Let's Take a Hike in Catoctin Mountain Park

Module by: Meghan Lindsey, University of South Florida

Cover Page by: Meghan Lindsey, Len Vacher and Denise Davis, University of South Florida

This material was originally developed by Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


This Spreadsheet Across the Curriculum activity imagines that a Geology of National Parks student is in the Washington DC area and went to Catoctin Mountain Park MD to hike one of the trails with a friend. The hikers were given a topographic map and a trail map of the park and, after the hike in which they enjoyed seeing the geology, they used the map information to determine how many calories they burned off during the hike. For the purpose of the module, students back home in a Geology of National Parks course are told which hike to take (a 5-mile loop) and how fast to hike it (2 mi/hr). The selected loop trail is divided into segments, and the students are provided with information on the length and change in elevation in each segment. The students use this information to calculate, with a spreadsheet, the slopes in each trail segment and then the grades and, finally, the slope angles using the arctangent. In the next part of the activity, the students are given an energy-expenditure graph (energy expenditure/kg as a function of hiking rate and incline) and asked to determine from the graph how many calories they burned in each trail segment – all the while making minor unit conversions. As their final unit-conversion problem, they calculate how many Big Macs they burned off on their hike.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number NSF DUE-0836566. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Learning Goals

Slide 4 of the module.

Students will:

  • Calculate the slopes along a hiking trail in Catoctin Mountain Park.

  • Convert slopes to grades.

  • Use the arctangent function to find angles.

  • Convert pounds to kilograms and miles per hour to meters per minute.

  • Read energy expenditure from a graph of energy expenditure versus angle of incline and the hiker's weight.

  • Relate burning off calories to burning off Big Macs.

  • Create a spreadsheet in Excel and the necessary equations needed to do the calculations.

  • (End of module assignment) Read elevations and distances from a topographic map for a hike in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

In the process the students will:

  • See a personal use for topographic maps and work with one.

  • Gain experience with reading graphs containing multiple lines.

  • Work with slopes, grades, and angles and see how they are related.

  • Practice unit conversions.

  • Gain knowledge of calories and how they are hard to burn off.

Context for Use

Slide 5 of the module.
This module is designed for potential use in the Geology of National Parks service course at USF. The course is offered as an online course every semester. It includes readings from Parks and Plates, weekly quizzes based on that textbook, and weekly student activities designed to align the course with the University's general education requirements. This module is intended to be one of those activities, with the specific goal of meeting the gen-ed quantitative literacy dimension. The module will also be used in an upper-level QL course for geology majors, Computational Geology, where students will work with a spreadsheet using the energy-expenditure equation directly in additional to its graphical representation. The module was designed with both levels of quantitative literacy in mind.

Description and Teaching Materials

Slide 11 of the module.

The module is a PowerPoint presentation with embedded spreadsheets. Click on the link below to download a copy of the module.

Optimal results are achieved with Microsoft Office 2007 or later; the module will function in earlier versions with slight cosmetic compromises. If the embedded spreadsheets are not visible, save the PowerPoint file to disk and open it from there.

The above PowerPoint presentation file is the student version of the module. It includes a template for students to use to complete the spreadsheet(s) and answer the end-of-module questions, and then turn in for grading.

An instructor version is available by request. The instructor version includes the completed spreadsheet. Send your request to Len Vacher (vacher@usf.edu) by filling out and submitting the Instructor Module Request Form.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The module is constructed to be a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a homework assignment, lab activity, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity. It was used as an out-of-class activity in Computational Geology (a QL course for geology majors) in Fall 2010 and Fall 2011. In general, the students considered this module to be one of the more elementary modules in the collection. It has not been implemented yet in the introductory-level Geology of National Parks course.


There is a slide at the end of the presentation that contains end-of-module questions. The end-of-module questions can be used to examine student understanding and learning gains from the module. Pre/post test, pre/post test answer key, and answer key for end-of-module questions are at the end of the instructor version of the module.

References and Resources

Bobbert, A.C. Energy Expenditure in Level and Grade Walking. Journal of Appl. Physiol. 15(6): 1015-1021, 1960.

Minetti, Alberto E., Moia, Christian, Roi, Giulio S., Susta, Davide, and Ferreti, Guido. Energy Cost of Walking and Running at Extreme Uphill and Downhill Slopes. Journal of Appl. Physiol. 93: 1039-1046, 2002.

Teh, Kong Chuan and Aziz, Abdul Rashid. Heart Rate, Oxygen Uptake, and Energy Cost of Ascending and Descending the Stairs. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 34(4):695-699, April 2002.

Arctangent information

Radian information

US National Park Service (NPS)

Catochtin National Park

Blue Ridge Province

Appalachian Geologic Provinces

Catoctin Mountain Park Geology

USGS Topographic Maps

Topographic Map of Catoctin Mountain Park

Excel Tutorial: IF Function

Washington Monument

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Topographic Map of Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Trail Map for Great Smoky Mountain National Park