Academic journal article Social Education

Lewis & Clark: An Interdisciplinary Expedition

Academic journal article Social Education

Lewis & Clark: An Interdisciplinary Expedition

Article excerpt

ON JANUARY 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress to fund an expedition to the source of the Missouri River. This expedition would become known as the Corps of Discovery, which would spend twenty-eight months exploring, studying, and documenting the wonders of the western frontier. Led by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the expedition is a landmark of American history. It exemplifies the challenges of westward expansion (which included issues in international relations, economic competition, cross-cultural communication, and physical endurance) as revealed through the journals of several members of the Corps.

In January of 2003, the celebration to commemorate the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery's expedition began at Jefferson's Monticello home in Charlottesville, Virginia. (1) Many celebrations and commemorations of the expedition will be held over the next three years. One of them could be held at your middle school. (2)

For the past four years my seventh grade class has participated in an annual "Lewis & Clark Day." This day-long simulation of the expedition, built upon Jefferson's directions to the Corps of Discovery, takes place on the grounds of our preK-12 school in southeastern Michigan. Students travel about, visiting various "settlements" and stations, and performing tasks similar to those carried out by Lewis and Clark. The simulation can be adapted for use in any park or schoolyard (see closing section). Teachers of social studies, science, and math work together to prepare students for Lewis & Clark Day with lessons that are tied to the seventh-grade curriculum and that will have practical application. On Lewis & Clark Day, teachers and students recreate some of the excitement felt by members of the corps.

History, Anthropology, & American Studies

Two weeks prior to the student expedition, as a class, we begin reading In Their Own Words: Lewis and Clark by George Sullivan. (3) This book uses primary sources including drawings, journal entries, and maps-to explain the history of the Corps of Discovery. Students complete a series of tasks (Handout A) while they read, such as creating and assessing Lewis' resume (a well-educated outdoorsman was needed for the leader), outlining the Corps of Discovery's diet (nothing is refrigerated; food must be carried), or creating a scale model of the unique portable keelboat used to travel up the Missouri River (Lewis' custom invention) (4) Questions also involve the corps' interactions with Native Americans.

The class watches Ken Burns' film The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, which is based on the journals of several members of the expedition, including Lewis, Clark, and John Ordway. (5) My students also view a PowerPoint presentation based on photographs I took while re-tracing part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail during the summer of 2002. I traveled by car, bike, canoe, and on foot. I share my journal, packing list, and expense report with the class. Students ask myriad questions: "What was the size of your tent?" "How long did your journey take?" "Who did you meet along the way?" I so discuss with the class how the landscape and traveler's activities may have changed between 1803 and today. (6)

Natural Sciences & Geography

Preparation in science class occurs over three days. Students elect two leaders (a Lewis and a Clark) for each of five teams. Students invent a team name and create a sign (the size of a paper plate), which has their team name (an indigenous animal of the western U.S.) and several symbols representing what they hope to accomplish on their expedition. For example, the "Cranes of Discovery" team sign featured a whooping crane surrounded by images of a period flag, shaking hands, and an iron axe. Students write a paragraph explaining their patch design.

Next, the class discussion revolves around preparing a packing list for the expedition. …

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