A high-tech scavenger hunt

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

SCHOOLS: A high-tech scavenger hunt

Gunn teacher gives students cellular phones to teach them a lesson in communication

Your mission is to find out how many bagpipers there are in Palo Alto, and the only tools you have are a cellular phone and your trusty phone book. And while you're at it, find out how many endangered species make their home in Palo Alto.

These were some of the challenges Marc Vincenti gave the 20 freshmen and sophomores in his advanced communications class at Gunn High School.

"Most students this age don't know what resources are available by phone," Vincenti said. "Some don't know how to use the phone book."

As the students got into their groups of four and started on their quests for obscure knowledge, some found it wasn't as easy as it sounds.

"One person I called asked if it was a joke," said 10th-grader Piu-Yun Chui, who was trying to find the most expensive piece of art for sale in Palo Alto. "I said it was for a school assignment, but they could only give me a wild guess."

An art dealer in Redwood City gave Chui a guess of $2 million, but one in Palo Alto told her $20,000. She didn't get a definite answer during the class period.

Vincenti came up with the idea for the phone scavenger hunt when he was a student teacher at Gunn two years ago.

"Communication for students is not a two-way street," Vincenti said. "They don't always know how to talk to the person on the other side of the phone, or that they have to speak pretty elaborately to explain what they need."

Vincenti did not just throw the kids into the water unprepared, he spent an hour with the class brainstorming, trying to come up with strategies for how or where to find information. If the groups got stuck, Vincenti would give them up to two hints.

After half an hour of phone calls, the students were hitting their stride with the search. Freshman Stephen Law had to find where Leland Stanford Jr. was buried before he was put in the family tomb and what was written on the tombstone.

"That took me almost half an hour, but I found it," Law said. "I had to call the Stanford archives, but I had to call several other places to get the number--I was calling 12 or 13 numbers."

Vincenti said Stanford's first burial site was near where the Stanford Shopping Center now sits, by the old Children's Hospital.

As for some of the other questions, it turns out that there are nine bagpipers in Palo Alto, and there are six endangered species in Palo Alto, including the silk marsh harvest mouse, the California least tern and the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander.

The project would not have been possible, Vincenti said, if it were not for the donation of 10 cellular phones from GTE Mobilnet for two weeks with unlimited, free calls.

Vincenti was also honored by having this project included in "Two Parts Textbook, One Part Love," a book about teaching written by "Dangerous Minds" author LouAnne Johnson, a former teacher at Carlmont High School in Belmont.

--Charlie Breitrose 

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