Cattle, Cotton and Railroads

Filed under: Duncanville ISD,Schools |

Two Byrd Middle School seventh grade teachers recently challenged their students not only to research history, but to become authors of historical newsletters with a reading audience outside the classroom. As part of a Project Based Learning unit, Texas History teacher Charlene Harper and English teacher Tomeka Reeder asked their classes to investigate how cattle ranching, cotton farming, and the construction of railroads impacted the history of the Lone Star State. “I just really hope they’re able to connect the past to the present, how these industries evolved from their beginnings to where they are now, and what that has meant for modern society,” explained Harper.

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Duncanville ISD seventh grader Jazmyn Grace and her Project Based Learning group members created multi-media documents about the mountains and basins region of Texas, specifically researching a devastating sandstorm that swept the area in the late 1800s. Submitted Photo

In late January, groups of students took their geographical assignments and delved into city, agricultural, and online newspaper archives to find out how cattle, cotton, and railroads helped shape the Old West. Paulo Kare’s group researched the Texas coastal plains, and focused on how the invention of the cotton gin helped develop the agricultural economy of the area. “Eli Whitney’s idea was a real technological advancement, and this machine helped farmers and merchants work more efficiently.”

Another component of the assignment was investigating how Texans overcame challenges that affected the three industries. Jazmyn Grace’s group turned their detective skills to the mountains and basins of Texas, researching a sandstorm that affected the area at the end of the 1800s. “The dust was so deep that it halted production at the city’s factories and stopped field work for local farmers.”

Students used their findings as inspiration to write newsletters about different cities, creating multi-media documents with facts, figures, and visual elements designed to appeal to their readers. “My goal was to challenge the students to grasp the concept of informative writing, while learning how to communicate what they’ve learned in a way that would interest them and others,” explained Reeder. The two instructors wanted students to be motivated to reach an audience beyond their classroom walls and their school.