Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Westward Ho! How Far is Yonder Mountain

Westward Ho! How Far is Yonder Mountain

Len Vacher—University of South Florida, Tampa FL 33620
This activity was developed for Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum. National Science Foundation, DUE 0442629.
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One of a collection of PowerPoint/Excel modules designed to reinforce quantitative skills in geologic context. Students build a spreadsheet to calculate the distance of a peak using vertical angles sighted from a wagon train heading directly for the peak. The spreadsheet also calculates the height of the peak above the plain.

Learning Goals

Students will:
- Gain experience in figuring out how to solve a trigonometric problem in geologic/geographic context.
- Develop a spreadsheet to carry out a calculation.
- Consider the effect on the calculated answer of small uncertainties in the measured quantities.

Context for Use

This activity was designed for an upper-division math-in-geology course for geology majors but can easily be used in an introductory undergraduate geoscience class, as well as a high school trigonometry class.

Description and Teaching Materials

PowerPoint/Excel module (Microsoft Word 100kB Jul23 06)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The module is intended as a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a lab exercise or handwork assignment, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity with just-in-time teaching of mathematical problem solving. The problem context and the mathematical content are developed within the module.


The module ends with hand-in questions that the students answer by manipulating the spreadsheet that they prepared while working through the module.

References and Resources