Something is Askew at Mammoth Cave National Park

Module by: Amie O. West, University of South Florida

Cover Page by: Amie O. West, University of South Florida

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


This Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum activity introduces Geology of National Park students to water-quality concerns in Mammoth Cave National Park. Students will investigate the statistical distribution of nutrient data and descriptive statistics. The intent of the module is to have students recognize that nutrient concentration data often require different descriptive statistics than those they may be accustomed to using.

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:

  • Use actual data from Mammoth Cave National Park to explore descriptive statistics.
  • Learn what influences nutrient concentration.
  • Generate frequency histograms.
  • Recognize what characteristics contribute to skewness in data.
  • Determine the geometric mean and multiplicative standard deviation of real data.

In the process the students will:

  • Learn to think critically about how well certain statistics describe skewed data.
  • Gain practice using and understanding logarithms.
  • Recognize the characteristics of the geometric mean and multiplicative standard deviation when compared to the arithmetic mean and arithmetic standard deviation.
  • Explore the distribution of nutrient data.

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 or lab activity. It can also be used as the basis of an interactive classroom activity. The module has not been implemented yet, so we have no tips from experience. We expect that the module can be completed within a two-hour time frame as an out-of-class activity.


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. An answer key for end-of-module questions is in the instructor version of the module.

References and Resources

US National Park Service (NPS)

Cumberland Piedmont Network

US Geological Survey

Bowman's Website

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