Canals and Forests, Inductive Tower Activity
Will your students recognize the simple but essential technologies that allowed people to connect Lake Champlain to New York City and the Great Lakes? In this activity, we will use observations and inferences of "snapshot" objects and documents to try to understand a wider historical narrative. Why were canals built? What made them so useful and important? What changes did it bring to the landscape and the nation? Scholars will tell this story with a concluding DBQ writing prompt.
Grade Level: 6 - 12
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.1; 7.1; 8.1; 9-10.1; 11-12.1:
Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.2; 7.2; 8.2; 9-10.2; 11-12.2:
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7; 7.7; 8.7; 9-10.7; 11-12.7:
Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
Content Area: history, science
Recommended Length/Duration: 90 minutes
Use a series of “artifacts” to lead the class through a series of inductive towers to explain the relationship between canals and forests of NY and VT. Building knowledge and understanding, beginning with the canal model and using observation and inference to explain the larger story, students will realize the significance of the objects, historic photographs, and textual quotations to understand the wider Stem to Stern Story. Write a paragraph, it DBQ format, to explain the connection between the two objects (our documents) and how we think about land use today that explains the basis for ideas of stewardship.
- Premise the class on upcoming activity. A fitting way to do this is to read the first two pages of Marco Paul’s Travels and Adventures in the Pursuit of Knowledge on the Erie Canal, by the Authors of Rollo, Jonas, and Lucy Books, Boston: 1848. Ask for a reminder of “observation vs inference” – an observation is something the whole group can agree on, an inference is a step beyond that may or may not be correct. Test a couple out, reminding class that we are programmed to make inductions and need to work hard to make sure we start with observations. It is useful to practice on a large topographical map of the north east, devoid of all details besides elevation and waterways. This reminds students of the idea of watershed, that water runs downhill in different directions and to varying locations, but that there are three major watershed boundries that need to be crossed by canals in the northeast to connect the champlain valley, the great lakes and the Mohawk/Hudson Valleys.
- Break the class into four groups, each of which will examine a set of objects, in two phases.
- In phase one, Group A will examine the Lock Model, understanding through observation that this is an intensive construction that carries large boats up or down hill as part of a canal. This should lead them to wonder about the necessity for such infrastructure/locations of canals.
- Group B will examine the Canal Boat Model. This will show them that boats were designed to carry large amount of cargo and were made of large amounts of wood themselves, and they will observe that they lack engines (sometimes sails, in canals they cannot use them).
- Group C will examine two historic images in phase one, the first being the 18th century painting of the Falls at Otter Creek and Vergennes. The second being an 18th c illustration of the sawmill at Fort Anne NY. They will observe a forested landscape in the 18th century, with wood and water power easily accessible and employed at that time by Europeans.
- Group D will examine the Stump Puller Model. They should observe that people went to great effort to clear trees and roots, in this case for construction of the canal, but their lack of evidence will lead them to the other reasons for clearing land, which are all merited.
- Have each group examine their objects for between five and ten minutes. Let them take notes on the Phase One section of their worksheets, and on posters if desired, before having each group share their observations and the details of the their objects with the rest of the class.
- Phase two will add a new set of objects for each group, and take the story a number of decades forward.
- Group A will add to the Lock Model the diagrams of canal size and change over time, as well as the lock side diagrams and their change over time. This leads to questions of why the canal/lock sizes continually increased and what caused this to occure.
- Group B will add to the Boat Model the diagram of boat sizes increasing through time, and add this knowledge to the Lock Model groups observations. The will also receive the historic image of the canal boat Frank A. Jagger of Albany, loaded with lumber. They will realize the extent to which these boats could move lumber and the amount of lumber being moved at the time.
- Group C will add to their images the illustration of Vergennes Falls, Vermont c. 1871 and the 1870s bird’s eye illustration of Burlington, displaying the massive lumber yards and degree of industrial development in both locations. They will observe again that these locations dealt in huge amounts of lumber and boats and that the landscaped had changed significantly since their 18th century images.
- Group D will receive a set of documents in addition to their Stump Puller Model. One is the 1894 inaugural address of Vermont gov Urban A. Woodbury, in which he speaks of the threats to “Our Forests.” The second is An Annual Report to the State of NY Assembly on Jan 10, 1884 in which “Preservation of the Adirondack Woods” is mentioned, and brings up the threats to the water supply. Another NY state document is from the constitutional convention of 1894 in which the Forest Preserves are recommended and should be kept “forever wild.” Finally, a modern map of Northeast and Canadian managed forests should be provided to this group. They should come to understand how and why policy makers began to protect and specifically manage forests.
- Once again, have each group share their new set of objects and their observations. Then allow each to present their own version of the story being told by all the presented objects across the groups. Be sure to ask how accurate these potential stories are. Are they history? How do we make them more accurate historical accounts?
Paragraph response question using the objects to tell the story and bring the lessons to the present day. The back page of the work sheet can be used for this portion, or different questions can be presented such as:
“Create an imaginary character whose story involves all of the objects we examined today. Draw a picture or write a description of how these objects tell an historical sotry. Does that person’s story end? Do you think a lot of people would have a similar story?”
“Use the objects we examined today to answer the question: what impacts did the construction of the canals in VT and NY have on the people and the landscape?”
Note: this activity includes many objects that are part of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s collection of models and images, but could be reshaped using historical documents and objects of various types.
- Canal/Lock model
- Stump-Puller Wheel model
- Canal Boat Model
- Documents of the Forest Preserves, New York Constitutional Convention Text, 1894
- 1884 and 1885 Annual Report from the State of New York, Annual Report In Assembly of the Superintendent of Public Works
- Inaugural Address of Urban A Woodbury As it appears in the Journal of the Joint Assembly (Vermont) Biennial Session 1894
- Excerpt from Marco Paul’s Travels and Adventures in the Pursuit of Knowledge on the Erie Canal, Ben. B. Mussey & Co. 1848.
- Large whiteboard
- Inductive Tower Worksheet (PDF)