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Geology of National Parks: Spreadsheets, Quantitative Literacy, and Natural Resources

Len Vacher
University of South Florida


Geology of National Parks: Spreadsheets, Quantitative Literacy, and Natural Resources (GNP) (DUE 0836566) is a three-year Phase-1 CCLI project that started in January 2009. It is an adaptation of Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum (SSAC) (DUE 0442629), in which workshop participants from institutions around the country made spreadsheet modules to use in a wide variety of courses at a variety of levels.

The GNP project aims to develop spreadsheet modules for the introductory-level, general-university course, Geology of National Parks, at the University of South Florida. The QL will make use of high school mathematics including some algebra, trigonometric ratios, and descriptive statistics. For many modules, the mathematics will be limited to sums and ratios.

Four geology faculty at USF (Co-PIs Len Vacher, Judy McIlrath, Mark Rains and Tom Juster) and four PhD students will collaborate with eight Research Learning Centers of the National Park Service to develop the modules.
The partner RLCs are (1) Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center (at Great Smokey Mountains NP); (2) Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (at Glacier NP); (3) Great Lakes Research and Education Center (at Indiana Dunes NL); (4) Greater Yellowstone Science and Learning Center (at Yellowstone NP); (5) Mammoth Cave International Center of Science and Learning (at Mammoth Cave NP); (6) Old-Growth Bottomland Forest Research and Educational Center (at Congaree, NP); (7) Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center (at Point Reyes NP); and the Urban Ecology Research and Learning Alliance (at the Center for Urban Ecology, National Capital Region Parks, Washington DC).

Project Goals

The key goal is to develop a Geology of National Parks Collection for the SSAC Library.

The intention is to align Geology of National Parks Collecton with the NPS Natural Resource Challenge.

Funded since 2000, the Natural Resource Challenge is the an initiative to integrate science, park planning and management. The program now includes 21 Research Learning Centers (RLCs), 32 Inventory and Monitoring Networks, and 17 Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESUs). The program is producing a wealth of quantitative data on environmental conditions in the parks, much of it already online. This project aims to mine this resource to develop the collection of SSAC—Geology of National Parks modules.

An additional goal is to add an environmental-geology dimension to the Geology of National Parks course, which now focuses on geologic stories, plate tectonics, and scenic geology.

More broadly, the modules and the revised Geology of National Parks course that they will support are intended to illustrate for students that science informs decisions that citizens care about, in this case the management of our nation's treasured parklands.

Project Design/Elements

As in other SSAC modules, the modules of the new collection will prompt students to develop one or more spreadsheets to answer a question that involves making a calculation, drawing a graph, or exploring an association. The plan of the project is for the USF team to travel in two- to four-person groups to the RLCs during Summer and Fall 2009 to formulate the questions and obtain the data for at least two modules per collaborating RLC. At least one of the modules per RLC will make use of Challenge-related data. This means, specifically, that the Geology of National Parks Collection of SSAC will consist of at least 16 modules, at least eight of which will be aligned with the Challenge.

Evaluation and Assessment Strategies

Geology of National Parks is an online course at USF. It is taught every semester, including the summer. The instructor, Judy McIlrath, has created two SSAC-style modules that she rotates in the course. She uses pre/post questions to assess the module and will continue that during Spring and Summer 2009. During Summer 2009, the USF team with co-PI Ellen Iverson of the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) will develop a pre/post questionnaire to assess the course with respect to QL addressed by SSAC modules. In Fall 2009, while the new modules are being reviewed by RLC partners and edited by USF faculty and graduate students, the questionnaire will be used to provide baseline, pre-module implementation data. The new modules will be implemented in Spring 2010, at which time the pre/post-course questionnaire will be applied to provide post-implementation data.

Products, Key Findings, Publications

The Geology of National Parks Collection will include the following four modules that have been prepared before the start of the funding period. Two are by Judy Harden (now Judy McIlrath) who is using them in her Geology of National Parks course. Two are by graduate students Heather Lehto and Meghan Lindsey, who prepared modules to present at the George Wright Society Meeting in Portland, March 2009. These modules do not use Challenge data. The modules, which will be uploaded to this site at the workshop, are:

Harden, Judy, 2006. Vacation! – How Long and How Far: A Geologic Circuit of the National Parks of the Colorado Plateau. Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module SSAC2006.G155.JAH1.1.

Harden, Judy, 2008. Achieve New Heights – Go to the Rockies: A Geologic Circuit of National Parks and Other Scenic Places in Colorado. Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module SSAC2008.G155.JAH1.2.

Lehto, Heather, 2009. How Much Water is in Crater Lake? –Using Prisms to Calculate Volume. Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module SSACgnp2009.GB1601.HL1.1

Lindsey, Meghan, 2008. Let's Take a Hike in Catoctin Mountain Park – How Many Calories Will You Burn Off By Hiking a Five-Mile Loop Trail? Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum module SSACgnp2008.RA776.ML1.1.

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