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Lesson 8
Are We There Yet?

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Estimate the time needed by the Corps of Discovery to complete its expedition.
  • Estimate the distance covered by the Corps on its expedition.
  • Compare their estimates to the estimate Lewis and Clark made prior to beginning their journey.
  • Compare their findings to the expedition’s actual rates of time and distance.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at


Standard 1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process

Standard 2: Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of numbers

Standard 4: Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement

Standard 6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis


Standard 1: Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies

Standard 2: Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment


  • A copy of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (To order, visit ShopPBS)
  • A television and VCR or DVD player
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Graphing software
  • Group worksheet
  • Chalkboard and chalk or chart paper and markers
  • Wall-sized U.S. map
  • Map(s) of travel route

Time Needed

2-2.5 hours of class time

Teaching Strategy

  1. Divide class into cooperative groups. Highlight several sections on a wall-sized U.S. maps portions of the route Lewis and Clark traveled, marking each area with the number of miles from point to point. Referring to the various routes, ask students how long it would take with modern transportation to get from one destination to the next, referring to the various routes. How long would such a route have taken a traveler in a time when modern vehicles did not exist and/or in the early 19th Century?

  2. Tell students about the Lewis and Clark expedition (if they have not already seen the film), noting that traveling during the period in which the expedition took its journey was not easy and involved far more travel time than they could possibly imagine in their lifetime. Explain they will discover the length of time and distance traveled along several expedition routes.

  3. Divide the class into small groups. Each group will use a map to estimate/calculate the time and distance of different expedition segments. Students can use a map of the United States or a map from the Archive section of this Web site.

    Suggested breakdown of segments with corresponding video clips:
    1. May 14, 1804 - From St. Louis up the Missouri River to Mandan village: Part I, 00:17:29-00:33:20 and 00:51:00-01:00:00
    2. From Fort Manden to the Great Falls of the Missouri River: Part I, 01:08:10-01:20:50
    3. From Great Falls to the Shoshone village: Part II, 00:02:35-00:11:10
    4. From the Shoshone village to the Pacific (Fort Clatsop): Part II, 00:15:02-00:48:30
    5. Return trip.

    Note: Segments of the expedition might be modified, depending upon class size and number of students per group.

  4. Instruct students to gather information from the video and other sources regarding the actual time the expedition took to cover the different segments of the journey (i.e. the current of the Missouri ran 5 to 6 miles per hour). If appropriate figures cannot be located the class will need to discuss, brainstorm, then come to a consensus on a reasonable rate of travel, both in flat areas and through mountain passes (i.e. the search team exploring the three forks of the Missouri traveled 25-30 miles per day) The class will also have to consider the time it took for the segment of the trip that was covered on horseback.

  5. Invite each group to share its findings. Write each group’s estimate on the chalkboard or chart paper. Have the class calculate averages of the compiled data to find the total estimates of time and distance and then compare these estimates to those of Lewis and Clark. Then, have them compare their estimates to the actual time and distance rates of the expedition.

  6. Ask each group to construct a graph to visually depict these comparisons. Have the class analyze the graphs to compare and contrast results.

Assessment Recommendations

It is suggested that students be evaluated on class and group participation, their ability and/or willingness to perform calculations related to estimation, their group graph, and presentation skills.


Students can:

  • Research how modern methods of transportation (i.e.: motor powered boats; land rovers etc.) would affect the time needed to travel the length of the expedition.

  • Graphically compare 1804-05 travel time to 20th Century travel time. A helpful site for calculating the actual distance, travel time, and obtaining a mapped route is Mapquest.