The Erie Canal was an exciting and pivotal time in U.S. history. But most textbooks only devote a couple of pages to it, so your students are not getting a real feel for the men who built and worked along the canal. This unit — “The Erie Canal and You” — has 65 pages of information and illustrations including five challenges for your students to write journal entries as though they were workers on the Erie Canal. The unit includes a slide show with 44 slides and a 17-page script with 170 bulleted points.
The slide show covers
• Transportation difficulties and advantages
• Dewitt Clinton’s efforts to build the canal
• The route taken
• The kind of work men did to build the canal, including pay and hardships
• Construction details like “the ditch,” locks, aqueducts, basins, and bridges
• Dangers of the Montezuma Marsh
• Different kinds of boats that traveled on the canal and how mules were used
• How the coming of the railroads ended the canal era
The five interactive slides spaced throughout the presentation ask your students to take notes about:
• What they’ve heard about the new canal - its benefits and its problems.
• What kind of work they would do, and what living conditions were like on the canal.
• What it was like digging the canal and building locks, aqueducts, and bridges.
• How they suffered when digging through the Montezuma Marsh.
• The work they did on either a packet boat, a freighter or a repair boat or as a lock keeper.
With these notes students can write journal entries explaining what they’ve seen and done, giving them a personal stake in the lives of canal workers. Also included in the unit are a blank journal-writing template and a how-to-write-a-journal document, which will remind students of what the teacher will be looking for in the content of their journal entries. Students will benefit from having this how-to-write document before the teacher begins the slide show presentation so they will know what kind of work is expected of them. In addition I have provided instructions and a pattern for making a canal boat so students can add their own creative efforts to this unit. The journal template, the how-to-write document, and the art project can be reproduced as student handouts.
The slide show is available as both an Apple Keynote and a Microsoft PowerPoint, while the documents are available as PDFs.