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Activities

Use these activities before, during, or after your video-based lesson on Rivers and Valleys.

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.

Rivers and Valleys

FYI

Making mountains
Rolling on rivers
Moving mountains
Burgh & burbs
Cleaning up

Related video
Discussion & activities<
Resources


Discussion

Learning Activities

Geography

bullet Place name archaeology

Viewing suggestion: View a few of the neighborhood profiles from North Side Pittsburgh History Series program (see North Side Program Log) and ask students to make a note of some of the place names mentioned (neighborhoods, street names, building names, etc.)

  • How did some of the places in the North Side get their names?

Using maps of the area, make a list of some of the place names in your neighborhood or region: Street names, bridges, towns, streams, hills, and other land features.

Hypothesize how each of these places may have gotten their names:

  • Who might have named these places? Why? When?

Research the names of these places, then discuss:

  • Which places were named after people? [Pittsburgh, Frick Park, Schenley Park, Stanwix St., Carnegie, Grant St.] Who were these people? Why were these places named after them? Who gave the places these names? Was it a tribute or just because they got there first? What is the story behind their settling the area? Why did they settle here?

  • What places are named after natural features? [Ridge Ave., Water St., Spring Hill, Panther Hollow, the Strip, Oakland, Squirrel Hill] Which of those names now refer to things that aren't there any more? Why have they disappeared?

  • What names represent ideas or ideals [Homestead, Homewood, Spring Garden, Mount Lebanon]

  • What names offer clues of past activities? [Observatory Hill, Millvale, Ambridge] Are those activities still practiced at these places? If not, what happens at these locations now?

Compare these modern place names with those on historic maps (historic maps of Pittsburgh can be downloaded from the Western Pennsylvania History Discussion and Activities page). What places have changed names? Why might they have changed?

Extension: Look up the geographical names at the USGS' Geographic Names Information System (http://mapping.usgs.gov/www/gnis/) for access to maps, aerial photos, census maps, and information from the EPA's Surf your Watershed site!

 

Transportation

bullet Plan a new regional mass transportation system

Viewing suggestion: View segments on the riverboat crews, trolleys, inclines, trains, old highways, and airports as preparation for this discussion. See Rivers and Valleys Related Video.

What are some of Pittsburgh's unique challenges for mass transportation? [Lack of a clear grid system; hills and rivers that funnel into tunnels and bridges...] What transit challenges does it share with all cities? [Unwillingness to carpool or ride mass-transit, pollution, fossil fuel use...]

What are some of Pittsburgh's unique opportunities for mass transportation? [Waterways that lead to Downtown; miles of unused railroad track and right-of-way...]

Brainstorm ways the region could use its waterways and other assets to supplement the existing mass transit system and encourage more ridership (Remember the trolley parks!).

Narrow the list to three or four possibilities and discuss how feasible each idea is by listing its pros and cons.

Visit the Port Authority's web site for the latest information about the region's transit plans.

 

bullet Interview a veteran of Pittsburgh's transportation history

Viewing suggestion: View segments on the riverboat crews, trolleys, inclines, trains, old highways, and airports as preparation for this activity.

Interview someone who has been involved in Pittsburgh's transportation industry to find out how things have changed in his or her lifetime and what life was like "on the road."

As a class, brainstorm some positions that might have been involved: railroad worker, river boat crew, truck or bus driver, trolley operator, diner or truck stop worker, pilot, airplane mechanic, road construction contractor or worker, etc.

You may have to do some asking around to find potential subjects, but you'll soon find a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone if you keep asking! Start by talking to related businesses close to home or a senior citizen facility.

Use this Oral History Interview process to learn how to conduct your interview: Asking the right questions will help you get better stories and not just "yes," "no," and "uh-huh" answers! Be sure to get a signed release form so you can save the tape and use quotes from the interview.

 

bullet Ride or walk a rail-trail!

Find a trail and maps at one of the following sites:

Then, take a hike! Look for signs of the railroad still remaining. What are these artifacts? How was the land changed to grade the rail bed? Where does this route start and end? What kinds of train and cargo were carried on this route? Can you see clues along the line of the kinds of industry or commerce that served or were served by the rail line? What kinds of things aren't there anymore?

Does the rail line run along a waterway? Why? What kinds of activities are happening along this river or stream now (consider recreation, commerce, industry, etc.)? Why? What clues can you see of past activities that are no longer active?

What watershed is the stream in? Where is the water flowing? What waterway will it join up with next? What streams run into this river or stream?

As you ride, imagine what it was like to walk or ride a wagon over a road like this 200 years ago. The early roads were about the same width as our today's trails, but not nearly as well paved or evenly graded! Most travel on those rough mountain roads -- even in a horse-drawn wagon was at a walking pace. And most were much more hilly. But a rail trial or hiking trail gives you a pretty good idea of scale of those old roads -- and a real respect for our ancestors who crossed the mountains on them!

 

bullet Your own Road Show

In Pennsylvania Road Show, producer Rick Sebak travels the back roads of Pennsylvania to find the unusual treasures hidden right beneath our noses. Every old road has secrets waiting to be discovered by people whose eyes are open. Roads change over time, but almost always leave clues behind about what they once were.

Pick an older road nearby and travel it, looking for interesting clues to the past along the way. If possible walk or ride a bike along it so you have time to look. Some possibilities: East Ohio Street, Allegheny River Boulevard, Ohio River Boulevard, Carson Street, Route 8, Route 19, Route 22/30 (William Penn Highway), Route 30 (Lincoln Highway), Route 40 (National Road), one of the Belt system roads (Orange Belt, Green Belt, etc.).

  • Get out and walk around when you find something unusual -- an abandoned bridge or railroad, an old building facing away from the road, milestones along the path.
  • Take pictures or video of what you discover. Try to find old photographs of the road and the people places, and events surrounding it.
  • Find old maps to help you identify what you find along the way. Or use the maps to help you decide where to go looking for clues (can you find any evidence of the trolley tracks you found on the old map?)
  • Talk to older folks and ask them what they remember about the road. Videotape their stories.

After collecting your material, put together a print, web, or video "Road Show" travelogue to show others what they might find while traveling this road. Here are some Road Shows people have put on the web:

If you put your Road Show on the web, let us know and we'll link to it!

 

Rivers

bullet How far from the fountain?

Estimate the distances between the point and ten Downtown landmark using scale and a coordinate system.

Courtesy of PHLF.

 

bullet Surf your watershed

Where does the water that runs off your roof finally end up? That is your watershed! Find out all about your watershed -- water quality, sources, wildlife, industry and much more -- at the Environmental Protection Agency's Surf your Watershed web site:

 

bullet Redeveloping riverfront

The bad news is that the age of steel and other heavy industry along the rivers is over. The good news is that thousands of acres of riverfront are available for other uses for the first time in over 100 years! Local governments and businesses are working together to find new uses for these old industrial sites that will bring new jobs to the area and continue our progress in cleaning up the environment.

One very successful effort is the development of Washington's Landing on Herr's Island in the Allegheny River under the 31st Street Bridge. Washington's Landing combines housing, light industry, housing, and recreation (rowing, a boat marina, and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail for biking and walking).

Another effort is the High Technology Center between Second Avenue and the Monongahela on the old J&L South Oakland Works. The the old Homestead Works of US Steel is being redeveloped for entertainment and commerce.

Research these efforts to find out what more about the past and future of these sites. Then, create your own mixed-use riverfront development. Work in teams to cover all the environmental, economic, architectural, and preservation considerations of such a project:

  1. Find an abandoned industrial riverfront site somewhere near you.
  2. Locate geological maps and aerial views of the area and map out the area available. USGS maps and aerial views are available by searching the Terraserver: http://terraserver.microsoft.com/
  3. Conduct a survey of residents (or the class) to determine what they would like to have happen at the site.
  4. Discuss and decide what activities could successfully work together and generate income to support itself and provide jobs for the community
  5. Create your plan for redevelopment, including drawings, maps, and a business and environmental plan telling how you will generate income in an ecologically friendly way.

 

bullet Recycle and reuse

Another approach to our riverfronts is not to take the old down and put up new, but to put to new uses the structures that are already there. By applying imagintion and elbow grease, we can have the best of the new and the old. Of course, Station Square is the oldest riverfront reuse effort in the area.

Pittsburgh's riverfronts are full of grand old buildings looking for a new lease on life. "Adaptive reuse"--preserving an old building by giving it a new use--is now considered a great way to keep yesterday's architecture around for the future. See how some students propose to reuse the old Lawrence Paint Building next to Station Square. Then have students choose an out-of-work building in your community to put to a new use. Or have them give the Armstrong Cork Building in the Strip District a makeover. In the process learn about plans, elevations, and other scale drawings architects use to communicate their ideas. This is a great cooperative learning exercise that mirrors a real-life cooperative urban planning process. Go to the Recycle and Reuse page.

 

bullet Floods and droughts

The United State Geological Survey keeps data from all its river gauges since they've gone into effect -- most in the 1930s. Using the historical streamflow data for river gauges in Pittsburgh, it is possible to see a portrait of some of the city's major river events!

Discuss these streamflow graphs from the USGS server:

Over the years when do the highest and lowest water levels usually occur during the year? Over a decade, how often does the streamflow go extremely high?

How can you tell when the floods occur? How long does it take the flood to develop? How long does it last? How long does it take the flood to subside and flow return to normal?

Why does the USGS measure streamflow rather than river levels? What is the relationship between flow and levels? You can find information about historic water levels at the Pittsburgh PA Hydrologic Services Area.

  • What does a flood look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What does a drought look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What is the average waterflow/month for one decade? Highest month? Lowest month?
  • What difference did the flood control projects make between the 1936 and 1972 floods?

Follow up by having students do their own searches and plot graphs of riverflow in the activity Ebb and flow: Find historical river data for your area at the USGS (below).

 

bullet Ebb and flow: Find historical river data for your area at the USGS

Begin with the discussion of Floods and Droughts on the Discussion page.

The United State Geological Survey keeps data from all its river gauges since they've gone into effect -- most in the 1930s. You can find historical streamflow data for a river gauge near you by following the links on these pages:

Once you get to the historical streamflow, enter a range of dates. You will choose whether you want data or a graph -- start with a graph. You'll download the data later.

Start by entering a year to see when the high water and low water periods usually are during the year. Then look at a whole decade period to see if you can find years with more or less waterflow. Find the largest stream flow you can (most likely a flood), then focus on that year or a few months of that year.

Analyze the graphs:

Over the years when do the highest and lowest water levels usually occur during the year? Over a decade, how often does the streamflow go extremely high?

How can you tell when the floods occur? How long does it take the flood to develop? How long does it last? How long does it take the flood to subside and flow return to normal?

Download the data to plot your own graphs

Download the streamflow amounts for a selected period and use a spreadsheet program to work with the data. Generate your own graphs to compare different eras or average the data. Work with your math and science teacher to construct your investigation.

Here are some ideas to investigate:

  • What does a flood look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What does a drought look like? How does it develop over time?
  • What is the average waterflow/month for one decade? Highest month? Lowest month? Graph the average.
  • When did the flood control projects start to make a difference?

Do the graphs give you enough detailed information or do you need to use the data?

 


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