Introduction Getting Ready
Learning Circles Teachers' Guide
Open Circle Plan Projects Share Work Publish
Close Circle Overview

Project Ideas for Places and Perspectives

(Text Only Format)


Land Use and Local Politics

Every city or region must make decisions about how to use land and where to place houses, schools, libraries, airports, hospitals, prisons, power plants, roads, freeways, and airports. Often there is a great deal of controversy over land use decisions. For example:

  • Residents do not want prisons or airports near their homes.
  • Developers argue for zoning laws permitting them to build
    multi-unit housing on agricultural lands.
  • The utility company and homeowners debate the safety of building
    a nuclear power plant on a known earthquake fault.
  • Commuters and landowners often disagree on plans for widening
    or building new highways or rapid transit systems.

The purpose of this project is to help students recognize that these important land use decisions are made in all communities and that individuals, groups and organizations play important roles in the decision making process. This process can help students learn to evaluate different perspectives and form their own ideas on controversial issues. The classroom sponsoring this project might send one of the following requests for participation to other classrooms on the network.

Ideas for Learning Circle Projects on Land Use:
Describing Problems. The sponsoring class requests all classes to consider any issue of land use in their community. Students will need to explain what the problem is and describe the groups (residents, parents, businesses, social services, city planning department) involved in the decision making process. How does each group provide input to the decision making process? What actions have been taken? These descriptions are sent to the Learning Circle.

Searching for Solutions. The sponsoring class sends out descriptions of various land use debates in their community. They ask other places if their community has dealt with a similar problem. If not, why has it not been a problem? If so, how was it resolved? This input will help us learn how common problems are dealt with in different communities.

Evaluating Solutions. The sponsoring classroom presents a land use problem in their community to the Learning Circle. They describe a number of possible solutions detailing the strength of each one. The other classrooms take a survey to see which position is favored. Once the decision is made, a few students summarize the main reasons the students in that location supported one solution over another.

Different Perspectives on History

History is our reconstruction of past events. We often teach history to students as if there was only a single view on these past events. However history books from different countries, and sometimes from different locations within a country, treat the same event in very different ways. The goal of this project is to compare what students in different regions learn about a particular time period or event by comparing their text books and classroom instruction.

Here are some history ideas that the sponsoring class might suggest:

History Quiz: What am I? Students from each of the classrooms would write a descriptive essay from the perspective of a local monument, battle site, museum, or other historical location or object from their area. They would provide clues to the time period and the significant people and events. Students from the other sites use their history or reference books to try to guess the object or location. This project will help students find out more about each other's history. They will also discover what resources are available in their library for learning more about their Learning Circle partners.

Cultural Perspectives on Historical Events. What do you learn about a specific historical event or time period in your state or country? The specific event or time period might be: The U.S. Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the invention of the automobile or telephone, the causes of the Cold War, space exploration programs, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution of Iran or the student bid for democracy/counterrevolution in China. For example, here is a Canadian view on the American Revolution:

The American War of Independence
This is the way our history book describes the American War of Independence. We are summarizing the information in a chapter that has 10 pages with some pictures:

In April 1775, the colonial forces began to fight against the British. George Washington was the leader of the army and they fought a number of battles. Washington decided to invade Quebec. He thought that the French merchants and Canadian people would also fight in the war against the British but he was disappointed to find out that he was wrong.

On New Year's Eve, 1775, Washington's army tried to capture Quebec but it did not succeed. The cold winter weather made it difficult to fight. The colonists were very surprised to find that the Canadians were less than eager to join the war. Most of the Canadian people had decided to stay neutral. Why should they want to get involved in an English family quarrel, they asked. The very bad weather conditions and the lack of new support forced Washington and his army to retreat in defeat.

But the colonists did not give up and in 1776 the American colonists declared their independence from England and kept on fighting. It was difficult for the poorly armed and untrained colonial troops to fight the British army. England had a large supply of guns and warm uniforms. The Americans had to use 'hit-and-run' tactics to

wear down the British troops. In 1778 France agreed to help the American troops. They did not want England to have control over the New World. With French supplies and naval support the American army began to win more and more battles.

War ended in 1783 the Peace of Paris Treaty was signed and The United States of America was a new country. These actions affected Canada. Not all American colonists had joined in the idea to oppose Britain.

The war divided the colonists into two groups. The "Patriots" were the ones who supported the revolutionary fight for freedom and an end to British rule. The "Loyalists" were people who opposed this cause and wanted to stay under British authority and supported King George III. Many of them came from different countries (there were German, Dutch, Quaker, Mennonites and Jews) and were afraid of losing their customs and traditions which they felt were protected under British rule. Once the war started, everyone was forced to take sides. Sometimes people in the same family became enemies because they did not agree about this.

The book says that no one knows the exact number of loyalists but that people think it was more than 100,000 people! They were farmers, merchants, tradesmen, doctors and lawyers. They liked the king or did not like the war. After the war, these people did not want to stay around as they would not be too popular with the patriots! So they had to leave after the war. They mostly went to England and English colonies. Lots of them came up to Canada.

There were also a lot of Black slaves who were Loyalists and fought in the "Black Pioneers" corps of the British army. British soldiers told the slaves that if they fought with them they would be freed and given land. After the war about 3,000 Black Americans fled to Nova Scotia in Canada with other Loyalists, but they were not treated the same. They were treated mean and given poor land. Because of this bad treatment, some left to go to New Brunswick and Quebec, others went to a place in Africa called Freetown that the British founded to be a home for freed slaves.

Many Indians from the Mohawk Tribe from New York were also Loyalists. They hoped to protect their culture, customs and land, by supporting British rule and fought with British soldiers. Molly Brant, a Mohawk Indian leader stated that "Our people have been allies of the English King for many years and our loyalty will continue for many more." Molly was married to the superintendent of Indians in British North America and she helped fight with her brother for the right to land.

Britain did reward the Mohawk Loyalists by giving them territory to settle in Southern Ontario which they called Six Nations Reserve. After moving from New York to Ontario and settling on the land, it was later taken away from the Mohawks and given to white settlers. A Mohawk Indian stated "When I look around me, above and below, I see nothing but white... and now we have nothing left but a spot to stand upon."

Zachary Scott
Provincetown School

Transportation and Geography

All human activities require movement. People need to move themselves, their products, and their ideas across distances. Very few places are self-sufficient and therefore extensive transportation networks link places together. Cities develop around centers that are linked to other centers. Transportation links are planned and organized to save energy, reduce travel time, and conserve resources. Geographic features of a location influence transportation and play a big role in the development of cities. The goals of this project are to describe and analyze transportation routes and to understand how geographic features interact with transportation to affect many aspects of the community. Here are some project ideas:

Location Information. Study a map of your city. What determines the boundaries and shape of your city? City boundaries can be formed by geographic features such as mountains, rivers, lakes or canyons, or by constructed boundaries such as a road, a freeway, or the edge of a property line. Here are some ideas for information the sponsoring classroom might request for a project on location.
  • List the name and size of your city in population and square miles.
  • Describe your city's boundaries to the east, west, north and south.
  • List four ways your city is connected to the closest large city.
  • Describe how transport patterns interact with geographic features.

Transportation Systems. Every city is connected to other cities by a range of transportation routes. Students can describe these patterns and discuss their influence on local businesses that have developed. For example, a city on an ocean, river, railroad line or major freeway may have many industries that rely heavily on transportation.

  • What are the major transportation routes in and out of your city?
  • What is the history of these routes and the vehicles used on them?
  • How does transportation influence the type of industry in your city?
  • What ideas do you have for improving transportation in the future in your area?

Transporting People. People everywhere daily move through their environment. The amount and form of movement will vary with social, economic and geographic patterns. The sponsoring classroom might explore these differences. Here are some ideas for questions:

  • How many miles does the average student, mother, and father travel from
    their home each school day?
  • What is the longest and shortest distance for each category of people?
  • What are the most common means of transportation used by each group?
  • How does geography influence these decisions?

Challenge: Can you compute the cost per passenger per mile for each of the forms of transportation listed?

Travel Guides

Traveling is one of the ways that we learn how people have adapted to and modified their physical and social environments. The traveler experiences different cuisines, living patterns and transportation systems. All these changes help the traveler realize the rich diversity in human-environmental adaptation. In this project the students plan a travel guide and itinerary for a projected visit from their Learning Circle partners.

This project could include one or both of the following activities:

Travel Guides: Have your class discuss traveling to new places. What kind of information is important to know before you arrive? Help students understand why travelers want to know about the climate, the history, social customs, language and geography. Ask students to think about their own community and what people should know about it before they arrive. Have the students write a brief history and description of their city in the form of a travel guide. Finished travel guides are shared with all Learning Circle participants but can also be sent to your Chamber of Commerce for distribution to visitors.

Two - Day Travel Itinerary: Imagine that a small group of students from the other sites have arrived in your city. It is your job to plan their stay from the time they arrive at the closest airport to the time they depart. The sponsoring classroom will provide a theme for the visit. For example, the purpose of the visit could be to:

  • Learn about local animals and plants
  • Explore its unusual geographical features
  • Visit its major museums and historical sites
  • Experience different cultural celebrations
  • Study differences in regional housing
  • Tour art collections and galleries

Where would you take them? What things would they need to see to understand your way of life in your region? Planning the visit makes a great whole group activity. Writing assignments can then be distributed to groups of students. One group can describe the trip through the natural history museum while another writes about the exploration of geological features of the coastline. A well-planned visit balances informative and recreational activities.

These travel guides and trip itineraries are collected by the sponsoring classroom in a travel section of the Journal of Places and Perspectives. Students can send accompanying illustrations in the mail.

Regional Legends and Local History

What was your community like before semiconductors and computers, laser beams and nuclear energy, airplanes and fast trains, TVs, VCRs and video games, automobiles for everyone, and computers in the school? Can you find someone who remembers when milkmen and doctors made house calls? The goal of this project is to have students learn about history by becoming local historians. This project encourages students to talk to grandparents and other senior citizens to learn the history of their region. These personal histories, unlike what is preserved in history books, are rich with details about how people lived without the many inventions and tools that students take for granted. These people can be a rich source of information that often is lost because no one takes the time to write down their stories. Students can provide a valuable service to their community by collecting and writing down these local legends so that others will be able to enjoy this rich chronicle of history.

Ideas for projects that students might sponsor:

1. What was your community like in the past? Who lived there and why did they settle in your area? Are there any local legends that give an historical view of your surroundings? What was it like before all the modern buildings and forms of entertainment existed?

2. How old is your oldest building? Can you tell us a bit about the history of this building? Who built it and for what purpose? What is it used for now?

3. What industries or jobs were common in the early history of your area? How do they compare with the current industries? What factors were responsible for the changes from these early times to now?

4. How has education changed in your area? Can you trace schools back to a one room school house? When was your school built? What were the changes that made it necessary to build your school?

5. Does your area have any agricultural land? Was it used for farming in the past? How is it used now? If it is still for farming, how have farms and farming changed?

6. What did people do for entertainment before TV and video? What were the major forms of entertainment before these inventions?

7. How long have families in your community had telephones? What proportion of families have one or more phone lines? Were calls placed over "party lines" or by operators in your area? How often did people communicate with family in distant locations?

8. How did people travel around the local area? What means of transportation were used for longer trips? How many people owned cars? How often did people go on long trips?

Natural Disasters

People in different places face different risks related to their climate and location. Adaptation results in diverse patterns for controlling the natural environment and planning for natural disasters like droughts, floods, fires, ice, storms, earthquakes, cold, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The goal of this project is to increase student awareness of the types of natural disasters faced in different locations and the actions and decisions people make to minimize the possible damage or risk associated with natural disasters.

Here is a plan for one way to sponsor a project on this topic:

Listing Natural Disasters: Each classroom in the Learning Circle discusses the topic of natural disasters and creates a list of hazardous natural events that have occurred or could occur in their area.

Evaluation Of The Risk: Students describe the frequency of occurrence and the type of damage that is caused by each of the disasters on their list. Students can describe past occurrences of natural disasters in their area and provide some background on the cause of the disaster.

Emergency Plans: Describe your school's emergency plans in the event of a natural disaster. How are students educated and prepared for the possible risk? What services are provided by the city in the event of this type of disaster? Does the city have educational programs that help citizens learn what to do to prepare for this type of disaster?

Here is an example of a report from Hester Cline's students at Highwater High School in Conastoga Station:


BACKGROUND: The Conastoga River was the main supply route for the shipment of goods and foodstuffs to our town during the 1700's. As a result, the town grew around the banks of the river. Gradually, an infrastructure of roads and railways was built and the importance of the Conastoga as a main trade route was lessened. Today, the river is used for recreational purposes.

RISK: During extended periods of heavy rainfall, the water level rises dramatically in the Conastoga often flooding the surrounding town. The result is property damage ranging in the millions and physical and emotional suffering.

SCHOOL EMERGENCY PLAN: Our school is a designated emergency shelter and quantities of blankets, canned foods and medical supplies are stored here. One of the issues that came up in student council was how we could help in case of a flood. We will let you know what we came up with.

TOWN EMERGENCY PLAN: With state and national aid, our town has been able to rebuild but the loss of life can never be compensated. In a prevention measure, the town has published a booklet which outlines the steps to take in case a flood warning is issued. It lists the addresses and phone numbers of local hospitals, Red Cross locations and emergency shelters, outlines evacuation routes and describes an early warning radio system.

Place Profiles

Compare a number of aspects of life in the different regions. The sponsoring classroom could prepare a survey for collecting information about the areas. Students should discuss why they would want to include a particular question. What will it tell them about other places? They might want to predict the responses of others and then compare their predictions to the responses that they receive. The survey might include items like the following:

  • Time it takes to drive across the center of town during "rush hours" and on Sunday
  • Cost of off-street parking downtown for 15 mins.
  • Cost of a head of lettuce in December and July
  • Average Jan. and Aug. temperatures and rainfall
  • Number of television stations
  • Median cost of a house
  • Range of cost for skateboard or bicycle
  • Price of a movie ticket
  • Kinds of sporting events and teams
  • Cost and frequency of public transportation from downtown to nearest airport

Local Business and Industries

Where you live is often influenced by the job opportunities that are available in your region. Who are the major employers in your area? What services or goods do they supply? What types of skills are needed to work in these businesses? The want ads in your newspaper can be used to learn a great deal about your area. What type of jobs are most often advertised? What is the advertised salary of most of the jobs? Is there a minimum wage in your country? Please take a survey of the occupations of your parents. How many students think that they will take a job in your location? How many students think they will need to move to a new location to follow their career choice?

Migration Patterns

Families move for many reasons but the most common reason is to follow employment opportunities. How many times have you moved to a new home or to a new city? What were the reasons for your families movement patterns? Please list the birth places of each of the students and the number of times that they have moved. If you can, do this for the parents and grandparents as well. What is the most common reason people in your area give for moving to that location? Use this list to code the reason for each of the moves:

1. To increase job opportunities
2. Work related transfer
3. To increase political freedoms or opportunities
4. To increase quality of life
5. Climate change
6. Educational opportunities
7. Family ties
8. Other

Prompts for thinking about your Places and Perspectives Circle Project

Return to Places and Perspectives



Margaret Riel, Copyright © 1997, Revised 2002. All rights reserved.