Contact Without Impact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Students will evaluate how different modes of travel impact the environment. Students will propose persuasive solutions to reduce carbon footprints.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • America the Beautiful Quarters


  • Students will evaluate how different modes of travel impact the environment.
  • Students will propose persuasive solutions to reduce carbon footprints.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Math
  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Technology


  • 9th
  • 10th
  • 11th
  • 12th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Four
  • Session Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Total Length: 151-500 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Pairs
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • Digital citizenship
  • Environmental issues
  • Geographic representation
  • Spatial thinking skills
  • Mathematical formulas
  • Miles per hour (mph)
  • Miles per gallon (mpg)
  • Map skills

Terms and Concepts

  • Quarter
  • Obverse (front)
  • Reverse (back)
  • Mileage
  • Literal
  • Figurative
  • Carbon footprint
  • Biodegradable



  • Make an overhead transparency or equivalent of the "Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter" page
  • Make copies of the following:
    • "Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter" page (one per student)
    • "Footprints" worksheet (one per student)
    • "Contact Patches" worksheet (one per student)
    • "Trail and Road Map" (one per group)
    • "Contact Planner" worksheet (one per student)
    • "Without Impact Rubric" (one per student)
  • Print one copy for each group of students (and an additional copy for the teacher to display) of the trail and road map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (see source suggestions under "Materials").
  • For Session 1, gather calculators, rulers and graph paper.
  • For Sessions 2 and 3:
    • Reserve time in the computer lab or arrange for a classroom set of computers.
    • Gather scissors, clear tape, rubber bands, twine and colored pencils.
    • Cut six 24-inch pieces of twine.
    • Create a class blog online or prepare a school-wide bulletin board for "Without Impact" projects.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

Session 1

  1. Display and examine the "Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter" page. Locate this site on a class map. Note its position in relation to your school's location.
  2. As background information, explain to the students that the United States Mint began to issue the quarters in the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program in 2010. By the time the program ends in 2021, there will be a total of 56 quarter designs. Each design will focus on a different national site—one from each state, territory and the District of Columbia.
  3. Tell the students that the front of a coin is called the "obverse" and the back is called the "reverse." Discuss the image on the quarter's reverse with the students. This design depicts a historic log cabin found within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a segment of the lush green forest and a hawk circling above. The Park boasts one of the few remaining old growth forests in North America. No other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the park's amazing diversity, with more than 17,000 species of plants, animals and invertebrates documented in the park.
  4. Ask the students to predict how long it would take a hawk to fly from the middle of the park to your school's location by first estimating the distance. Distribute calculators to the class if available. Use the class map of the United States and write estimates of the distance on chart paper.
  5. Using online resources, verify the distance. If the distance does not match the estimate, recalculate the distance.
  6. Tell the students that the red-tailed hawk in migration flies at an average of 30 miles per hour. Guide the students through calculating the time it would take the hawk.
  7. Lead the students in a discussion about this journey, ending by incorporating all the factors that might affect the time calculation, such as the hawk's energy consumption, ability to find food or water, weather conditions and so on.
  8. Explain to the students that they will plan a route through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to visit historic buildings, such as the log cabin on the coin image. Explain that they will both measure and estimate distance and time using traditional maps and calculators.
  9. Discuss the title of the lesson, "Contact Without Impact."
  10. To introduce and define the terms "footprint," literal" and "figurative," draw a T-chart on chart paper titled "Footprint" and label the columns "Literal" and "Figurative." Define the term "literal" to mean an expression that is plain or common. Define the term "figurative" to mean an expression that uses a metaphor or other descriptive language, especially for abstract ideas.
  11. Use the expression "keep both feet on the ground" as a discussion point. Explain to the students that literally this means exactly what it says, but figuratively it means to be practical and level-headed. Lead the students in a discussion comparing other examples that are figurative or literal.
  12. Ask the students in which columns the verbs "measure" and "estimate" would best fit on the T-chart.
  13. Ask the students to give several examples of a footprint. Answers should include carbon footprint and the area on which a building is positioned.
  14. Distribute a copy of the "Footprints" worksheet, the "Contact Patches" worksheet, a ruler and a piece of graph paper to each student. Review the worksheet directions with the students. Allow time for the students to complete the worksheets.

Session 2

  1. Review the charts and worksheet from the previous session. Display the "Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter" page. Lead the students in a discussion ranking the impacts of a hawk, a human, a car or a log cabin on the environment.
  2. Direct the students to a Web site that gives information about the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (see suggestions under "Materials"). Ask the students to locate information about how this area became a National Park. Note that this is the most visited national park in the United States.
  3. Divide the class into six groups and assign a number from 1 to 6 to each group.
  4. Distribute a copy of the "Contact Planner" worksheet to each student. Identify the starting point for each group as the location number that corresponds with their group number. Have the students assign roles within the group as listed on the worksheet. Answer any questions students have about the task.
  5. Distribute to each group one set of an enlarged trail and road map of the Great Smoky Mountains.
  6. Distribute three differently colored pencils, a piece of twine and rulers to each group. Demonstrate using twine to measure curving roads.
  7.  Discuss the map's legend and review how to use geographical representations by demonstrating the use of grid location, directions and mileage.
  8. Provide the students with Web site addresses where they can access maps on the Internet. Allow time for the students to route their journeys using paper and Internet maps and to complete the "Contact Planner" worksheet.
  9. Prepare for the next session by collecting the materials and rolling up the maps. Assess each group's progress in reading and marking their maps.
  10. Have the students create a list of what the visitors might be leaving behind and using during their visits to the park.

Sessions 3 and 4

  1. Display the "Great Smoky Mountains National Park Quarter" page. Lead the students in a discussion comparing the impact of log cabin households with households today. Make a T-chart on chart paper, labeling the columns "Biodegradable" and "Non-biodegradable." List student observations.
  2. Discuss and define the vocabulary term "biodegradable" as the ability of an item to decay. Ask the students to give examples of items that decay and items that do not decay.
  3. Prompt the students to complete the T-chart with biodegradable and non-biodegradable items.
  4. Direct the students back to the park Web site and have them locate information on environmental factors. Distribute sticky notes and have each student summarize one environmental concern on the note.
  5. Distribute the "Without Impact" rubric. Have the students use the suggested Web sites that provide information about calculating or minimizing our carbon footprint to research one or more ways to reduce the impact of visitors.
  6. Have the students apply this information to the specific environmental problem from step 4. Direct the students to the class blog or the bulletin board. Have the students write persuasive essays that inspire positive action to reduce environmental impacts in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  7. Have the students contribute these suggestions to the class blog or school-wide bulletin board. Allow time for exploring environmental issues or to finish the mapping project.
  8. Have the students read the blog or bulletin board and add constructive comments that agree or disagree or contribute more information.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Work in pairs.
  • Provide fill-in-the-blank step-by-step instructions for the "Footprints" worksheet.
  • Demonstrate in small groups how to measure the first distance between locations, then check for understanding by allowing the student to do the rest. Repeat for each different type of journey.


  • Have the students complete a carbon footprint calculator based on their household.
  • Have the students conduct differentiated book study groups with texts that describe the lives and impacts of people who lived in the Great Smoky Mountains region, such as:
    • The Jack Tales by Richard Chase
    • Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver
    • That Book Woman by Heather Henson and David Small
    • The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills
  • Have the students calculate the perimeter and area of park hiking loops.
  • Have the students re-route their visits within the park using historical maps from the Web sites suggested in Materials and post these journeys on a chronological timeline.
  • Instead of using the contact patches provided, allow students to make and measure their own contact patch.


  • Take anecdotal notes on class participation.
  • Use the worksheets and rubric to assess whether the students have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

National Standards

Discipline: Science
Domain: 9-12 Content Standards
Cluster: Science and Technology
Grade(s): Grades 9–12

  • Technological design ability
  • Understand science and technology