Surveying Our First President


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Students examine George Washington's journals and surveys and use a GPS device to survey and map a site at their school.

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Surveying Our First President

  1. 1. Surveying our First President Intended Grade Level: Middle School Lesson Purpose: One of George Washington’s first roles was as a surveyor. It was an important job which helped him develop a strong knowledge of and love for his native land. It also helped to establish his economic independence. He utilized his surveying skills throughout his life, even spending some of his last days reestablishing boundaries on his farms. The purpose of this lesson is to use the context of George Washington’s experience as a surveyor to teach students geographic and mathematical mapping skills while allowing them a hands-on opportunity to identify with the Father of our Country. Lesson Objectives: • The student will use appropriate tools to make accurate measurements and representations of an acre of land. • The student will deepen their understanding of surveying and mapping through analysis of George Washington’s journal and surveys, and communicate their learning through the creation and presentation of an accurate plot map. National Standards: NSS-USH.5-12.2 ERA 2: COLONIZATION AND SETTLEMENT (1585-1763) • Understands why the Americas attracted Europeans, why they brought enslaved Africans to their colonies, and how Europeans struggled for control of North America and the Caribbean • Understands how political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies • Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies, and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas NM-GEO.6-8.1: Analyze characteristics and properties of two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes and develop mathematical arguments about geometric relationships NM-GEO.6-8.2: Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems NM-GEO.6-8.3:Apply transformations and use symmetry to analyze mathematical situations NM-GEO.6-8.4: Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems
  2. 2. NL-ENG.K-12.8 DEVELOPING RESEARCH SKILLS Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge. Materials: • GPS Receivers – 1 per group • Field Sheet – 1 per group (included below) • Centimeter Grid Paper Map – 1 per group (included below) • 100-foot Measuring Tape – 1 per group • 66-foot length of string – 1 per group • Stakes or Surveyor Flags – 4 per group • Protractor – 1 per group • Ruler – 1 per group • 12x18” construction paper – 1 per group • Colored pencils and other art supplies Timeframe: Approximately four class sessions Background Information: When George Washington was just 16 years old, he began his first career as a surveyor. In the mid-eighteenth century, much of the land west of the Appalachian Mountains had not yet been mapped, so a surveyor who could map this frontier was essential to the westward expansion of settlers. The Library of Congress website “George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmarker” is an excellent source for background information and additional surveys drawn by George Washington. George Washington would have used tools such as a compass to map the Shenandoah and Ohio valleys, but today surveyors use a new technology called GPS (Global Positioning System). A GPS device uses satellites to pinpoint the latitude and longitude coordinates of the earth. Students may already be familiar with the activity “geocaching” where a GPS device is used to find clues and answer riddles. Procedure: 1. Show students the image of Washington as a surveyor (included below) and ask students how it fits in with their concept of Washington. To familiarize students with 18th century surveying, distribute the excerpt from George Washington’s 1748 Journal (included below). After students read the documents, describe to
  3. 3. them the importance of surveying in 18th century America and specific ways in which Washington contributed to mapping the physical and social landscape. Discuss how Washington’s experience surveying and traveling through unmapped territory shaped his later life. 2. In an effort to understand Washington’s role as a surveyor better, the class will now have an opportunity to experience working as surveyors. Inform students that they will be working in collaborative groups of 4-6 students to survey a section of the school property, determine the coordinates of specific points using a GPS receiver, and create and present a map of their survey. Instruct students in the basic method of using a GPS receiver to determine the latitude and longitude of a given location and the proper notation to use in recording the location on a grid map. It is helpful to take the class outside and model how to locate and plot points on graph paper. Allow groups some time to examine the materials and formulate basic strategies. 3. Surveyors in Washington’s time used a surveyor’s chain that was four chains or rods long. This translated into a measurement of one chain equaling 66 feet. An acre is equal to 10 square chains. The dimensions of a one-acre parcel of land might include 1 chain by 10 chains or 2 chains by 5 chains. Inform students that their group task is to survey and map a one-acre parcel of land on the school grounds. They will use their 100-foot tape measure to create a 66-foot long string that represents one surveyor’s chain. They will then use this string chain to measure out one acre, checking for 90-degree angles with a protractor. Each corner will be marked with a surveyor flag or tent stake. Review Washington’s journal entry and discuss the fact that 18th -century surveyors often use existing physical landmarks or features to help identify the location of a plot of land. Ask them to use trees, benches, playground equipment or other landmarks to help in their map and description. Students should use their 66-foot lengths of string to measure the sides of their land parcel. They should begin with a physical landmark to help establish the first corner marker. 4. On their field sheets (included below), they will record physical landmarks, all four side lengths, along with the coordinates of each corner marker. On their grid paper maps (included below), they will sketch an aerial view of their one-acre land parcel, showing side lengths and corner marker locations.
  4. 4. 5. Once their one-acre plot is established, student groups will use their GPS receiver to identify the coordinates of each corner marker. They will map these locations on their field sheet and centimeter grid paper map. They will also record existing physical features to help others identify the location of their parcel. 6. After each group has completed their survey, distribute the images of survey maps created by George Washington (included below). Discuss the precision of his representation and the need for accuracy in surveying. Ask groups to take out their field sheets and grid paper maps and discuss their own surveys in comparison to Washington’s. 7. Students will now take the surveying data collected outside and use it to draw a clear and precise map that could be presented to a landowner. Groups will need to establish an appropriate scale to represent their survey, and use great care and accuracy in creating their maps. Maps should include color, references to existing physical landmarks, clear representation of location, side measurements and corner marker coordinates, a detailed key, a compass rose, and a title. 8. Student groups should present their completed maps to the class, explaining their general approach and specific strategies. Maps will be displayed in the classroom. Adapted from a lesson plan submitted by David Cosand, George Washington Teachers’ Institute 2008
  5. 5. Image: Whatever He Did He Did Well – So ItFollows That His Surveys Were the Best That Could Be Made, by Frank Schoonover, 1924, Courtesy of Virginia Tech University
  6. 6. Transcription: George Washington’s Journal, 1748 (later published asMy Journey Over the Mountains) Tuesday 15 We set out early with Intent to Run round ye sd Land but being taken in a Rain & it Increasing very fast obliged us to return, it clearing about one oClock & our time being too Precious to Loose we a second time ventured out & Worked hard till Night & then return'd to Penningtons we got our Suppers & was Lighted into a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as ye rest of my Company striped myself very orderly & went in to y° Bed as they called it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw — Matted together without Sheets or any thing else but only one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice Fleas &c14 I was glad to get up (as soon as y"…we got our Suppers & was Lighted in to a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as the rest of my Company striped my self very orderly & went in to the Bed as they call’d it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw- Matted together without Sheets or any thing else but only one Thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice Fleas &c. I was glad to get up (as soon as the Light was carried from us) & put on my Cloths & Lay as my Companions. Had we not been very tired, I am sure we should not have slep’d much that night. I made a Promise not to Sleep so from that time forward chusing rather to sleep in the open Air before a fire as will Appear hereafter." March y. 15'h 1747-8 Survey'd for George Fairfax Esqr. a Tract of Land lying on Gates Marsh and Long Marsh Begining at three Red Oaks Fx on a Ridge the N° Side a Spring Branch being corner to ye 623 Acre Tract & Extending thence N° 30° E' 436 poles to a Large Hickory and Red Oak Fx near John Cozines house thence N° 60° W 90 Poles to a Large White Oak Fx thence N° 7° E' 365 poles to Long Marsh 420 poles to 2 Red Oaks and W: Oak in a Poyson'd field15 by a Road thence N° 65° W 134 Poles to a W: Oak by ye sd Marsh thence crossing ye Marsh S° 20° W 126 poles to another Branch: of Long Marsh 218 poles to a Red Oak Fx
  7. 7. thence N° 80° W 558 po: to a Large Red Oak & White Oak Fx in a Valley thence S 25° W 144 poles to a Black Walnut in a Poysond Field by a Lime stone Rock thence S° 33^° E' 96 to a White Oak thence S° 20 E' 316 po. to three Red Oaks in a Bottom in Wm Johnstones line thence with Johnstones S° 80° E' 30 po to a Double Hickory Coll° Blackburns corner 114 po to 3 Hickorys Johnstones corner & corner to ye aforesd 623 Acre Tract thence along ye lines thereof East 280 poles to 3 Red Oaks finally along another of the lines thereof S 15° E' 262 po. to ye beginning. Images: George Washington’s Journal, 1748
  8. 8. Image: Survey of the five farms at Mount Vernon drawn by Washington, 1793
  9. 9. Image: Survey of Culpeper County drawn by George Washington, 1749