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The Living Edens: Virtual Yellowstone Tour

Teaching Materials by Avian Mind Design for PBS - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC).
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: August 30, 2006


This Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) website contains a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. In this tour, students act as park rangers to research geological features of Yellowstone, locate these features on maps, and describe and define associated geologic terms. The features discussed include geysers, hot springs, canyons, waterfalls and mudpots.

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Learning Goals

Students will:
  • Research the geologic wonders (geysers, hot springs, mud pots, canyons, and waterfalls) of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Locate the main geologic features of Yellowstone on a map of the park.
  • Write a description of the geologic features to be included on the map for a self-guided tour for park visitors.
  • Define the terms geyser, mud pots, hot springs, erosion, and uplift

Context for Use

The original lesson plan could be covered in one class meeting. Adaptations for university use will take longer, especially if they include research.

Teaching Materials

Along with the lesson plan, map and virtual tour, the The Living Edens: Virtual Yellowstone Tour (more info) contains numerous links and a bibliography for student research on Yellowstone and its features. The site recommends that the map be photocopied onto an 11"x17" sheet.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The original lesson plan is for 4th-6th-grade students, but could be easily adapted for university students. The notion of KWL charts (what students know (K), what students want to learn (W), and what they did learn (L)), virtual field trips, and role-playing will translate easily, but students could be asked to research and explain the geological origin of the spectacular features of Yellowstone included in the tour.


There are several suggestions for assessment. University students could be asked to prepare a brochure or give a presentation to tourists (assign each student or group a different feature to describe) in the role of park rangers. The instructor can decide how scientifically detailed it needs to be. The virtual field trip includes Canary/Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Fall, and Old Faithful. Each of these could be assigned to separate students/groups. Other topics include the Boiling River, the Gardner River/Canyon, Mt. Everts, and Bunsen Peak. All features recommended to tourists by the Park Service and came from a variety of geologic origins.

References and Resources

NASA has a site with lots of information on the ecology, particularly the recovery from the recent wildfires at its Yellowstone Fires resource. This site also includes a problem-based learning activity with students in the role of scientists.

As researchers, the students should first visit the official Yellowstone Geology site which defines the four terms from the lesson plan and has a brief description of the Washburn Range, which could be used to set the standard for the descriptions the students should write or present for the features they are assigned. On the sidebar, the geology button also covers buttons for "Calderas" and "Glaciations". There are also sidebar button-menus for "Geysers" and "Waterfalls".

More useful links for student research include: