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.
Modeling the Process:
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
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.
An interactive site for thru-hikers.
See abstract from Eric on Portfolio Assessment.
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:
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
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?
wunderground.com 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
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
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
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.
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.