S.S. THEMATIC UNIT:
WESTWARD EXPANSION; LIFE
ON THE TRAILS
KIMBERLY K. HUDSON
• HAVE “DO NOW”ON
CHILDREN TO GET OUT
FOR NOTE TAKING.
• TEACHER INSTRUCTED
EXPANSION AND THE
• DISCUSS OREGON TRAIL
• EXPLAIN WHAT JOURNALS
ARE, WHO WRITES THEM,
AND WHAT IS WRITTEN IN
• STUDENTS WILL HAVE
OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AT
JOURNAL ENTRIES FROM
PEOPLE WHO TRAVELLED
THE TRAIL & STUDY PHOTO
OF WHAT PIONEERS
• STUDENTS WILL
CREATE A JOURNAL
FROM THE PAST
• KIDS WILL USE THEIR
WRITE AT LEAST 3
JOURNAL ENTRIES AS
IF THEY AND THEIR
ALONG THE OREGON
TRAIL ON THEIR WAY
TO A NEW HOME IN
• ART WILL BE
INCORPORATED AS WE
WILL USE TEABAGS TO
STAIN PAPER TO MAKE IT
• CHILDREN WILL
JOURNALS WITH A PICTURE
OF THEMSELVES AND
THEIR PIONEER FAMILY
SUPPLIES, ANIMALS, AND
WHAT THEIR WAGON
• A LIST OF
THE STUDENTS TO
CONSIDER WILL BE
LIST OF QUESTIONS FOR
• HOW DID YOU TRAVEL?
• WHO TRAVELED WITH YOU?
• HOW WERE YOU DRESSED?
• WHAT PROVISIONS DID YOU BRING?
• WHAT JOB OR DUTY DID YOU DO?
• WHAT DID YOU SEE ALONG THE WAY?
• WHO DID YOU MEET ALONG THE WAY?
• DID ANYTHING HAPPEN ALONG THE
• DID ANYONE GET HURT OR SICK? IF SO
HOW WERE THYE TREATED? ANY
• WHAT DID YOU EAT?
• WHAT DID YOU DO FOR
• WHAT WERE YOU FEELING?
• HOW LONG WAS YOUR JOURNEY?
• WHAT WAS YOUR NEW HOME LIKE?
• Dress up as a pioneer and portray
a pioneer. Go into the younger
classrooms and read a journal
entry to the children.
• Display journals outside the
classroom for other school
members to read.
• Take home assignment: To
understand what life was like for
the pioneers try going through an
evening without any modern
conveniences. No electric lights,
TV, or radio, etc. Make a complete
list of things you gave up and be
ready to share your experience
with classmates tomorrow.
• In the westward
expansion unit students will
incorporate the history of the
pioneers in their study of
mathematics. During this 50
minute math class, students
will put their measurement
abilities to the test. I will bring
in a real wooden wagon wheel
for students to see and touch.
We will use this wheel for a
series of fun math problems
that will be completed outside
in the schoolyard.
• Students will be able to see and touch a real
wagon wheel and describe its shape and
measurements. Students will be able to estimate
distances and use tools to take measurements.
A connection between distance measurements
and travel will be made as children actively work
out problems in the schoolyard that pioneer’s
may have faced out on the trail. Children will be
able to make and use estimates of measurement
from everyday experiences.
• As the pioneers traveled, they would measure distances by the revolution of their
wagon wheels. Using a wagon wheel or bicycle wheel, have students measure
distances by counting revolutions of the wagon wheel between various points. You
can use masking tape to mark the wheel to make noting the revolution easy.
Students can then compare this distance with that of more standard measurement
such as tape measures, meter or yard sticks, rulers, etc. Which form of measuring
distance is the easiest to do? Measure the circumference of a wagon wheel. Have
students determine how many revolutions of a wheel it would take to cover
approximately one mile of ground.
• “In areas where no trails or roads existed, pioneers depended on rivers as their
highways through the forests. Pioneers floated down the Ohio River on crafts like
these flatboats, which could carry one family, a wagon, and several horses or other
animals. Once they reached their new home, a family might take its boat apart and
reuse the wood” (p.4 Kids Discover. Vol. 17, issue 4).The pioneers would have to
estimate the distance across a river in order to cross it safely. Use pacing to have
students estimate the distance between two points in the schoolyard.
• Figure out how many steps it took for a 49er to walk to California. First, measure one
of your normal steps from front heel to back heel. How many inches is it? Next, divide
63360 (the number of inches in a mile) by that number. Now you have figured the
number of steps in a mile. Now, multiply the number of steps by 2,000 miles--the
distance to California. The answer is the number of steps it would take for you to walk
from Missouri to California. (http://www./su.edu/~trimich/teacher.html#anchor785920).
• If time is permitted
we as a class will
distances around the
school. We will then
distances and see
how close our
• Students will use their continuing
knowledge of the Westward expansion
and bring technology into their learning
environment. During this 50 minute
technology/science block, kids will
have the opportunity to navigate a
computer with a partner as they delve
into the educational computer game,
“Oregon Trail”. As students experience
life on the trail through the movements
of a computer generated pioneer
character they will have to encounter
and face problems and dangers along
the way. Students will make choices
as they guide their pioneer character
along the trail and will face
consequences for decisions made.
This modern time travel will allow
children to see what struggles,
hardships, losses, and rewards were
possible on the Oregon Trail.
• During free choice
students will have the option to
play the educational Oregon
Trail computer game. They
may also take their list of web
links on the unit and explore
and do some internet research
on Western expansion. The
students will also have links to
play other fun educational
games, listen to music, look at
pictures, do word searches.
• I think it is so valuable to
get children on the computer at
a young age and snow them
how to navigate and use it
responsibly and safely.
Computer skills are essential
in this day in age for internet
research, word processing,
and recreation and discovery.
Still there are many who do not
have the privilege to computer
access outside of school or the
local library, so it is valuable
time in school to teach and
explore technology of today.
HISTORY, SCIENCE, GYM
• Have the children gain a
real sense about what life
was like on the frontier by
planning and going on a
trail trip of our own.
Students will have a first
hand account and learn
how to plan, experience
what pioneers ate, walk a
trail, pull a wagon full of
supplies, and entertain
each other along the way.
HISTORY, SCIENCE, GYM
Prepare the class for an expedition of our
own. Take the day to bring the children with
parental permission to a remote location to
set up camp. Recreate what life was like for
pioneers living on the frontier. With prior
preparation the class will come up with a list
of supplies and provisions needed to sustain
our class of pioneers on their journey west.
Children will be asked to bring in or make
something from the list the class came up
with for our trip. Once on site we will
construct our own covered wagon using red
flyer wagons as a base. We will load up the
wagon and head on down our own Oregon
Trail. After a little hike we will stop and set
up camp, preparing for a meal. We will fix
food similar to what the pioneers ate. We will
have conversations around a campfire
where interesting facts about the pioneers
are shared. After we are rested we will play
a game of buffalo dung Frisbee but with just
a plastic Frisbee. The class will then pack up
and head home with an experience that they
can relate to life on the trail
• Fun with Buffalo Dung If you think frisbees were
invented in the 1960s, you're wrong--by about a
hundred years. Children on the Oregon Trail threw
frisbee-like devices back in the mid-1800s. But they
weren't made of plastic--they were made of buffalo
dung.During the great western migration, the entire
Great Plains region was covered with buffalo chips--
they were unavoidable. And yes, kids occasionally
tossed them about in a frisbee-like manner. But the
chips had a much more practical purpose for the
emigrants--they were burned for fuel.There was no
firewood along much of the Trail, so the only
alternative was dried buffalo dung. Even though the
pioneers were hardy, they didn't much enjoy
gathering up bushels of chips every night.The chips
burned surprisingly well, and produced an odor-free
flame. Usually, each family had its own campfire,
but sometimes everyone contributed their chips for
one big bonfire.