With Flex Fridays and Build Weeks, we often get out of the classroom.


Orienteering is a competitive sport involving off-trail running with a detailed topographical map and a compass. The sport is well-known and quite popular in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Unfortunately, in the United States, orienteering is still very much a "fringe sport," but the Bay Area Orienteering Club (BAOC) is one of the largest clubs in the country, typically organizing two or three orienteering events a month.

I attended my first orienteering event in 1993 and was immediately hooked, since it combines both physical and mental challenges. In fact, orienteering is often called "The Thinking Sport" by its participants, and mathematicians, scientists, and computer programmers tend to be attracted to the sport for this reason. Well over half the members of BAOC have careers in a technical field of some sort.  

"Real" orienteering takes place in the woods, on a map that typically looks like this:


Unfortunately, it will be challenging to ever take Proof School students to this type of terrain, since not only are all of our wooded mapped areas a considerable distance from downtown San Francisco, but they are also difficult or impossible to reach by public transportation. So the two orienteering events I have organized at Proof School this year have both been urban or semi-urban in nature, but I hope that they gave our students a taste of what the sport is all about.

The first orienteering activity I organized for Proof School was on a map of downtown San Francisco, a portion of which is shown below. Can you locate Proof School on the map?


About two-thirds of the middle school hiked or ran on this map during two different Flex Fridays in Block Two, and I took another small group out on the map last Tuesday, on the day of the BAMO contest. Students were expected to navigate to some or all of the sixteen control points on the map, in any order, and to answer a multiple choice question at each control, to prove that they were there. For example, control #13 is at the fortune cookie factory in Chinatown, and the question there was:

"According to the sign above the front door, when was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory established?" (Correct answer: 1962)

The student groups who were the most serious about completing the course quickly were able to find all sixteen controls in a little under two hours. Other groups stopped more often to sightsee along the way and skipped some control points, but all the students had fun, and became a little more familiar with the city in which they attend school.    

During our most recent Build Week, I organized a second event on an orienteering map of Fort Mason, shown below:


This time, students had to negotiate the course in order of the control point numbers. At each control point, I had hung a pink streamer the day before, and finding the streamer indicated to the students that they had reached the correct location. I was impressed by how well students were able to read this map, as all of the student groups found all of the control points in under one hour, and very few navigational errors were made. Perhaps Proof School has some champion orienteers in its midst!

BAOC has also produced professional-quality orienteering maps of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. I look forward to holding informal Proof School orienteering activities on these maps in the future, or perhaps even taking students to a weekend event organized by the Bay Area Orienteering Club.

--Steve Gregg