Lesson Plan 4

History Center Excursion

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The photographs and biographical information about Beulah Usher found on this Website are recommended for grades 4-8. This web activity can be used to teach or supplement units on:

  1. Early 20th century history
  2. General historical inquiry process

The activities are designed to help students understand, interpret and appreciate early farming practices and the life of Beulah Usher who lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the first half of the 20th century.

Activities require students to work as museum curators. They will interpret photographs and biographical information to discover the story these resources contain.

Following the scientific method, students will start by forming hypotheses or "guesses" about the meaning of an object. Their hypotheses will then be tested by consulting sources of evidence that either confirm or disprove their "guesses."

For each source, suggested questions are provided on the classroom activities page. These can be adapted and applied as the teacher chooses.

Explore the following teaching and learning resources on Beulah Usher.

  • Classroom Activities - Lesson ideas
  • Using Primary Sources - Definition of primary sources and the liabilities and assets of using them as teaching resources
  • Field Trip Guide - Rationale for field trips and activity suggestions for preparing students before, during and following field explorations outside the classroom
  • National Standards - Connections to national standards in the areas of history and literacy
  • Media Center
  • For Students - Step by step procedures student curators will follow when interpreting the historical resources related to George B. Douglas.

Classroom Activities

Be A Curator

Biographical Information on George B. Douglas

  1. Place students in pairs. Each should have access to a computer. Have students read the The Life of George B. Douglas that contains biographical information about members of the Douglas family. At this site they will also view the photos of the family and their businesses. As an alternative, this Web page could be projected for the whole class to view using an LCD projector.
  2. Guided research questions could include:
    1. What did George Douglas look like as a child?
    2. What did George Douglas look like as an adult?
    3. What did the Douglas home look like?
    4. What did his company produce?
    5. What hardships did his company face?
    6. What companies make products out of corn today?
    7. How do we use these corn products every day?Students should write two or three more research questions based on their review of the materials on the Douglas family.
  3. As students are completing their research the following large group discussion questions will help to focus their work:
    1. How did George B. Douglas make his fortune?
    2. Why do you think he chose to manufacture cornstarch?
    3. What factors helped Douglas build a fortune?

Interpreting Douglas Collection Letters

  1. Letter reading activities are designed to help students interpret historical information found in primary sources. The Documents page provides a complete list of historical resources related to the Douglas family. Included are two letters that illuminate the business transactions of George B. Douglas. Interpreting these documents will help students to develop questions that illuminate the life of this early Iowa industrialist. Students will interpret historical facts and concepts as they apply the elements of historical inquiry.
  2. This investigation is guided by a spectrum of questions that range from the general to the specific. For a more general approach, younger students can answer questions such as: Who wrote the letter? Why was it written?
  3. For more involved investigations, older students can seek answers to the specific "ask the curator" questions inserted on post-it notes within each letter. Have students review the two letters and determine who wrote each, why the each was written, and where the person was located when writing and receiving the letters.
  4. Key vocabulary words students will need in order to interpret the letters include the following:
    1. corporation
    2. stockholders
    3. cornstarch
    4. mass production
    5. industrial nation
    6. market
    7. shares of stock
    8. manufacturing
  5. Interpreting the letter of March 3, 1912* Based on the information found in the letter of March 3, 1912, select from the following activities that focus on the themes found in the Douglas letters. Through this process, students will understand the nature of historical evidence and how to construct a historical argument.
    1. Have students brainstorm why a family from Cedar Rapids, Iowa would visit Santa Barbara, California.
    2. Ask students to compare what $1,000 was worth in 1912 compared to today, and describe what they could purchase with $1,000.
    3. To compare travel in 1913 with the way people would travel today, have students research methods of transportation used in 1913. What do the letters suggest? How might the Douglas Family have traveled from Iowa to California? From Iowa to England? How would they travel today?
    4. Have students identify and list the means of travel in 1913. Then have them construct a table that identifies the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  6. Interpreting the letter of July 31, 1913. Based on the information found in the Douglas letter of July 31, 1913, have students complete the following activities:
    1. Have students identify what crops the Douglas & Company used in 1913.
    2. Ask students to describe how weather affected the production of cornstarch.
    3. Have students create a bar graph comparing the price of corn in 1913 with today's price. Then have students theorize why corn prices today are greater than in 1913. Calculate the price of 2,000 bushels of corn in 1913 and today.
    4. Ask students to research the time period 1890-1920. What important national and international events occurred during this time?
    5. Ask students to hypothesize how industrialization was related to other historical events of the period.
    6. Ask students to research what was the most important cause of the rise of manufacturing in the United States.
  7. As students are completing their research the following large group discussion questions will help to focus their work:
    1. How did the development of technology and factories affect the lives of ordinary people? Is there any relationship with what can be observed today?
    2. How did mill owners help foster the community of mill workers?
    3. What were some of the ways ordinary people could become upwardly mobile during this period? How do people move ahead financially today?
    4. How does industrialization involve increases in the scale of production and bring about systems of manufacturing? What is the role of managers in a company? How are math skills important in running a business enterprise?
    5. What do the documents tell about life during post-Civil War industrialization? How were conditions in 1913 alike and different from conditions today?
    6. How have the many uses of corn expanded since 1913?

Interpreting Photographs

  1. The following menu of classroom activities require students to review the 1919 explosion, make observations and answer interpretation questions using the photo analysis guide.
    1. Use the photograph as the basis for a descriptive writing assignment. Ask students to assume the identity of one of the people in the photograph. Using their imagination, have students describe the context of the photograph. What happened before it was taken? What happened after?
    2. Print the photo and leave space below for students to write a newspaper narrative to accompany the story.
    3. Write a one-paragraph caption for this photo to include as part of an exhibit.
    4. Investigate grain dust explosions. What happens to structures handling large amounts of grain? What can be done to minimize the chance of such explosions?

Field Trips

The Field Trip Guide provides activities for students to complete before the class visits the History Center and activities for the class to complete after visiting the History Center or Brucemore.

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