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Smart Phone Scavenger Hunt Raises Tech Funds for Schools

Could defending champions, "Indomitable Immersion Mamas," take first place again in the next Tech Search Party, or will the team be edged out by "SmartPhonies," "Blackberry Prayer Circle," "Is Our Children Learning?" or one of the other nearly 100 teams expected to participate in the latest Tech Search Party? It hardly matters who wins, according to organizers. The real beneficiaries will be four San Francisco public schools whose technology programs will split the money raised by the event.

The Tech Search Party, organized by technology publicist, parent, and school technology committee member Tim Smith, is a two-hour scavenger hunt on foot with a twist. Participants will be given a map with some challenging clues to decipher, leading them to various locations in San Francisco neighborhood Noe Valley. Teams that arrive at the mystery location take a photo of the answer to the clue with a Smart phone and e-mail it back to an address provided at the beginning of the event. For example, a clue last year was, "The Gospel According to Goldberg." The answer was St. Paul's Church on Church Street, the site of Whoopi Goldberg's film Sister Act.

The first team to complete the clues is declared the winner. The cost is $50 for a team of four and $75 for a team of six. According to Smith, last year's event had about 50 teams and raised nearly $12,000, all of which went to Alvarado Elementary. The school used the funds to purchase Wyse E01 thin computing terminals and Microsoft MultiPoint Server to outfit classrooms with student computers. Sponsor also donated 15 flat panel monitors. "The energy savings is pretty significant, and the white noise has gone down in those classrooms, which is what the teachers like the most--it's not as noisy," said Smith.

This year the fundraiser takes place Nov. 13, 2010, and proceeds will go to buying technology for Alvarado Elementary as well as three other area schools, James Lick Middle School, Marshall Elementary School, and Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. There's no stipulation on how each school will spend its funds other than that it be used for technology, Smith noted. "Some schools need printers, some need monitors."

Besides, which is repeating its sponsorship, Google and local businesses and politicians have signed on to sponsor the event monetarily, which raises even more money than team fees. Likewise, companies and local businesses are coming forward to donate prizes for the winners, though, adds Smith, "While it's nice to have a prize, most people do it because they want to have fun."

"When the going gets tough, the tough get creative," said San Francisco mayor and lieutenant governor-elect Gavin Newsom, who donated an autographed baseball for last year's event. "San Francisco is a center of innovation and creativity, and Tech Search Party is an innovative way to meet the needs of San Francisco public schools."

While Smith said he believes this tech-based alternative to PTA-sponsored popcorn sales and book fairs could work in other cities too, he added, "It's a lot more fun on foot, so compact, urban areas are probably better suited to this type of event."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.