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State University of New York College at Cortland

Project-Based Lesson Modules for the Elementary School Level: The Chenango Canal

Sydney Coon Fall 2017 Research Experience in Geology

Lesson Modules for the Elementary School Level: The Chenango Canal Sydney Coon Fall 2017 Research Experience

Table of Contents


p. 3


p. 4

Project-Based Learning and STEAM

p. 5

History of the Chenango Canal

p. 6

Nature Deficit Disorder

p. 9

Lesson Modules

Glacial Deposition and Till

p. 11

Activity 1

p. 12

Activity 2

p. 13

Drainage Basins and Streams

p. 15

Activity 3

p. 16

Activity 4

p. 18

Porosity and Permeability

p. 22

Activity 5

p. 23


p. 25

Seeking Sources to Further Expand

p. 30

Project Path for Children

p. 31


p. 32


These project-based lesson modules explore the history and science needed to develop

the Chenango Canal. These modules explain many topics regarding the construction of the canal

at the elementary school level. Topics may include:

Glacial Deposition and Till

Drainage Basins and Streams

Porosity and Permeability



These modules will emphasize the Project-Based Learning approach, therefore some of my

methods will include:

Field Investigation activities

Outdoor components such as travelling to the canal

Incorporating ways for children to formulate a research question, collect data, and draw

conclusions with hands-on projects

Supply students with the tools/technology used in the professional field

Reach out to experts in the field

Project-Based Learning and STEAM

Project Based Learning is a curriculum style in which multiple domains and content areas

are combined and a long term, complex project is the product. It is essential that Project Based

Learning Modules remain rich, rigorous and relevant. Successful “PBL’s” provide time for

students to express themselves- through both creativity and voice. Why Project-Based Learning?

Why should I use this in my classroom? Project Based Learning is research based, as it covers

context across all grade levels. This form of learning connects students to the outside world,

allowing them to interact with experts and professionals. PBL’s allow students to create and

design (a large aspect of S.T.E.A.M.). Making lessons and activities purposeful and engaging

causes students to be more willing to learn. Students become more active through this learning

style, as it is not the standard “sit and learn” teaching style. Both teamwork and individual

thought is used in the lessons provided in this module. Independent thinking allows students to

create and discover on their own terms. The combination of student voice, and communicating

ideas amongst others builds life and career skills. Overall, Project based Learning Modules

improves learning in students. Traditional instruction is unable to compete with the concept of

PBL’s, as Project Based Learning Modules help students retain the information they learn (Why

Project). The hands-on and real-life experiences leave an impact on students that they can later

revert back to and possibly apply to future learning situations.

History of the Chenango Canal

The Chenango Canal was a 97-mile-long canal that stretched from Utica, New York, to

Binghamton, New York. The canal had 116 locks, 19 aqueducts, and 162 bridges. The canal

operated from 1833-1878 (Ford, 2006). Unfortunately, the canal had never made much of a

profit, however it is a historical landmark that can provide a great learning opportunity for

children. The canal provided a method of transportation that changed the way in which

businesses operated and trade functioned. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the construction of

the canal was the incorporation of locks and elevation changes throughout the entirety of the

canal. Glacial deposition and till made it difficult for the waterway to travel a smooth route. How

did they get the canal to cross the divide? Another proposed issue was perhaps the biggest issue:

how must one build a canal with no water? “The number of locks and the extensive feeder

system of the Chenango Canal made it known as the best built canal in New York State.

Engineer John B. Jervis based his designs on his experience working with the Erie Canal”

(McFee, 1993, p.87). Unlike today, there weren’t specific instructions or guidelines regarding the

construction of the locks. Because of this, Jervis had to pay attention to areas in which loose,

gravel-like soil was present. Locks also had to face the “challenge of raising the canal over twice

the height of the Erie, and in half the distance” (McFee, 1993, p.87). The locks constructed

throughout the canal were built from wood and stone. This was far cheaper than the typical stone

structures built for other canals. The great need for stone led to the opening of quarries in the

area. Greene, Oxford and Oriskany Falls quarries were among most notable. The canal proved to

be a sufficient means of transporting goods, however, a system had to be developed in order to

allow water to infiltrate into the canal. Roughly 17 miles of feeders and seven reservoirs were

created to supply the canal with water. It was deemed a great success as they managed to do the

impossible. The canal today is no longer in service, however the reservoirs once created are used

for recreation. Meanwhile, the feeders are maintained by the state and supply water to the Erie

Canal. The canal unfortunately couldn’t hold its own. Other modes of transportation of both

goods and people were evolving and becoming more popular. People saw a decline in trade

through the canal, and slowly but surely, the expensive investment began to not pay off. Today,

one can walk along various parts of the turnpike, and be taken back in time.

one can walk along various parts of the turnpike, and be taken back in time. Source:

Source: Old postcard provided by relative


Nature Deficit Disorder

Experiencing nature, and all that there is to do in the outdoors, is absolutely crucial to a

healthy upbringing in a child. However, increasingly apparent in today’s society are children

who are deprived of these experiences due to a changing opinion that the outdoors and anything

to do with the science field is dangerous and to be avoided often. Nature must be taught to

children in a way that sparks curiosity and play, as correlations between nature and the

development of children’s mental, spiritual, and physical health has been shown through years of

studies and research. Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, is a novel that emphasizes the

significance of a healthy relationship between children and nature, and discusses the dangers of

nature deficit disorder that is becoming more and more apparent in today’s youth.

The way nature is viewed by adults begins when they were children. Education of nature

in a negative light will develop into adults who teach their children the dangers of nature. “In

nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy; a place distant from the adult world, a

separate peace” (Louv, 2005, p.7). This quote expertly shows the most efficient way to improve

how society, especially children, view nature. The outdoors must be a place of solace, one that

contains answers for the questions children have for it, and a safe space for children to explore

and develop. This can be accomplished through education, and not allowing nature to become

the dangerous and avoidable experience it sadly has become for many adults. This avoidance of

nature in children can lead to Nature-Deficit Disorder. This leads to a sedentary lifestyle, and a

reliance on technology, as opposed to a lifestyle where venturing out and exploring your

surroundings is the norm. This eventually will lead to parents who are disconnected for the

outdoors, passing along these values to their children, thus continuing this cycle.

It is important to ensure that lessons are developmentally appropriate for the age level

being taught as well. Following curriculum standards and outlines can be of great help. The

following lesson plans included in this module incorporate natural phenomena and concepts, and

promote in-depth thinking in elementary school children. These lessons combine to promote

project based-learning, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics),

and place children in close context with nature around them. Avoiding the concept of nature

deficit disorder may not always entail “playing outside.” Developmentally appropriate educators

can take what they know about the sciences (in this case, geology) and provide their students

with hands on experiences both in and out of the classroom. The following lessons take natural

mediums, and allow children to discover, create, and experiment- all while learning about

geological and historical impacts of the area.

Lesson 1: Glacial Deposition and Till

Projected grade level: 5 th Grade


Glacial Deposition: Glaciers carry rock along with them as they move. Glaciers can

carry rocks anywhere from a few days, to several years. When glaciers begin to melt,

they drop their sediment. This is called glacial deposition.

Glacial Till: A mixture of different particles and rocks that a glacier leaves behind as it

travels. This “till” is unsorted.

Moraine: sediment deposited by a glacier. Moraines can tell us a glaciers total coverage

across land (did the glacier advance? If so, how far?).

Drumlin: a longer, low hill of sediment deposited by a glacier. The narrower end of the

drumlin tells us the direction the glacier was moving when it released the sediments.

Kettle Lake: Sometimes, glaciers will leave behind large chunks of ice with till. When

this ice melts, it leaves a depression in the ground. This depression is filled by the melted

ice, forming a lake.

Striations: The scratches glaciers leave in bedrock


What are glaciers, and what are they made of? Where are they found, and why are they

important? What is the difference between glacial till and deposition? How has this phenomenon

affected our present-day landscapes? With these lessons, it is important that the kids tell YOU

(the teacher) what they think! Let them run the discussion, but keep them centered on the topic


Activity 1: Glacial Striations


Room-Temperature Play-Dough

Cold Play-Dough

Marbles, and sharp jagged rocks (try to lean toward more natural substances)


The purpose of this activity Is to visualize the way in which glaciers freeze materials

within their base, and how bedrock is affected. To begin, spilt students up into multiple groups.

Each group will receive a cup of cold play dough, and a cup of room temperature play dough.

Students will take the cup of cold play dough and create a loosely-structured ball. They will then

be able to take the ball they created, and stick some of the “loose-end” materials provided to the

bottom of the ball. Next, students will take their cups of room-temperature play dough and roll it

flat on the table. Students will now drag the cold play dough ball (the glacier) over the flattened,

room temperature playdoh (the bedrock). Ask the children if they see scratches. Ask “Why do

you think this happened? How can we connect this to glaciers? What kinds of materials make

real glacial scratches? (sharp rocks, sediment and broken up bedrock materials)” Explain that

these scratches we see along the bedrock we created are called striations. When glaciologists see

striations, it tells them that at some point in time, a glacier had passed through the area.

This activity can be furthered by searching in a local library, or an online database for

images and areas in which glacial striations are present.

Note: This activity was adapted from:


Activity 2: Ice is Nice!



Ice cube tray

Sediment (sand, gravel, dirt)



The purpose of this activity is to educate children on recessional and resurgence

processes. They will create their own “glacier,” and make observations on the deposition and till

they see. Students will begin by creating their own glacier. They will do this by filling a section

of an ice cube tray with sand, gravel, and dirt. One this is done, place the tray in a freezer. Once

the ice is frozen, have the students lay out cardstock where they will be working. Take the ice

cube (“glacier”) out of the tray and place it on the paper. Have students take notes on what they

see occurring. When the ice is finished melting, have students take a picture of where the ice

cube and sediments ended up. Discuss with them what had happened, and why they think it

happened. You, as the teacher, can also discuss how this affects landscapes in reality.

Have students connect this activity to geographical landscapes. How does glacial till in

their area affect the landscape around them? Locally, what impact did the glacial valley heads

have on the Chenango canal? How were engineers able to come up with a solution, and what was

it? Did depiction of glacial till make it easier or more difficult to create the canal? How did

workers “cross the divide” with there being such little water and high elevation? How does this

concept correlate to drainage basins and streams?

Above: a map of New York State and glacial deposition 14

Above: a map of New York State and glacial deposition

Lesson 2: Drainage Basins and Streams

Projected Grade Level: 5 th Grade


Watershed/Drainage Basin: The area of land that contributes water to a stream or river

Stream: A small, narrow river

Infiltration: water that is soaked into the ground

Runoff: surface water


In this activity, children will gain an understanding of how local drainage basins work,

and where precipitation will flow too within one. Knowledge regarding basins and watersheds is

highly important when regarding urbanization and construction of architecture. Where will water

flow to? How will this affect where cities are built and the land around them? How can this alter

the route of roadways and canals?

Activity 3: Creating a Watershed


Large plastic tray (or bin lid)

Plastic shopping bags (Walmart, Target, Grocery Stores)

Various spray bottles

A variety of cups, jars, pieces of Styrofoam (to create elevation)


The purpose of this activity is to create a mock watershed using everyday materials.

Children will be able to create their own model while working together in groups, while using a

developmentally appropriate hands-on experience to discover the effects and importance of

watersheds. Students will begin by splitting into small groups. Each group will receive a large

tray (to serve as a base), aplastic shopping bag, and various cups and pieces of Styrofoam and

jars (to create changes in landscape/elevation). The children will be able to work collectively as a

group to design their own landscape using the cup and jars. Once the children establish their

desired landscape, have them cut up a plastic bag so that it creates a flat, sheet of thin plastic.

Place the sheet over the landscape. Have the children use the spray bottles to mock precipitation

on the landscape. After a significant source of water has pooled at the base of the created

landscape, discuss with the children the purpose of the activity. Important questions include, but

are not limited to:

- Where are mountain-like structures located?

- Do you see and lakes, or other bodies of water? If so, where are they located? Why do

you think that might be?

- Which way does the water flow when we spray the water at the top of the mountains?

- What types of precipitation in our area affect runoff? (and cause lakes and streams?)

- How does this affect where we built houses, cities, and roadways? (discuss flooding, or

the need for water in order to feed canals and rivers)

This creative, hands-on activity can easily be extended. Talk with children the effects of

pollution on watersheds/drainage basins, and how it may affect people, plants, and animals. Once

could also connect this locally to the Chenango Canal. Explain to children that with building a

waterway like the canal came with thoughtful planning. The canal relied on feeders and location

of drainage basins in order to become successful.

Note: This activity was adapted from:

Activity 4: Drainage Basins of New York State and the Susquehanna River

In this activity, children will develop an understanding of how drainage basins operate, and the

directions in which water flows in and out of specific regions.


Map A: Susquehanna River Drainage Basin (included in lesson on following page)

Map B: Drainage Basins of New York State

An assortment of colored pencils and markers

Students will use the maps to locate and color the different drainage basins on map A and B. For

map A, students will circle, color, and label four smaller watersheds within the Susquehanna

River drainage basin. An attached, completed work sample has been provided for reference. Map

B is a large image of New York State. In this map, the drainage basins within New York are

already labeled. For this exercise, it is the student’s job to make a prediction regarding water

flow. What bodies of water (Oceans, large rivers) does each drainage flow into? Why do you

think this is? After the students have created their predictions on their own, gather as a class to

compare thoughts and predictions. A completed prediction work sample has been provided for


Connecting to the past:

Remember that project-based learning must be rich, relevant, and rigorous. An educator

could connect the drainage basin concept to both the history and engineering of the Chenango

Canal. The construction of the canal took a lengthy amount of time, as workers had to deal with

drainage basins and water flow. In order for water to fill the canal, and for the canal to ultimately

be successful, a feeder system was developed. Discuss with children what a “feeder system” is,

and why this system was needed to be developed.

Map B 20
Map B

Lesson 3: Porosity and Permeability

Projected grade level: Fifth grade


Porosity: how much water a substance can hold (pores =empty space)

Permeability: how well water flows through a surface


Through this lesson, students will experiment with both porosity and permeability, as they design

and create their own experiment. They will use different materials, and collect their own data

while working in groups.

Activity 5: Porosity and Permeability Mini-Lab






See-through” buckets/jars with a hole in the bottom (to place materials in)


1 (measuring) cup of water

As these materials (sand, silt, clay, gravel) are all natural, you can even incorporate a field trip to

a gravel mine to gather supplies. If taking a field trip is not an option, check out this link:


Have students work in small groups. Each group will receive buckets/jars. Children will

classify and place sand, gravel, marbles, and golf balls in the jars they label themselves. In this

mini-lab, we will test the permeability and porosity of sand, gravel, silt, and clay. Give students a

chance to observe the differences between each material in each jar. What material do you think

will have the highest permeability? The lowest? What material do you think will have the lowest

porosity? What about the highest porosity? Have students jot down their predictions.

To test porosity, have students observe the space between each particle. The materials with the

highest porosity (gravel) are those with the largest spaces. The materials with the lowest porosity

(clay) are those with the smallest spaces.

To test permeability, students will use water to test infiltration time. Using the 1 cup

measuring cup and the stopwatch, students will be able to rank the materials from highest

permeability, to lowest permeability. Materials with the highest permeability will have the fastest

infiltration time, and in contrast, materials with the lowest permeability will have the slowest


One student in the group will dump the cup of water into the material jar. When this

happens, another classmate will start the stopwatch. As soon as the water begins to exit the

bottom of the cup, the timer must be stopped. Have your students record the time for each

material. When all times are recorded, have them create a chart similar to the one below.



Porosity (High/Low)

Permeability (High/Low)

Permeability Time (s)







9.6 seconds

After the students record data, incorporate art! (Making this lab a strong S.T.E.A.M.

activity) Have them draw or paint abstract pictures and label their own diagrams of what they

see! This can positively influence more visual learners in your classroom.

Lesson 4: Locks

For this activity, students will become engineers and design their own lock. This lesson

stresses the use of “loose ends” Loose ends include various materials that can be combined in

creative ways to develop a larger product. The following lesson plan was taken from the National

Park Service Website. Attached below is a full lesson plan entitled “C&O Canal STEM Activity-

Build a Lift Lock.” (Source: Lesson plan above from:


Although some aspects of this lesson require outside materials (Junior Ranger Booklet), it

can still be both a valuable source and lesson guide to create your own lesson. The lesson

template provided can further be incorporated with the Chenango Canal. This STEM project is

easily converted to a STEAM product through creativity and design. Have children explain the

purpose behind their design, and how the development of the lock changed transportation. Show

students the images on the following pages that depict the constructed locks of the Chenango


Source: Limestone Locks and Overgrowth: The Rise and Decent of the Chenango Canal (1993). 29
Source: Limestone Locks and Overgrowth: The Rise and Decent of the Chenango Canal (1993). 29

Source: Limestone Locks and Overgrowth: The Rise and Decent of the Chenango Canal (1993).

Seeking Sources to Further Expand

The following sources may be helpful when developing or furthering instruction based on this


The Rochester Museum and Science Center

657 East Avenue, Rochester NY, 14607

Information: 585.271.4320

Monday–Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Through this exhibit, students will learn how to operate a lock (from the Erie Canal) and

be able to further understand the mechanisms required in order for it to be successful.

The Chenango Canal Association, Inc.

PO Box 125, Bouckville, NY 13310

This site provides a brief history of the canal in the Bouckville area, as well as provides

updates regarding community based events held at the canal. The canal house on site also

provides tours.

Jim Ford

Local historian, and author of Footprints Through Time Journals

Michele McFee

Author of Limestone Locks and Overgrowth: The Rise and Descent of the Chenango


New York State Archives

Resources for Educators regarding New York State Canals


Text-Based References

Ford, Jim. (2006). Footprints through time: the history of the township of Madison. Madison

NY: The Ad Group Agency

Louv, Richard. (2005) Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit

disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

McFee, M. A. (1993). Limestone locks and overgrowth: the rise and descent of the Chenango

Canal. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press.

Why Project Based Learning (PBL)? (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from