Mapping an Obstacle Course

I just finished a new unit with my students and I am excited to share. Collaborating with the PE teacher, we created a scenario by asking the students to help develop a training program for one of our administrators. In a letter to the students, the administrator asks for help as he needs to prepare for an obstacle course race at a familiar forest. The students then worked in PE to learn about training programs and in my class to learn about topography and develop mapping skills.

The letter from the administrator set the stage. He explained the scenario to the students and then asked them to create a trial run course similar to the actual race but not in the exact location. This provided students the “need” to figure out what the initial course was like in terms of terrain, elevation, elevation changes, and location. I had a course mapped out for them as the actual race course. It included steep and gentle slopes, crossing a creek, running along a lake, and joining up with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for a section. I also had a map of the entire National Forest that the actual race was in so they could find a new location for their trial run.

The students worked in groups with little direct instruction from me. We spent part of a class period learning how to read elevation on a topographic map, and part of a class learning latitude and longitude (thankfully they had exposure to those in social studies in the past). We also did activities to learn how to determine latitude and longitude on campus, and how terrain impacts performance through an inquiry investigation outside. Most of the class time students worked in their small groups developing their understandings and puzzling through the task.

During the same two weeks, the students spent time in PE class learning about training. Though I don’t know details, they covered concepts like intensity, heart rate monitoring, modifying workouts depending on purpose, and types of exercises. I provided them with a sample training program from a known obstacle course race and showed a few short videos from different obstacle course race websites to give them ideas.

This was an engaging unit for many students. It was challenging in several ways. I enjoyed watching the groups work through the tasks and some get excited to produce a trial course. The open-ended approach was motivating for some students, though others found it too challenging. For most groups, though, there was a mix of motivation and the engaged students could draw in those on the outskirts.

Some things to know:

We used a large map of Mt. Hood National Forest. I purchased a non-tearable map from REI and placed it in the back of the classroom for students to use as needed.

Like many, if not all, National Forests, Mt. Hood has a great website with links to maps for every named hiking trail. Students used this website to find detailed information about the trial course they were creating, then used the big map in the back to visualize it in relation to the actual race.

When presenting the letter on day one, you may want to let the students know this is a scenario. I thought it would be more fun if it seemed authentic. Unfortunately, that back-fired and some students were rather upset when they found out it wasn’t real. Others enjoyed the fun of it. I think it probably depends on your class 🙂

This unit took longer than I anticipated. Thankfully, the PE teacher working with me was flexible. We did not teach together at any point, we just had the same kids at different times of the day.

As always, feel free to drop a question in the comments or share an idea!

Happy teaching!


2 thoughts on “Mapping an Obstacle Course

  1. I drop a leave a response when I like a article on a site or if I
    have something to add to the conversation. Usually it is triggered by
    the fire communicated in the article I looked at. And on this article Mapping an Obstacle Course – Talking and Teaching Science.
    I was actually excited enough to drop a comment 😉 I do have
    a few questions for you if it’s okay. Is it simply me or does it seem like a few of the comments come across as if they are coming
    from brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are writing at other online social sites, I’d like to keep up with you.

    Could you make a list the complete urls of all your community sites
    like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?


    1. Hi Francine,
      Thank you for the interest in my website. I also have a Facebook page – check out the “Resources” tab for a link. 🙂


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