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6-8 > U.S. History
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: U.S. History Duration: Two class periods
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Objectives | Materials | Procedures | Adaptations | Discussion Questions | Evaluation | Extensions | Suggested Readings | Links | Vocabulary | Academic Standards | Credit
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Objectives

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Rediscovering America: Railroads, Robbers, and Rebels




Students will understand the following:
1.Railroads function to various degrees in different parts of the country as a means of travel.
2.Good consumers compare costs and benefits of traveling by various means.
Materials

For this lesson, you will need:
Detailed maps of the United States
Information about the cost and the time involved in traveling by train, bus, and plane between two points in the United States (Internet access will help)
Procedures

1.This project requires students to look at their hometown from the perspective of transportation options and to determine what option, if any, the railroads offer. With maps readily available, ask each student to select as a travel destination a large city at least 500 miles from where he or she lives. Each student’s objective is to figure out the best way of getting to that destination and back. Options they should look into include train, bus, and plane.
2.Lead a class brainstorming session on how students can initiate research on the best way for them to travel roundtrip between home and their target cities at least 500 miles away. The goal is to help students determine, first of all, which modes of transportation are available to them for their imaginary trips. This information depends on what modes of transportation leave students’ hometown and what modes of transportation go into the target cities. Will students be able to take one mode of transportation straight through, or will students have to combine modes to get to their destinations?
3.Explain to students that they may use toll-free numbers or Internet sites to get the very specific information they will need. Advise students to photocopy templates for themselves so that they will be sure to look for the same information regardless of which transportation provider they are gathering data from. They should include the following on their templates so that they will consistently ask about and take into consideration each issue:
  1. Fares and discounts on fares if certain conditions are met (see also #6)
  2. Classes of service (e.g., coach versus business class in a plane; Amtrak versus Metroliner versus Acela when traveling by train in some parts of the country)
  3. Departure and arrival times
  4. Any change of vehicle en route
  5. Frequency of service (if a traveler misses one departure, how long will he or she have to wait for the next departure?)
  6. Restrictions on travel at certain fares (see also #1)
  7. Door-to-door travel time (from student’s home to where he or she will stay in destination city) as opposed to the length of the plane, bus, or train ride itself
  8. Other advantages or disadvantages of a particular mode of transportation or a particular carrier
4.When students have collected enough carrier-specific information, encourage them to work as a group to figure out how to evaluate what they’ve collected. What kind of graphic organizer or computer tool would most help them compare and contrast the information?
5.Once each student organizes all the information, he or she should study it to see which mode of transportation offers the best fares, the quickest trip, and the greatest convenience. Is there a clear-cut best choice (or only choice!) for traveling from home to the city in question, or does the decision become complicated?
 
At this point in their project, students may need to do more research and, if so, should revisit their original sources or other sources (toll-free numbers, Web sites).
6.Give each student an opportunity to explain in an oral presentation how he or she has decided to travel from home to the destination city and back. If several students have selected the same destination city, give them all a chance to present at the same time. At some point in each presentation, the student(s) should clearly state whether it is possible to travel between the two places by train and, if so, why that option is or is not attractive.
7.As a conclusion for this project, encourage students to gather statistics about train travel in the United States today and a hundred years ago. What is being predicted for train travel in the United States in the 21st century? What generalizations, if any, can we make about railroads yesterday, today, and tomorrow?
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Adaptations

Make the travel route more complicated by asking students to include two intermediary stopovers before reaching their destination cities. Each leg of the journey should involve at least 500 miles.
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Discussion Questions

1.What does the title of the program, "Railroads, Robbers, and Rebels," mean? Are there any industries or businesses today which could also include the words "robbers and rebels?" If yes, which ones? If not, discuss your reasons.
2.How have trains influenced the way we live today? What changes did the train bring to American society? What if the railroads had never existed? What would this have meant to travel, communication, transportation, and the economy? What impact do you think the construction of the railroad had on the environment?
3.What is meant by the sentence, "As General Grant became President Grant, railroad finance entered a squalid phase of monopoly capitalism?" Are there ever instances where monopolies are beneficial to society?
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Evaluation

You can evaluate your students’ oral presentations using the following three-point rubric:
 
Three points: extremely well ordered presentation with clearly stated travel preference; smooth presentation with no hesitation; consistent loud voice and good eye contact
 
Two points: adequately ordered presentation with clearly stated travel preference; smooth presentation with minimal hesitation; occasionally muffled voice and sometimes absence of eye contact
 
One point: poorly ordered presentation without clearly stated travel preference; presentation marked by many hesitations; voice not loud enough and eye contact absent
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Extensions

Riding “The Wabash Cannonball”
Have students identify and share with the class examples of late-19th- and early-20th-century American folk music—for example, “The Wabash Cannonball.” What do the songs say about traveling across the country in those days? What other topics were on the minds of writers of folk songs in those years?

Discover the Old Skills
Just as a 19th-century mode of transportation has disappeared from some parts of the country, so have some 19th-century skills. Encourage students to find someone in their community who still practices an almost lost art (quilting? whittling? candle making?) and to invite that person to demonstrate his or her skill for your class.

A Symbol of Freedom
Today the automobile is thought of as a symbol of freedom. Have students write reaction papers that compare and contrast the train and the car as symbols of freedom.

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Suggested Readings

“The Coming of the Railroad and the End of the Great West”
Maury Klein, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Winter 1995


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Links

www.rrhistorical.com
This site bills itself as "Your One Stop Address on the Web for Railway Historical & Technical Societies, Museums & Tourist Lines and Other Railroad Related Items," and it's all that and a little more. There is actually a database of all historical railroad societies, with Internet and e-mail links to those that have them. If train history is your thing, this is clearly your site.

California State Railroad Museum
This site contains wonderful pictures and the history of the transcontinental railroad.

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Vocabulary

Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker   capitalist
Definition: A person who has money (capital) invested in a business.
Context: The holding company, the trust, and the monopolies stretching all across the country were new things; the modern corporation came into being with the railroad; internationally financed, continental in its reach and with it a new kind of capitalist.

speaker   depression
Definition: In economics, a period of low economic activity or output in an industrialized country, bringing rising levels of unemployment and business failures.
Context: Jay Cook's collapse brought on the depression of 1874.

speaker   holding company
Definition: A corporation whose primary purpose is having a controlling interest in the stocks of other companies.
Context: The holding company, the trust, and the monopolies stretching all across the country were new things; the modern corporation came into being with the railroad; internationally financed, continental in its reach and with it a new kind of capitalist.

speaker   monopoly
Definition: An economic condition whereby a single seller or producer has exclusive ownership or control over the distribution and sales of his or her product.
Context: As General Grant became President Grant, railroad finance entered a squalid phase of monopoly capitalism

speaker   regulated
Definition: To be under the control of law or a legal authority.
Context: Today's markets are regulated. Unregulated trading in railroad stock after the Civil War led to cutting corners, collapses, monopolies, and fraud.

speaker   transcontinental
Definition: Extending or going across a continent, as a railway system.
Context: It was the age of imperial, transcontinental roads - the Cairo to Cape Town, the Trans-Siberian, and the Orient Express.

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Standards

This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colorado.
 
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the industrial revolution, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
Benchmarks:
Understands the major technical developments that influenced transportation, the economy, international markets, and the environment between 1801 and 1860.

Understands social and economic elements of urban and rural life in the early and mid-19th centuries.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the rise of big business, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society.
Benchmarks:
Understands the impact of significant achievements and individuals of the late 19th century.

Understands the economic and social changes that occurred in the late 19th century American cities.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the industrial revolution, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
Benchmarks:
Understands how major technological and economic developments influenced various facets of society.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the rise of big business, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society.
Benchmarks:
Understands influences on social development in 19th century America.

Understands influences on business and industry in the 19th century.

Understands how urbanization and industrialization affected the division of wealth, living conditions, and economic opportunity in the late 19th century.

Understands various influences on the scenic and urban environment.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the industrial revolution, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
Benchmarks:
Understands the impact of the Industrial Revolution during the early and later 19th century.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. history
Standard:
Understands how the rise of big business, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society.
Benchmarks:
Understands the development of business in the late 19th century.

Understands impacts on economic conditions in various regions of the country.

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Credit

Summer Productions, Inc.
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