The most essential activity in the unit will of course not take place in the classroom at all as it will be a visit to the East River to see the bridges themselves. However, a series of lessons and assignments which allow students to explore the issues of Second Industrial Revolution as they relate to the design and construction of the bridges must take place if the full value of the field trip is to be realized.
Lesson Plan: Urban Growth in New York As Seen in Maps
Students will identify the patterns of New York City's population growth in the 19th Century and use those patterns to justify the need for bridges at specific locations.
The growth of New York can be explored most effectively by viewing contemporary maps as the city grew. The map collection at Yale's Sterling Library is an excellent resource for these maps copies of which can be made on site for one dollar each. Reducing the size at a copy store is important, however, so that the maps can be transferred to overheads so that they an be viewed by the entire class. A list of the best maps will be included below, but they should include at least one - perhaps a nautical chart - which clearly shows the geographic advantages of New York as a port. Others should show both Manhattan and the Brooklyn/Queens end of Long Island so that the growth rates can be compared and the location of the waterways can be noted. I have already noted above the value of considering the Commissioners Plan of 1811 as an indication of the type of growth city planners foresaw before the advent of the steam ferry. At least one map from the second or third decade of the 20th Century will be useful in showing the effects of the bridges on the patterns of continued growth.
In order to engage the entire class students should write down their responses to discussion questions for each map as each map is viewed. After students have had time to answer the questions on their own, the teacher can open discussion by asking students to share their responses. Students should correct and amend their answers in their notebooks as the discussion continues. Possible discussion questions:
1. What is included on the map?
2. What areas appear to be thickly settled? How does the map indicate this?
3. Why have people settled in these areas? What are the geographic factors involved?
4. Does the cartographer indicate where he thinks future growth will take place? If so, where is this indicated and did it prove to be accurate?
5. Considering the patterns of growth and geographic factors, what would be a good location for a bridge (or a second, third, etc.)?
More specific questions may of course be necessary for individual maps such as the nautical chart.
Notebooks can be collected or checked to assess student involvement and understanding of the issues raised in discussion.
Lesson Plan: Role Play of the Caisson Worker's Strike
Students will demonstrate the dilemmas facing American workers seeking to improve working conditions in the 19th Century.
This lesson should take place after students have a good understanding of what caissons are, how they worked and why they were necessary. As indicated above illustrations will be very important in getting these concepts across. Students may even be asked to sketch a caisson on the river bed with the tower rising above it.
Students should be divided into four equal groups representing the following: the bridge company directors, the caisson workers, unemployed immigrant workers, and the public. Based on readings in McCullough (p. 195-199, 303-305) the caisson workers will report on conditions in the caissons and the effects of the "caisson's disease" and will vote to strike for higher pay, demanding three dollars for a four hour day. The company directors should explain the budgetary pressures they face and refuse to offer more than $2.75 for an eight hour day - which was in fact a very generous offer for that era. The unemployed immigrant workers should express a desperate willingness to take a job for such great pay if the caisson workers don't want it, but must consider whether they would be willing to cross the picket line. The most creative responses can come from the general public who can express any opinion as long as it is consistent with their chosen background and the general attitudes of the day. Their opinions may well have the effect of bolstering or weakening the strike. The public should be aware that because the bridge is being funded with public money, as citizens of New York they have every right to make their opinion known. The critical decision point in the role play is when the company directors threaten to fire all the strikers if they don't return to work immediately for $2.25 a day. At that point the strikers must decide whether they have the resources to resist further and whether it is a greater risk to return to work or to give up the job. The company directors are certainly welcome to begin making offers to the unemployed immigrants while the strikers consider their situation.
Assessment of student performance should be based in part on the level of each student's involvement in the role play. In addition, the night after the role play each student should write up their position on the strike and explain any changes in position that took place during the lesson.
Lesson Plan: Judging the Value of a Bridge
Students will use the East River bridges to distinguish factors which add or detract from the value of a particular bridge to the community. Students will judge whether the criteria established for these century old bridges can be used to evaluate bridges of today and those to be built in the future.
Prior to the culminating field trip students will compile information in their notebooks on each of the East River bridges. Information will come from lectures with illustrations, assigned readings (see resource list below) and discussion. After seeing the bridges themselves students will pick one of the five bridges as the "best" and defend their choices in writing and discussion. Students should be given the following list of questions which they will answer for each bridge in order to determine their choice:
1. Does the bridge successfully meet the design criteria established at the time of construction?
2. Has it been possible to adapt the bridge to changing needs (new forms of transportation technology, population growth, etc.) over the last century?
3. Was the design of the bridge bold and innovative for its time? Does it still convey that sense of innovation today?
4. Is the bridge visually attractive? Why or why not?
Based on these questions, students should write a persuasive essay in which each of the five bridges is critiqued and the "best" is chosen. Each student will present his/her case to the class on the day that the assignment is due in the form of an oral summary of the essay. After presentations (or during them) discussion will take place allowing students to defend their own positions and critiquing others.
Evaluation should be based on content of notebooks, participation in discussion and the essay. Content of the essays should be evaluated on the degree that the author based his/her choice on specific, well defined criteria.