HMCo College

Investigating Social Change | Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Egg-Drop Experiment | Mission to Mars | Literacy Skills & Reciprocal Teaching

Project 2: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Many factors are involved in the planning of a successful trip. Whether it's a short drive to grandmother's house for the holidays or an extended vacation with friends. The time and effort spent planning often make the entire trip memorable and rewarding. Imagine how difficult a trip would be in which you will be away from modern conveniences for anywhere between four to six months. How should you dress? When should you leave? How can you communicate with friends and relatives along the way?

People from the ages of 8 to 80 have made this wonderful hike through the eastern portion of the United States. But not one "thru-hiker" was ever successful without proper preparation. The factors to consider in planning a trip of this nature involve some complex and ill-defined problem-solving skills. Weight and cost are natural limitations in what you can bring along as well.

This specific problem is suitable for middle school to college age students. The level of problem solving can be easily accommodated by the practicing teacher, but this seems like a problem all (including you!) can attempt with some wonderful group planning discussions and presentations.


The Problem

The Project

Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing


The Problem

You and three other friends decide that it is time you fulfilled a life long dream of hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. The four of you have all recently graduated with your Master's degrees and realize that your "real lives" are about to begin. You figure that at no point in the next 20 years will the four of you have the available time and freedom to undertake such an adventure.

With some very useful information pulled down from the World Wide Web (, you quickly find out that the Appalachian Trail is a continuous marked footpath that goes from Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, a distance of about 2159 miles.

Goal Setting

This information can be incorporated into a portfolio.

A little more investigation reveals that roughly 200 people make the entire hike (called Thru-Hikers) in any given year. Obviously, the planning on this trip involves a great amount of research and preparation.

Web Link
An interactive site for thru-hikers.

Web Link
See abstract from Eric on Portfolio Assessment.


The Project

Your project is to present a detailed plan of your hike. You need to also have it reviewed by an expert in the field, preferably, a person who has hiked either all, or a substantial part of the trail. Your plan should include:

  • a budget
  • a list of supplies and equipment
  • plans for lodging
  • a list of drop-off points
  • safety precautions
  • anticipated weather conditions
  • a weekly estimate of mileage covered
  • where your team should be on Monday morning of each week during your adventure.


Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing



Make sure you clearly identify and represent the problem.

You might want to divide into groups of interest area and narrow your focus. For instance, one person may want to accumulate maps of the trail both at a "general" scale and then perhaps at a more "detailed" local level. What areas look like they may be a problem? Another person may want to consider the caloric intake that each member of the group will require and make suggestions as to what food(s) may be optimal for both energy and weight. Another student may want to share meteorological data on the weather conditions the team can expect during the four to six months on the trail. Is there an optimal time to leave? What clothing will be needed?

Web Link is an excellent weather site.

One method that you may want to use is individually to generate a list of problems that need to be solved in order to plan this hike. Then, come together as a group and try to synthesize and prioritize your problems to a manageable number, say no more than twenty. You can create a number of subgroups who will be responsible for answering the specific question and distributing the information to the other members of the class. This models the notion of Distributed Expertise.

Cooperative Learning
The Distributed Expertise model is a structured way to help formalize Cooperative Learning.

For example, the "food supply" group may decide to measure "average caloric in take needed per day for a woman in her mid twenties under extreme physical endurance conditions" in order to answer every practical issue associated with the problem, "How much food should we bring."



Solving the problem involves gathering information and generating a solution.

In this phase, the groups collect and analyze data. As mentioned in Wakefield, the use of the Searching/Solving/Creating/Sharing model with students might involve using computers as tools for recording or manipulating data. Each group may require some guidance on how to gather information and to answer research questions; given this guidance, they will be capable of solving the problem.

Incorporating creativity into projects is a wonderful way to sustain motivation.

For example, e-mail and the World Wide Web should be used. Your library and local hiking supply company can also be helpful.



Creating refers to the creation of a product, such as a presentation to the class.

The creation of a product helps facilitate the understanding of the concepts and procedures of what is being studied by the individuals in the group. This information needs next to be shared with the other members of the classroom (see next section).

For example, a group can come up with a small manual that would make suggestions for how far away from a shelter, U.S. Post Office, or telephone they are at any point on the Trail. Or, a group can formulate an "estimated time of completion" map based on where you are along the Trail at any given time and the rate you have been progressing to that point.



Sharing involves the actual communication of findings.

This is also known as a Consequential Task (Brown & Campione, 1994) in which the students' thinking and reflecting are made public. A consequential task may be a presentation, a demonstration, a multimedia show, or some other form of alternative assessment.

For example:

1) A presentation on the differing caloric intake expected by people of varying body weight.

2) The submission of the group's "Plan of Action" presented to an accomplished AT hiker or nearby camping store employees for comments and suggestions.

3) The creation of a web site to assist people who may be thinking of hiking the Trail.


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