Prep: Tell them to bring in colored pencils.

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Lesson Plan

Panama Canal

Prep: Tell them to bring in colored pencils. (I also have some)
Hook: What are you watching? (not sure if video gives it away).

High speed video of going through the canal today. Cue it to start at 5 seconds and make it large screen. That way it does not give away what they are seeing. If they get it quickly, start talking about how the locks first raise and then lower the ships.

Goal: Understand how controlling the Panama Canal Zone and building the Panama Canal helped to establish the US as an imperial power and showed to the world it was on the cutting edge of technological and economic power.


1. Read aloud the handout "Building the Panama Canal". Do this popcorn style - in each section have them underline the key idea(s).
2. Show them picture of Central America without the canal (project map of Central America –see last page of lesson) and have them state what areas might be a logical place beyond Panama to build a canal linking the two oceans. Then, briefly explain advantages for US for a canal: open more markets to China, more easily defend US navy by having a quicker link between navies on two sides of US, proof of our know-how and how technically we are tops etc)
3. Have them turn the page over and explain briefly the topography of Panama as on the map. Show them how far the French got and have them jot down key difficulties that de Lesseps (*French builder of the Suez Canal) encountered including: yellow fever, wrong plan, natural disasters (earthquake). Then, have them predict by using a colored pencil how the canal would be built.
4. Give them handout to show what was actually done and then using a separate colored pencil make the actual route (have them make a key too so they remember which is which). Also have them draw in the approximate location of Gatun Lake. Tell them the US paid Panama $10 million for the right to re-engineer the land plus $250K annually in rent. (? Was this amount was raised over time?). Tell them the US returned control of the Panama Canal zone to Panama in 1999.
At the end show them 2nd map here which shows the locks and the height differentials.

5. Next give out sheet where the students can take brief notes on the photos. Place four stacks of photos around the room and they gather info.

6. Go over their observations with the photos.
7. If you have time: Show them how a lock works using this link to the textbook (page 567 in the textbook - online and click on area that says animation - or try this link below).
Basically ship enters and lock closes; and either water is put in or removed to move the ship up or down a level. Review idea that ships had to be brought up quite a distance through traversing the isthmus and back down again to hit ocean level....
8. Wrap Up: Despite the US completing this engineering feat, relations with South and Central America worsened. Why might that be?

Finally the US ended up paying Colombia $25 million in compensation for the land in 1921...18 years after the 1903 revolution the US had instigated. Does this make up for the US stirring up a revolution within someone's own country? Can we relate this to our involvement in the world? Can you see perhaps why some countries intensely dislike us.

Possible extension at end of lesson.

Possible Extension: Watch first 15 mintues of the PBS film.. below is a U-Tube link and a little summary

Long video on canal by PBS…. Great intro. Here are some notes from the video:

Consider watching first 15 minutes which gives great background (may be too long though). Here are the notes from the video.

Symbol of arrogance, authority and power. Announces the US is leading country in world. Shows US had succeeded in conquering nature unlike any country had done before. In july 1905, steamship made way… what did ad say who was banned “foreigners”. At 4 minutes, here firsthand account of a person seeing the canal area… and gives impression of the wildness of it (Jan van Haardeval – American living on isthmus of Panama). All wanted to part of America’s mighty march of progress. Stopped at 5.5 minutes (showing US accomplishments in transcontinental railroad and Brooklyn bridge; fascination with human triumph over adversity - US at the "cutting edge"). For 400 years, thought of connecting two oceans via slender isthmus in Panama. French were first to try in 1880s led by Ferdinand de Lesseps (Sp?) who had built the Suez Canal. Though Suez was a flat desert area that had to be cut through, very different from the Panama. Challenges include: mountains, thick jungle, deep swamps, volatile river, mosquitoes and snakes. De Lesseps venture went nowhere - lots of money down the drain and death of 20,000 people (most of them West Indians). For about 10 years nothing happened.

Around 10 minute is: T.R. saw it as a conduit to power and a way to develop US naval power by linking two oceans. We are the leading industrial power and try to think globally including opening more markets w. Asia. (nice map on video of routes to Asia). TR also saw it as a way of asserting we are a world empire and that we dominate the world.
Next goes into how Colombia controlled Panama and how its Constitution forbade it giving away its sovereignty to any area they control. So TR checked into taking it over but instead decided to help encourage a revolution by the locals. They paid the Colombian troops to go home and signed a treaty w. Panama to give them control over the zone.

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