Title: The Dust Bowl and the Ogallala Aquifer: Peril and Prosperity328

Key Words: Dust Bowl, Ogallala Aquifer, depression, agricultural resources, soil depletion.

National Standard: 14
How human actions modify the physical environment.

State Standard: 14
Students will demonstrate an understanding of the connections between Earth's physical and human systems; the consequences of the interaction between human and physical systems; and changes in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

Teaching Level: H

Lesson Introduction: Assisting students to see connections between past problems and potential future hazards is critical in social studies. This lesson plan focuses on the disaster of the Dust Bowl and the present use of the Ogallala Aquifer. Though the problems caused by agricultural practices in the 1920's is clear in retrospect, current exploitation of the Ogallala is less frequently discussed. The lesson asks students to research the characteristics of the Great Plains as an agricultural area, then to examine farming techniques and their impact, yesterday and today. It may be included as part of a geography unit on physical and human systems or as a part of a history unit on the Great Depression.

Objectives/Purpose: To analyze the Great Plains in geographic terms; to assess farming practices in the 1920's in light of geographic information; to evaluate present use of the Ogallala Aquifer for agricultural purposes; to identify possible consequences of its continued use in the same fashion.

Materials: Research sources on the Dust Bowl, the Great Plains, and the Ogallala Aquifer, including atlases and additional sources as needed, notably

Tricia Andryszewski, The Dust Bowl: Disaster on the Great Plains.
Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 1993;

Mathew Paul Bonnifield, Men, Dirt, and Depression. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979;

Donald Worcester, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

In addition, there are a number of National Geographic Magazine issues devoted to water issues.
National Geographic's video, The Power of Water,Washington,D.C.:National Geographic Society,1994, contains a segment on the Ogallala today.

Segment 9 of the Geography in U.S. History educational film series, Bloomington, Indiana: Agency for Instructional Technology,1991, is devoted to the Dust Bowl and agricultural practices. Both videos are available for borrowing from the Learning Resources Center at Keene State College.

Procedures: l. Ask students where the Great Plains are and what they are like. Discuss, noting the designation of portions of the central United States as the "breadbasket" of the nation.

2. Ask students what the view of the Great Plains was historically. Discuss the reason that it was once called the "Great American Desert."

3. Ask students why perspectives have changed and what the facts are about that area of the United States. Discuss.

4. Explain to students that they have been hired as consultants to the United States Department of Agriculture to formulate agricultural policy for the present and future in the Great Plains. In order to provide the Department with a comprehensive report, they must include the following information:

-A geographic profile of the Great Plains, with information about climate, precipitation, soil types, vegetation, elevation, growing seasons, and so on.

-An analysis of past farming practices, particularly during the later 1920's and early 1930's. What caused the disastrous Dust Bowl? Was it physical processes, or human use - or both? What steps were taken to change agricultural practices? How effective were they?

-An evaluation of present use of the Ogallala Aquifer as a water resource which allows the "Great American Desert" to be irrigated.

-An assessment of potential problems with the depletion of the Ogallala.

-A series of recommendations for changes in agricultural practices which would prevent these problems.

5. Students may work individually or in groups, depending on teacher and class preference. If they are to work in groups, suggested roles would include: group leader, recorder/writer, research director, and graphics director.

6. Students may present their findings as a report with thematic maps or as a computer presentation.

7. Once students have completed their projects, they should present their work to the class. Discuss.

Evaluation/Assessment: Student work in groups or individually in researching the geography and use of the Great Plains, past and present; student computer presentations or reports with thematic maps based on that research; student answers to discussion questions.

Extension/Enrichment: Students may wish to extend their studies of water issues to the American West in general and to the Middle East. They may also choose to write to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for information on how farming practices are changing on the Great Plains at present, if at all.

Additional Standards: National standard 1 ( use of maps); standard 4 (physical and human characteristics of places); standard 17 (interpret the past); standard 18 (interpret the present and plan for the future); state standard 10 (ability to use maps); standard 11 (physical and human geographic features); standard 12 (landform patterns and water systems); standard 13 (human systems); standard 15 (interpret the past and present and plan for the future).

Reflection: 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.


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