Helping kids find their way - with GPS

Camp focuses on geocaching

With about a dozen Geocache trails in Juneau, it only seemed logical to create a summer camp geared toward teaching children the basics of compass use and map navigation.


“I think it’s an important skill, especially for kids in Alaska, to read a map and a GPS device,” said Bob Vieth who oversees all of the Juneau Economic Development Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. “And Geocaching is a great way for them to learn those particular skills.”

As part of their summer camp series, children spent three days in late June learning the basics of land navigation through Geocaching, a quasi-treasure hunt.

Geocaching works like this: participants use GPS or mobile navigation finders to hide and seek containers.

The “caches,” or “geocaches,” can vary in size from small waterproof containers to larger stashes such as ammunition boxes or Tupperware.

Inside each cache are trinkets left by previous participants and a logbook. When a cache is located, participants are encouraged to take an object from within the container and replace it with one of their own. Then, before replacing the cache to its original coordinates, participants sign and date the logbook.

This is the first year JEDC offered such a program.

“They loved just going out there with the GPSs and tracking down the Geocaches,” said Eric Bookless, the instructor and a first-year engineering student at University of Alaska Fairbanks. “They were pretty excited when they found the actual Geocache.”

The children followed established Geocache trails around Thunder Mountain High School before finding a cache behind Safeway. The students also established trails of their own, while learning about waypoints and how to set a compass to its magnetic North.

“It was pretty cool,” said Gavin Gende, 10, who plans on attending a similar STEM camp this summer. “We found one that had a bunch of stuff in it, but it was cool to find a real Geocache.”

Fourth- and fifth-graders were welcome to attend the camp that comprised 13 students this year.

Throughout the summer, JEDC is offering 10 similar camps as part of STEM Alaska.

Kitchen Chemistry is the next camp Gende is planning to attend. That camp is open to fourth- through sixth-graders who’ll learn the chemistry and physics behind food science. Kitchen Chemistry begins Aug. 5.

Also last week, 14 upcoming seventh- and ninth-graders participated in App Camp, where they learned fundamentals of coding in JavaScript and HTML.

Campers were guided by Shay Wilson, an IT expert with the Alaska State Legislature, in assembling the correct code to design their own Smartphone apps.

They were also taught how to upload their apps to the Apple Store for world-wide distribution.

Ami Reifenstein, Gende’s mother, said he was excited about Geocaching and was very much looking forward to the next camp.

“He had a good time and he could have stayed longer,” said Reifenstein. “He would have been totally happy to do it longer each day.”

Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at


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