Title: Traveling the Transcontinental from Yesterday to Today320

Key Words: spatial change, transportation

Geography Standard: National Standard 17, NH Standard 11.10.1

Purpose/Objectives: Students will:

Describe how people's perceptions of the train have changed over time.
Describe the impact of the train on the physical landscape of America.
Describe how the train has changed the spatial organization of America.

Materials: The following poems are available in most anthologies or in collections by the poets: "I like to see it lap the miles" by Emily Dickinson; "The Flower Fed Buffalo" by Vachel Lindsay; " Transcontinental" by Donald Hall.
You will also need maps of railroad lines, which you will find in an historical atlas. I used These United States printed by Rand McNally & Company.


Divide the class into groups of no more than four. Give each group copies of the three poems. Pass out the assignment sheet.

Read the poems aloud and go over any words which you think that the students might not understand.

Discuss the groups' analyses of the poems. (Focus on the train as the symbol in these poems. Write down the different interpretations of it as a symbol. Some might see it as a positive symbol and others might see it as a negative symbol.)

Pass out the railroad maps. Brainstorm ways that the railroad changed the physical landscape and the spatial organization of society. Organize the changes according to whether the students see them as positive or negative. They may overlap. When you are finished ask students to explain how these changes still impact us today.

Go back to the poems. Explain that Dickinson is writing in the mid-eighteenth century, Lindsay in the early to mid-twentieth century, and Hall from the mid-twentieth century to now. What are the poets' perceptions of the train? How did they change? Why do you think that they changed?

Put the following statement on the board and ask students to respond to it.

Name a technological advance that you think will affect the physical environment and people's attitudes toward the way we perceive the environment. Then explain how iyour selection will change the environment and the way we perceive it.

Evaluation/Assessment: The group presentation of the analysis of the poem and the writing at end as well as the group discussion of the poets' perceptions assess the students' ability to understand and use the standards.

Extension/Enrichment: You could use these three poems or any other literature involving the perception of technology to teach Standard 17 or 18.

Reflections: How successful was this lesson? Did all students benefit? Were there any surprises? What might you do differently another time? Please note any changes that will make this lesson more effective and useful in the future and pass them along to the NHGA. We appreciate your comments.

Thank you.
The authors.

Back to document index

Original file name: 320 (Converted) - converted on Tuesday, 20 October 1998, 20:56

This page was created using TextToHTML. TextToHTML is a free software for Macintosh and is (c) 1995,1996 by Kris Coppieters