–8

    Middle School — Just the words alone can strike fear into the hearts of students and parents alike. Sixth- through eighth-grade teachers will agree these years can be the some of the toughest, and most tumultous, in a child's life. For some, it will mean a chance to advance to a higher-level floor in a familiar building, but for others it might mean acclimating to an entirely different school. While this is a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends, it may mean leaving lifelong friendships behind — which can be one of many scary steps to endure. In addition, there seems to be a laundry list of changes that middle-schoolers can expect, such as:

    * potentially different grading systems that shift from alphabetic to numeric
    * an increased homework load
    * more responsibilities and expectations
    * different schedule formats and switching classes
    * changes in peer dynamics
    * lockers!

    With all of these adjustments, it's easy to see why many students would be terrified, but not all facets of middle school have to be overwhelming. The next few years offer many unique opportunities and the chance to start over with a clean slate. To help make this transition a little less intimidating, read on to learn how you can create a "get to know you" geocaching activity that's sure to win over even the most hesitant middle-schooler!

    If you've never heard of geocaching, or have always wanted to try but haven't yet, now's the perfect time! Geocaching is essentially an outdoor treasure hunting game with the objective of finding hidden containers, or caches, using GPS-enabled devices. The best part is you get to share your experience with other "geocachers" if you so choose. I began my maiden voyage with geocaching last year. After reading through my students' interest inventories, I discovered many of them shared a passion for the outdoors and appreciated hands-on learning. I had also heard other teachers' success stories around geocaching, and decided to jump right in and try it out. The risk paid dividends as my students scrambled to find each container with eager anticipation. Another bonus was the collaborative effort made by each group, who set aside their differences to come together as a team, their competitive juices flowing.

    Geocaching activities can be modified to fit any curriculum or ability level. If you are a beginner, two great sites to visit are and , which can walk you through the process.

    Note: If you are unable to locate or purchase a handheld GPS, other mobile devices will work. Free apps are available for iPad or iPhone as well.

    Step One: Devise a Plan

    226 On the first day of school, I usually have a mix of students who are curious about each other. Since the end result of this project is for students to learn more about their peers, I created a list of questions that cultivate candid conversations, such as "What was your most embarrassing moment?", "If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things could you not live without?" or "If a movie was made about your life, what actor or actress would you want to play you?" Then I find a few meaningful pictures that represent the school and laminate them to the back of the questionnaires, which I cut into puzzle piece shapes. These serve as our caches, scattered around the school grounds, allowing students to bond with their peers AND get a lay of the new land.

    Step Two: Testing 1,2,3...

    222 You will want to test out your technology at least one day before, to ensure that all systems are "go." Make sure batteries are charged and the coordinates are embedded. Grab a fellow colleague and take your project for a test run!

    Step Three: Let the Hunt Begin

    I begin class with a writing prompt that focuses on expectations and questions about the new school year, and hope that a few brave souls will read theirs aloud. Oftentimes, feelings are unanimous among peers, with similar anxieties and concerns. After a short presentation about the process of geocaching, the class is broken up into four teams, each armed with a GPS device, each of which must find the missing puzzle pieces.

    Step Four: Think, Pair, Share!

    228 As soon as all the caches are found, the students return to class to put the puzzle pieces together, which reveals the questionnaire. Each team member must then answer the questions aloud to the rest of the group. I love seeing the comaraderie that ensues, and am even more pleased when they let me in on the fun by asking me to share my own personal experiences. These are the first steps towards establishing new friendships and the confidence to forge ahead through the middle-school years.

    I think one student said it best: "Wow, I can't believe it! I was nervous for no reason at all!"

    How do you ease the transition into middle school?


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