This past year has been a busy one, with not enough time to do everything that I wanted. As a third-grade teacher I must teach all subject areas and must follow the adopted curriculum--which does include the prairie ecosystem and conservation/ environmentalism. Much of the material from last summer’s People, Prairies and Plains institute has remained unused. Not because it was unusable, but because there was simply too much! So, for this first year after the institute I used materials from institute participants Cricket, Lisa, Pat, Mary and Nancy. Marty Melosi’s urban environment as well as Susan Flader’s Aldo Leopold were also incorporated into my lessons.
Place, both urban and rural, was taught at the beginning of the school year. My students were interested in who settled our area and where they came from. They wanted to know what this place, our town and the surrounding countryside, was like in the past and they speculated what it might be like in the future. They learned how people have impacted and adapted to their environment. They listened to every word as I shared Marty Melosi’s early day city stories. They were fascinated. They loved the “icky” parts and wanted to hear more “really gross stuff.”
Because of Susan Flader’s lecture and the essays in A Sand County Almanac, I became quite interested in one of America’s greatest environmentalists, Aldo Leopold. This interest caused me to investigate a program called Leopold Education Project. This led to the formation of several interesting lessons on my students’ level.
My class visited Prairie State Park, located just across the state line into Missouri. (It was a cold and rainy day!) I used Pat’s “Fires and the Prairie” to help my students identify how fire affects the prairie. Even though something similar to the Konza’s Hulbert Plots (Hulbert Plots are small plots that have different management and burn frequencies.) don’t exist there, we were able to observe burned areas and listen to the “crunch” as we walked along.
I used Nancy and Mary’s journal writing leads as well as their poetry--cinquain, adverb poem, and preppy phrase pattern poem. The students loved them and even admitted that poetry doesn’t hurt!
I used information provided by Cricket in October when we studied bats. We played “Bat and Moth,” an echolocation game and read bat poetry. My students loved the game and are fascinated with bats. We were able to have a representative from Pittsburg State University’s Nature Reach bring live specimens for the children to observe.
As a result of my participation in People, Prairies, and Plains, the content of my lessons and the activities used with my students were enhanced. My students have a better understanding of place, no matter if it’s urban or rural. They more clearly see that there is a relationship between humans and the environment and how that relationship can impact our environment. They have benefited from my participation in this institute.
Next year I plan to dig a little deeper into that box of PPP lessons, notes, and various handouts. I’ll pull out more and add it to what I used this year. My students learned more than ever before. I’d rate this year’s accomplishments with an A-.
Overview: Between 1840 and 1870, a quarter of a million pioneers crossed the continental U.S. (twenty-four hundred miles) in one of the greatest migrations in modern time. Students will follow several “families” as they leave their homes and travel west. This unit is divided into three smaller units: Getting Ready, On the Trail, and Settling the Claim. Each small unit has a menu of lessons included. Teachers may pick and choose activities from these menus.
Time: Approximately 30 minutes each (except for the study trip to the prairie and the parties).
Procedures: This information is included with each activity in each small unit.
Assessments: Selected projects will be kept in a pioneer portfolio or displayed in a student display.
To make this activity more meaningful, the teacher will divide the class into various small groups known as “families.” These families should all be different and they will stay together for the entire unit. Each group will assign characters and select names which were typical for the early 1800s. Examples of family groups:
father father father bachelor brother mother mother uncle bachelor brother daughter son son daughter grandfather son son grandmother
The students will see how the members of the various families worked together as they made their journey west.
It is highly recommended that the teacher read several books describing pioneer life before beginning this unit. A teachers’ reference bibliography is included.
Many people moved west because they wanted to start a new life. Some wanted free or cheap land, some wanted to forget or get away from their past, some wanted to get rich, and some simply liked the adventure of moving. The following activities will help the students understand what kind of preparations for this trip were needed.
Activity/Procedure: Group discussion--Discuss why people were moving west and make
a list of reasons, discuss the finality of leaving home, and write a journal entry about
Objective: TSW participate in the group discussion.
Materials: Chart paper, markers, journal, pencil.
Activity/Procedure: Look at maps of the west and a pioneer travel guide. Family groups
will discuss where they are going to go and how they will get there.
Objective: TSW use maps and an early travel guide to locate various routes and destinations.
Materials: Maps of the west (current and from the early 1800s) and The Prairie Traveler.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss the fact that land speculators sometimes used posters to
advertise for new towns and that occasionally these were frauds. Discuss the qualities of a
good town. Read Aurora Means Dawn and discuss. Show and discuss a typical poster.
Objective: TSW decide what makes a good town and make a poster advertising a new town.
Materials: Aurora Means Dawn, poster paper, markers, and a copy of an original poster.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss the prairie ecosystem. Read A Sea of Grass--The Tall Grass
Objective: TSW write two sentences describing the prairie.
Materials: Any library book or science text that deals with the prairie, A Sea of Grass.
Activity/Procedure: Read and discuss If You’re Not from the Prairie. Then make a prairie seasons chart. Fold a sheet of paper into fourths, label each with a season, and illustrate each.
Objective: TSW make a prairie seasons chart.
Materials: If You’re Not from the Prairie, paper, crayons.
Activity/Procedure: Take a trip to a prairie.
Objective: TSW experience the prairie from a prairie chicken’s viewpoint (walking along among the grasses and wildflowers).
Materials and Resources: Prairie State Park, Liberal, Missouri, contact Cyndy Evans, bus and driver, parent volunteers, lunch and drinks.
Activity/Procedure: Make a class book patterned after The Important Book. Read that
book to the students and have them follow the pattern to write a page. Example: The
important thing about the prairie is that it has grass. It has flowers, insects, rabbits and
sometimes even bison. But the important thing about the prairie is that it has grass. The
teacher could type or students could use the computer to “publish” their stories. Stories
should be illustrated and then bound into a book.
Objective: TSW write and illustrate a page for a class book called the Important Thing About the Prairie.
Materials: The Important Thing, paper, pencil, markers or colored pencils.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss the various modes of transportation available to the pioneers
(covered wagon, handcart, steamship, or walking). Discuss the various factors that must
be considered when deciding on transportation (cost, size of family, religion, length of
trip, time of year, and destination). Also discuss that the covered wagons only traveled
12-15 miles on a good day.
Objective: TSW will select the best method of transportation for their family.
Materials: None unless you wish to make a chart.
Activity/Procedure: Packing the “wagon.” Students will imagine that their family is
moving westward in the present time in a station wagon. Tell them to make a list of items
that their family will pack in their “wagon.” Next, have the students imagine that their
family is moving westward in a covered wagon and make a packing list. Now discuss and
compare lists. Be sure to point out that many items could hang from the outside of a slow
moving covered wagon and that cars move much faster. Make a list on the overhead or
on a chart tablet.
Objective: TSW make and compare packing lists for moves westward in the past and present.
Materials: Paper, pencils, chart tablet or overhead projector, markers.
Activity/Procedure: Read and discuss The Josefina Story Quilt. Emphasize Faith’s
feelings at the beginning and during the story. Several interesting activities are included in
The Josefina Story Quilt Literature Notes by Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc.
Objective: TSW realize that many painful decisions had to be made.
Materials: The Josefina Story Quilt, Literature Notes (optional).
Activity/Procedure: Play the memory game “I’m Moving to Kansas.” Example: First
player says, “I’m moving to Kansas in my covered wagon and I’ll pack a __________
(feather bed).” The next player says, “I’m moving to Kansas in my covered wagon and I’ll
pack a feather bed and a _________ (butter churn). Play continues with each player
adding one more item. If the class is large, the teacher may consider dividing it in half.
Objective: TSW use information they have learned about items taken west by the pioneers.
Activity/Procedure: Dry apple slices. Peel, core, and thinly slice apples. Place on a rack
in a low oven for several hours. Pioneers took dried apples with them so they could
Objective: TSW prepare an authentic pioneer food item.
Materials: Apples, peeler, knife, slicer, rack, and oven.
Pioneer families usually spent about three months on the trail, camping at a different place each night. Each family member had responsibilities.
Activity/Procedure: Watch and discuss video Life on the Oregon Trail.
Objective: TSW deepen their understanding of the Westward Expansion.
Materials: VCR, video.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss the daily schedule and work that needed to be done. Since
the families are not all the same, jobs that are gender specific may be done by someone not
of that gender. Discuss jobs traditionally done by children: milk and tend cows, help with
the cooking, collect wood or buffalo chips, wash dishes, fetch water, shake out blankets
and quilts, watch smaller children, churn butter, etc. Students will write a letter to a
relative back home or a journal entry telling about life on the trail.
Objective: TSW write a letter or journal entry telling about their life on the trail.
Materials: Pencil and paper or journal.
Activity/Procedure: Cook “Trail Stew.” If possible dig a pit, build a fire, and cook on the
coals using a Dutch oven. Brown ground beef or buffalo. Add water, potatoes, carrots,
and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Students can bring vegetables already peeled
or they can peel them as a part of this activity. Serve this stew with bakery “home style”
bread. Butter could be made by shaking whipping cream in baby food jars. Have students
bring a bowl and spoon from home. Students will wash their own dishes after the meal.
Objective: TSW will participate in an activity typical of life on the trail.
Materials: Shovel, charcoal, wood, kindling (dry grass or twigs), buffalo chips, matches, Dutch oven or other heavy cooking pot, ground meat, water, carrots, potatoes, onions, knife, peeler, salt and pepper, serving spoon, bowls, spoons, whipping cream, baby food jars, bread, dishpan, and dish soap.
Activity/Procedure: Read and discuss Araminta’s Paintbox. After the discussion paint a
picture of the prairie using watercolors.
Objective: TSW paint a prairie landscape.
Materials: Araminta’s Paintbox, paper, watercolors, newspapers, water, baby food jars.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss the dangers on the trail (rattlesnakes, Indians, horse thieves,
lightning, high rivers, disease, falling out of the wagon). Following the discussion the
students will write a short story.
Objective: TSW use information about a number of dangers on the trail to write a short story.
Materials: Paper and pencils.
Activity/Procedure: Begin reading Save Queen of Sheba. The teacher will read from this
book for approximately 10-15 minutes per day.
Objective: TSW realize that trips to the west could be full of danger.
Materials: Save Queen of Sheba.
Activity/Procedure: Read and discuss An American Safari. Then discuss and list wildlife
which were no longer found near the trail (rattlesnakes, owls, wolves, rabbits, coyotes,
turkeys, lizards, antelopes, and deer).
Objective: TSW will make a list of wildlife that used to be found near the trail.
Materials: An American Safari, paper, pencil.
Activity/Procedure: Do a short research project to research an animal which lives on the
prairie. Be sure to give the following information: Animal Name; Kind of Animal
(mammal, bird, etc.); Height; Weight; Special Characteristics; Food; and Enemies.
Objectives: TSW research an animal that lives on the prairie.
Materials: Paper, pencils, research books or other nature materials.
Activity/Procedure: Pioneer Day. Students will dress as pioneers and bring sleeping bags
or quilts. Arrange the desks in a wagon train circle--around a fake camp fire. Sing or
listen to music typical of the time.
Objective: TSW understand that the pioneers often relaxed by listening to music and sometimes slept outside under the stars.
Materials: Pioneer costumes, sleeping bags or quilts, battery lantern with red tissue paper, records or tapes, record player or tape player.
Once the pioneers located their claim it was time to build a shelter for the family as well as the animals. Winter would be coming soon so the job had to be done quickly.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss and choose a type of shelter (log cabin, soddy, dugout, tent).
Obective: jTSW know about the various types of shelter and will be able to help select the best type for the family.
Activity/Procedure: Project Learning Tree Activity “Oh, Pioneers.”
Objective: TSW be able to describe attitudes of the settlers.
Materials: Directions for the PLT activity.
Activity/Procedure: Discuss planting crops and gardens. Also discuss who will do the
work. (This is an appropriate time to mention disasters such as grasshoppers, drought,
hail, and frost.) Have students write a letter to a friend back home telling about a failure
to a garden or field crop.
Objective: TSW use information to write a letter about a garden or crop failure.
Materials: Paper and pencil.
Activity/Procedure: What about school? Read and discuss My Great Aunt Arizona and
the chapter called Frontier Schools in Children of the Wild West. Then make a list
comparing the schools of today and the early 1800s.
Objective: TSW compare and contrast the pioneer school with the schools of today.
Materials: My Great Aunt Arizona and Children of the Wild West.
Activity/Procedure: Pioneer Pie Party. Students and teachers will dress up in pioneer
costumes. Pies made of fruit will be served to students, teachers, and guests. I usually
ask my students to donate a pie, paper plates, plastic forks, or napkins. Students are
encouraged to talk to the guests about what they have been learning.
Objective: TSW participate in an activity which will allow them to share information with guests about what they’ve been studying.
Materials: Pioneer costumes, fruit pies, paper plates, plastic forks (or ask students to bring a plate and fork from home and have them wash their dirty dishes afterward), napkins and guests.
Activity/Procedure: Kansas Day (Jan. 29) party. Students and teachers will dress in
pioneer costumes. The noon meal will be prepared at school in the classroom. Menu: 34
Star Beans (Kansas was the 34th state admitted to the Union), Turkey Red wheat bread
(name after a type of wheat brought to Kansas by the early settlers--purchase bread at
bakery), Bossie butter (made from whipping cream), carrot and celery sticks, and Cow
Creek Mud cake (formerly known as Mississippi Mud cake but renamed in honor of
nearby Cow Creek). Ask students to bring the following items: pork and beans, catsup,
brown sugar, whipping cream, carrot and celery sticks, Styrofoam cups, paper plates,
plastic spoons, napkins, cups, soda pop, or ice. Brown and drain 2 lbs. of ground beef at
home. Place in crock pot at school and add 2 cans of pork and beans, catsup and brown
sugar to taste. (This is really just glorified pork and beans.) Slow cook all morning.
Have students shake whipping cream in a baby food jar and pour off liquid. Set serving
table, serve food, and enjoy.
Objective: TSW participate in a prairie celebration.
Materials: Pioneer costumes, crock pot or pots depending on the amount of beans being served, serving spoons, can opener, browned ground beef, pork and beans, catsup, brown sugar, whipping cream, carrot and celery sticks, Styrofoam cups, paper plates, plastic spoons, napkins, cups, pop, ice, bread, baby food jars, Cow Creek Mud cake (prepared by teacher at home or at school).
Activity/Procedure: Students will perform the skit Sioux
Materials: Copies of the skit for each child and any pro City Sue.
Objective: TSW participate in a skit for an audience.ps needed.
Conrad, Pam. Prairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1992.
Erickson, Paul. Daily Life In a Covered Wagon. Washington D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1994.
Gintzler, A.S. Rough and Ready Homesteaders. Santa Fe, New Mexico: John Muir Publications, 1994.
Gorsline, Marie and Douglas Gorsline. The Pioneers. New York: Random House, 1978.
Harvey, Brett. Cassie’s Journey: Going West in the 1860s. New York: Holiday House, 1988.
Levine, Ellen. ...If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon. New York: Scholastic, 1986.
Rounds, Glen. The Treeless Plains. New York: Holiday House, 1967.
Books Used for Lessons:
Ackerman, Karen. Araminta’s Paint Box. New York: Atheneum, 1990.
Bouchard, David. If You’re Not From the Prairie.... New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1995.
Brandenburg, Jim. An American Safari: Adventure on the North American Prairie. New York: Walker and Company, 1995.
Degen, Bruce. The Josefina Story Quilt. New York: Harper Trophy, 1986.
Dvorak, David, Jr. A Sea of Grass: The Tallgrass Prairie. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1994.
Freedman, Russell. Children of the Wild West. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1983.
Houston, Gloria. My Great Aunt Arizona. New York: Scholastic, 1992.
Moeri, Louise. Save Queen of Sheba. New York: Puffin Books, 1981.
Sanders, Scott Russell. Aurora Means Dawn. New York: Bradbury Press, 1989.