Context for this Lesson
TOPIC: The Panama Canal
GRADE: 6th Grade
- What is the importance of the Panama Canal?
- How does the Canal affect the people around it?
- Paper and Pencils/Pens.
- Blazer for US Representative Character
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: The students should know the Panama Canal's history and function. The lesson can also be adapted to introduce this information before proceeding with role work.
1. OPENING DISCUSSION
"So, now that we know more information about the Panama Canal, can we think of some of the people who would be affected by the construction of the Canal?"
Have students list out groups of people/stakeholders in the Panama Canal [sailors, businessmen, workers, government officials, tourists, ecologists, etc].
"Great! This is a wonderful list of stakeholders. Now, let’s think of what it would be like to be one of these people before the construction of the Canal. It’s 1903, and we’re all passionate about the future of the canal. Let’s imagine that we’re all adults who’ve attended a public meeting about the United State’s plan to finish the canal, and we all have passionate opinions about it. You can pick an identity from the list of stakeholders we just created, or make up your own if we’ve missed something, and please jot it down on your paper. I know you’re ready to move on when your eyes are on me. Let’s pretend that I'm a representative from the United States government who’s called this meeting to hear your valued options. When I put on my blazer, I'll be in role as the US representative."
2. IN ROLE - PUBLIC MEETING
US Rep: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so pleased that you have come to join us tonight in this public meeting about the Canal. President Teddy Roosevelt was going to be here, but he ate some bad ceviche and had to stay home; so I am here in his place. My name is Ms. Lock, I’m one of Pres. Roosevelt’s assistant on this project. I'm here tonight to share some very exciting news. As you know, construction on the canal is at a standstill since the French abandoned the project. The equipment is rusting, the swamps are growing bigger, and lots of people are looking for jobs. Pres. Roosevelt and the United States would like to purchase the canal and complete it’s construction! A completed canal means more jobs, more business and a better life for Panama. Now all I need from you is a yes vote saying that we do want the US to complete the construction of the Canal, for us and for Panama. And raise your hands for yes in three, two… Oh, wait! I just got so excited. We should talk about this, shouldn't we? What do you all think?
Then opens the floor to questions. Each student should introduce themselves and their character before asking their questions/stating their opinions. During this conversation the following information can be introduced to encourage students to see multiple perspectives:
Pro - The construction and maintenance of the Canal will create lots of jobs for Panama. The Canal will help cut down shipping time between coasts/oceans.
Con - The United States will own the canal and get the profits from the tolls. The canal has a large watershed [6.5% of the country] that brings pollution into the ocean. The swamps will need to be drained, eliminating natural habitats. Water fluctuations can disrupt the function of the canal.
Instructor as US representatives should instigate a lively discussion. Students will naturally choose sides.
"When issues are out in the open, the instructor should say: "Well, it seems that we have opinions on both sides in the room. I think President Roosevelt is very interested in your opinions. I would like to take a vote. I will ask each person what their decision is and they may answer yes or no." Each student makes his or her decision. Stop the drama and step out of role."
3. LETTERS TO ROOSEVELT - WRITING IN ROLE
Explain that there was indeed heated debate over this issue, and that the group was divided. A group representing each side of the issue decided to write an editorial to President Roosevelt. Divide the class into two groups [Or four, two on each side of the issue]; it is best to divide along the lines with which people voted. Have each group compose a letter to the president that expresses their feelings on this subject. Have them each sign the bottom of the letter. Teacher should move between groups and make sure that they are working well together. After letters are written, bring entire class back together. Have each group read their letter and discuss the opinions that have been expressed. Comment on the many sides of the argument.
Building on the character’s we introduced in our meeting, think about writing from your character’s point of view? What would you character specifically want to say about this issue? If your group was going to title themselves (e.g., Concerned Citizens Against Canals, Sailors for Shorter Trips at Sea) what might they call themselves?
4. REFLECTING ON THE LESSON
- What are the issues we talked about while in role?
- What were the positive effects of the Canal? Negative?
- What information did you want to know?
- How would you feel if someone wanted to build a shipping canal or a superhighway through Austin, Texas?
- Who would support it? Be against it?
- How could we voice our opinions?