Vacation! How Long and How Far? -- A Geological Circuit of National Parks in the Colorado Plateau

Judy A McIlrath
University of South Florida, Tampa
Created: 2006-11-29 14:21:09 Last Modified: January 05, 2008 18:10

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum activity is designed as a Geology of National Parks virtual field trip for a general education course in Florida. Students will calculate a time line and budget to drive a circuit starting and ending at Phoenix AZ and passing through 14 parks in or near the Colorado Plateau. Part of the activity is to figure out how many days would be required, given the amount of time to visit each park, and the speed and distance in the park-to-park drives. Each stop (park) is hyperlinked to geological information about the park.

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.

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Learning Goals


Students will:

  • Gain experience in estimating distances and costs of a vacation trip.
  • Use a map to estimate distances.
  • Determine cell equations to convert units of length and temperature, to calculate travel times from distance and velocity, and to find the percentage increase of park visitations from one year to another.
  • Keep track of daily distances, travel times and costs in a spreadsheet and work out the totals for the trip.
  • Determine the average speed as a weighted average.
  • Find that it is possible to visit many, geologically fascinating, scenic parks in the Colorado Plateau in less than 10 days and a cost less than $1500.

In the process the students will:

  • Learn how to do some basic calculations with Excel.
  • Learn to convert between feet and meters and between degrees F and degrees C.
  • Get a visual impression of the geologic diversity of the Colorado Plateau.
  • From the calculation of driving times, be impressed with the vastness of the Colorado Plateau.
  • Appreciate more the natural beauty that can be visited at the National Parks.

Context for Use


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.

Description and Teaching Materials


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 ( 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 is considered to be one of the simplest 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