Friday 28 Jun, 2013

Step on it! A Group Leader’s activity guide to math and movement on tour

Travel is naturally full of those “ah-ha” learning moments. (That’s one of the amazing things about travel, right?) But sometimes math and fitness can seem a little tricky to incorporate into an educational tour. Group Leader Darin D. doesn’t think that has to be the case. Here’s his take on getting math and movement into the tour experience.

Turn the steps students take (these feet are headed to see El Moro in Puerto Rico) into a math moment.

Using Pedometers on Tour

By Darin Detwiler



  • Predict and measure distances of different areas in their environment.
  • Identify and/or calculate the mean, median, and mode for a set of values.
  • Collect data to make calculations.


  • Track personal fitness data using an activity log.
  • Analyze daily health habits (physical activity).

Social Studies

  • Analyze charts from a specific event to make an historical interpretation.
  • Evaluate multiple interpretations of the same data.
  • Examine how charts can portray a particular interpretation or perspective.
  • Analyze evidence from a map or chart (e.g., human spatial patterns).
  • Compare and contrast data on a chart.
  • Record information from a map or chart.
  • Identify a data set.


  • Many smartphone have pedometer apps and easy ways to store and analyze the data students collect.

    Pedometers (one for each chaperone, per student traveler, per hotel room group, or whatever works for your group.) There are also pedometer apps available for smartphones.

  • Calculators, or a phone with a calculator
  • Clipboards and some graph paper, or if your group has a tablet with them, all the data can be stored there
  • Maps of locations visited (optional)

Obtaining Pedometers Check with your health or P.E. department to see if they already have some that could be used on your trip. If you need to purchase pedometers, school funds may already exist or you could consider PTSA grants or other funding sources. Here are a few suggestions:

Activity One: How many steps in a mile?

You could just tell them the answer, but where is the fun in that?

Unless the pedometer displays the number of miles walked, the group needs a multiplication factor to convert the number of steps to miles. This is activity could be done either within a class or at the final pre-departure meeting.

  1. Measure off a straight distance, such as 100 feet. (10 feet is too short for a real test)
  2. Recall (or instruct students) that one mile has 5280 feet.
  3. Have a group of students (4-5) attach pedometers.
  4. Instruct students to walk at a normal pace – don’t run or speed-walk as this might affect the length of their strides.
  5. Collect the number of steps required to travel the distance.
  6. Calculate or facilitate students as they calculate the average of the results.
  7. Round up to the next whole number. This becomes your marked data.
  8. Multiply your average to extrapolate for one mile.
Tip: Do not distribute the pedometers until you arrive at your destination – especially if you are flying. The best time to distribute them would be at breakfast of your first full day.

Example: If it took 38 steps to walk 100 feet, you would multiply that by 52.8 (since 100 feet times 52.8 gives you the 5280 feet in a mile)
100 X 52.8 = 5280
38 X 52.8 = 2006.4 … so about 2000 steps = 1 mile.

Activity Two: A day of steps

You can do this activity for one, a few, or all days on tour. I recommend doing at least two so you can compare data.

  • Zero all pedometers after breakfast. Use this as a daily norm.
  • Remind students of the purpose of the data being collected and how artificially causing the numbers to be inflated will affect the outcome.
  • Ask students to predict the number of steps and the number of miles.
  • Don’t forget to take photos of students using pedometers.
  • At the end of the day collect data from wearers.
  • This provides an opportunity for reflection and to look back at their predictions.
  • The calculation of the averages could be done as a whole group, or by the adults and presented back to the travelers the next morning.
  • The collected data and even the sub sets should also be recorded on a graph.

Ask travelers questions, such as:

You can send parents a group email in which you not only talk about all the activities and sights and sounds of the day, but also of the number of steps and miles covered.
  • Why do you think today’s numbers were different than yesterday’s?
  • Was your prediction for today higher or lower than what the data reveals?
  • What are your predictions for tomorrow?

Activity Three: Special event steps

Another option is to collect data for a specific location or event in which much walking will take place. For this activity, a sub set of data will need to be collected before and after the event. If you are also collecting daily data, make sure the pedometers are not zeroed out until the end of the entire day.

Again, ask students to predict the number of steps and the number of miles

Some examples of special events or locations include:

Before students hit Boston’s Freedom Trail they can estimate distances between sites and then compare their actual data to their estimates.

  • Walking from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument
  • A guided walking tour of Boston
  • A visit to Mount Vernon
  • A few hours visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or one of the Smithsonian museums

Students can also compare their walking to that of some historic events:

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (May 14, 1804 to Sept. 23, 1806) The distance of the entire trip from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast (at the mouth of the Columbia River – between Washington and Oregon) is slightly over 7,000 miles, according to the National Parks Service. Though the trip was made entirely on foot, and the expedition did not move every day – simple calculation of 7,000 miles divided by (28 months X 30 days) = about 8.5 miles per day. (Thus the Corps had to travel much greater distances the days when they did travel.)

Civil Rights March for Voting Rights (March 16-25, 1965.) Church leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and protestors marched 56 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, approximately 10 miles per day, according to Townsend Davis in his 1998 book “Weary Feet, Rested Souls.”

After tour

  • Be sure to write “Thank you” notes to those who helped you prepare for this activity.
  • Summarize the data and the experience. Add photos and you have a nice communication for the participating families or a briefing for your staff.
  • Consider publishing your results in a teacher journal or presenting them at a teacher conference.
  • Perhaps the data can be used in the US history, math, or health/P.E. classroom to create personalized information as part of a lesson.


Darin Detwiler is a group leader who teaches math, science, and U.S. history near Seattle, WA.  In addition to consulting with museums and presenting at national teacher conferences across the country, Darin is the author of various published articles and lesson plans, including “Math of the Path: Students Calculate Data from the Lewis & Clark Journey,” which he wrote for the Washington State History Museum’s Lewis & Clark in Columbia River Country.