The Erie Canal: More than Grade 4 - Schoharie Crossing

In New York State it is often accepted that students are taught about the Erie Canal in fourth grade and that is sufficient.  A few refrains of “Low bridge, everybody down” will imbed Clinton’s Ditch deeply into the hearts and minds of nine and ten year olds forever doomed to hum the tune during bored excursions with family or long walks from the bus stop.  A pity however, as the history of the Erie Canal has so much more to offer students even beyond elementary education.  It is difficult to even know where to begin, and perhaps that is part of the problem.
Schoharie Crossing offers terrific programs for fourth grade curriculum, and it meets many Common Core Standards.  More so, it goes beyond that, and can be used to foster deeper understanding of so many subjects.  The canal helps to explore topics ranging from economics to engineering, from social programs to geological history and from politics to biology and scientific principles.    Add a splash of good old historic preservation and a few heavy drops of archeology and Schoharie Crossing maintains the recipe for being a successful engaging educational resource. 
Whether these can be applied to other grade groups is not a matter of yes, but how.  This mostly falls into the parapet heavily defended by educators and most often attacked by budgets and funding cuts.  It seems logical that bringing students to a historic site would be invaluable to them learning history – and at a place like Schoharie Crossing that is over three hundred years covered by accessible historical interpretation.   What is often overlooked is what history truly is and how that can be applied across standards, shifts and disciplines.  An excursion to the site can yield results in natural sciences, political science, social science, the arts and more, heck even physical education. 

A few ways to illustrate this is by using the sixty-five thousand dollar word, “inquiry.”  Let’s ask some questions:

Who benefits?  Short answer is we all do.  Students and educators will find great resources available at the site, or just by accessing heritage sites in general such as museums, parks and historical homes.  Well informed educators bring about well-informed students that produce results on assessments but even more importantly are well-informed members of civil society.

How do they benefit?   By gaining a better understanding of a myriad of topics and conveying that into additional curiosity to explore further.   The major focus is educating, and a great portion of that teaching that it is enjoyable to learn.  Coming to Schoharie Crossing is fun, and by default learning occurs.

What can they learn?  Aside from the above mentioned – a whole lot more.  From aspects as varied as the politics, economics and social reforms of the Early Republic American & NY State history, to the colonial interactions between the Europeans and Mohawks of the region, to the geological history of New York and why that allowed for the patterns of settlement as well as the Erie Canal.  Topics can be explored into engineering and technology of the canal from hand dug to steam power, or businesses and communities along the canal – how they prospered and/or how they failed.  From natural resources and environmental impact to creative solutions to complicated problems and even how families lived on and around the canal.  Students can see how everything was interconnected into a larger system and how that operated – and at times how it didn’t. 

What ways are there to learn?  One great way is the primary details of the site.  The physical features, the current canal and the remains of the earlier canal systems as well as the archeological evidence from 18th century Fort Hunter.   Additionally primary documents can be used, from photographs to letters, diaries and store ledgers to illustrate daily life, economics, social class distinctions and quite obviously historical events and people.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Natural sciences can be illustrated too, as a visit to the site isn’t complete without witnessing the abundance of nature in and along the old canal as well as from the banks of the Schoharie Creek and/or the Mohawk River.  From various flora and fauna to the ways in which they are taking back parts of industrial human footprints, examples are nearly everywhere.
Why visit?  Seems hardly a question worth answering again, but in the most simple of terms – students learn.  

Students, regardless of grade, can come to the site, read panels, see artifacts, engage in conversation, ask questions and seek answers.  

By making use of the Ticket to Ride grant offered by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the National Park Foundation, students will be given the ability to make the best of those learning opportunities and hopefully right here at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site. 

For more information & details on how to access this grant, please visit: The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor 

To contact Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site –PO Box 140 – 129 Schoharie St., Ft. Hunter, NY 12069 – (518) 829-7516