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Paddle-Wheel Steamboat

Transportation was transformed with the invention of the steamboat. Imaginations head up (or down) the Mississippi with this creative replica.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Share a story focused on the impact of steamboats on transportation systems, such as Karl Zimmerman's Steamboats: The Story of Lakers, Ferries, and Majestic Paddle-Wheelers and/or The Mississippi Steamboat Era in Historic Photographs: Natchez to New Orleans, 1870–1920, edited by Judy W. & Thomas H. Gandy, with students. Illicit responses from the black and white photographs of actual steamboats and discuss this unique form of transportation and the historic era in which they thrived.
    2. Invite students, organized in small groups, to research advancements in U.S. river transportation in the 1800s and 1900s. Explore how the invention of the steamboat affected the economy and population in towns and states along the Mississippi and other rivers. What precipitated the invention of the steamboat? Find out about different kinds of steamboats. Groups record information with Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils for reporting and on display boards.
    3. BChallenge students to build model steamboats, using pictures as a guide for construction. Gather an assortment of building materials, such as recycled boxes, cardboard tubes, craft sticks, rubber bands, and cotton balls.
    4. One way to make the paddle-wheel base is to use Crayola Scissors to cut a square from the bottom of a small recycled milk carton. Cut two sides from the square piece to make it smaller. Attach a rubber band down the center of the square piece with a stapler so the ends of the rubber band are free. Staple the ends of the rubber band to the cardboard base so the square piece is centered in the hole from which it was cut. Or invent an original design for a working paddle wheel.
    5. Now be creative! Use the materials gathered to build the rest of the steamboat. Connect pieces with Crayola School Glue. Design a boat with several stories, decks, steam pipes with cotton smoke, a captain, and flags blowing in the wind. Dry.
    6. Students cover their work area with recycled newspaper. Add color and a name for your boat with Crayola Washable Tempera Paints. Dry.
    7. Groups prepare a presentation for classmates. Encourage students to weave their steamboat visuals into their presentations.
  • Standards

    LA: Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    SS: Demonstrate an ability to use correctly vocabulary associated with time such as past, present, future, and long ago; read and construct simple timelines; identify examples of change; and recognize examples of cause and effect relationships.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    SS: Explore the role of technology in communications, transportation, information-processing, weapons development, or other areas as it contributes to or helps resolve conflicts.

    SS: Describe how we depend upon workers with specialized jobs and the ways in which they contribute to the productions and exchange of goods and services.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Steamboats by Karl Zimmermann; Portraits of the Riverboats by William C. Davis; Live Steam: Paddlewheel Steamboats on the Mississippi System by John Kral

    Encourage students to investigate the circumstances surrounding the invention of the first paddle wheel steamboat. Who invented it, when, and why? Research modern paddle-wheel steamboats. Create a brochure about the paddle-wheel steamboat, including places to see them today.

    The first steam paddle-wheel steamboat, the Washington, left Louisville, Kentucky, to navigate the Mississippi River on March 3, 1816. The steamboat made a round trip to New Orleans. Imagine that you are in the crowd, or on the boat when it leaves the dock. What do you see and hear? What is on the boat? How long does the journey take?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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