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  • Writer's pictureThe Norman Howard School

Low Bridge, Everybody Down - 15 Lessons on the Erie Canal

These days, one of the buzz phrases in education is “Project Based Learning”. As we see it, the hallmarks of Project Based Learning are that it is focused on the local community and where the student fits into it, that it cuts across more than one discipline, and that it is experience-based. So, although the phrase Project Based Learning is all the rage, it is something that The Norman Howard School has excelled at for decades.

Students bicycling along the Erie Canal

This year we are our yearlong, school wide theme is the Erie Canal. Our faculty generated the idea last February and we have been hard at work considering ways to incorporate it into our teaching for the year. This summer, we had local canal historian, Wyatt Doremus, visit us to offer ideas and wisdom as to how we might make it most valuable for our students.

The curriculum will be experience-based. In fact, during faculty orientation our teachers are going to take a cruise down the canal on the Sam Patch as they “spitball” further possibilities. We want to our students to connect with knowledge differently by answering and understand questions like:

  1. Why is Rochester here? (a hint: It has a bit to do with the Erie Canal)

  2. Where is the Erie Canal in terms of human feats? ( I was unaware and blown away to learn that it was created without dynamite)

  3. What has been the last generations “Erie Canal? (The Internet?)

  4. Could a project of this scope get built today? (There was no federal funding of the project!)

Along with most students taking a cruise on the canal, other projects will include: writing a historical fiction piece for workers on the canal, building a model lock than can make water rise and fall, touring the Erie Canal museum in Syracuse, doing a photographic essay with shots of the canal, or visiting the caves in Lockport. The possibilities are almost limitless. Some activities will be in specific classes, others will be by grade, and we are going to have a canal celebration in the spring as an entire school community. This will help students learn more about a major historical artifact in their local community, bring us together as a group, and have a series of meaningful, shared experiences.

We encourage you to ask your students questions about it as time goes by. Please feel free to share any local expertise that you might have or have access to as well.

We like to remind adults that our most profound memories from when we were students in school do not involve our faces in a textbooks. The Norman Howard School model of using enriching experiences to support learning has served our students well and we have high hopes for our pursuits with the Erie Canal. We will keep you posted and hope these learning experiences create deep meaning for our students!

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