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Use these discussion questions before, during, or after your video-based lesson on Western Pennsylvania History.

If you haven't read our Tips for using video in the classroom, we suggest you take a look there first, then come back here to choose materials to construct your lesson.

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Western PA History


Forks of the Ohio
Fort Pitt
Gateway to the West
Smoky City
Steel City
Renassiance City

Related video

Pittsburgh over time

Population boom and bust

Plot the Pittsburgh region's population on a graph (better yet, do the Population-Timeline Mural activity in preparation for this discussion). You may do the graph by hand using the directions for the mural, use a spreadsheet or graphing computer program, or use the blank grid we've provided.

Graph the population figures from this table using different colors or patterns for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. (When you are done, your graph should look like this.)

  • What surprises you most about this graph? How long did it take Pittsburgh to reach its first 100,000? The second? Third?...

  • When did the biggest spurts of population growth occur? What events usually cause such a spurt? What specific events caused these spurts for Pittsburgh?

  • What does the pattern of city and county figures suggest about suburban development? What might be an explanation for the county and city peaking at different times?

  • What are some possible reasons for Pittsburgh's declining population after 1950? If people are moving to the suburbs, what should we expect to see? If people are leaving the area, what should we expect to see? Where do these patterns occur on our graph?

  • When does population start to decline? What percentage of Pittsburgh's peak population is its population now? What percentage of Allegheny County's peak population is its population now? What events or trends help explain the drop-off in recent decades? What are some of the challenges of having a declining population?

Follow-up with research into Pittsburgh's history at the time of the largest periods of population growth and decline.

Its all in a name

List Pittsburgh's nicknames over the years. How many of these nicknames did the class think of? What other nicknames did the class think of?

  • Forks of the Ohio
  • Gateway to the West
  • Smoky City
  • Hell with the lid off
  • Iron City
  • City of Champions
  • Steel City
  • Workshop of the World
  • Arsenal of Democracy
  • Golden Triangle
  • Someplace Special
  • Renaissance City
  • The 'Burgh
  • Pothole Capital of the World

Investigate the story behind these nicknames. Then discuss:

  • When were they appropriate, if ever? Who was responsible for coining them?

  • When did they no longer apply? Which could still be applied now?

  • How many seem completely accurate for the time they were used and how many seem like an exaggeration? How much of an exaggeration?

  • What is your favorite nickname from the list? Why? Ask your family members which they like best and why. What seems most like "home" to each of them?

  • What would you nickname Pittsburgh today? What characteristics of modern Pittsburgh does your nickname reflect?


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Western PA History