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C U R R I C U L U M    M A T E R I A L S

Thomas Best

Overview

Main Ideas
Although just 1.3 percent of the American public is still engaged in farming as an occupation, the sight of a brightly painted green and yellow tractor with the "John Deere" label is certainly a well-recognized product to both rural and urban students. Nevertheless, despite the continued overwhelming importance of agriculture to the Midwestern economy, few students are familiar with the history of our agrarian past, the technological evolution of farm equipment, and the impact that such implements as John Deere's steel plow had upon the development of the geography and economy of America's prairies across the corn and wheat belts. This lesson will help students use the previous article to track the progress of plow manufacturing and the unique contributions of the inventor, John Deere, to the agricultural history of Illinois, the United States, and the world.

Connection to the Curriculum
This lesson can be taught as part of U.S. history, Illinois history, or economics. The activities may be appropriate for the Illinois Learning Standards 15.B.2.a; 15.C.3; 15.C.4.b; 16.E.3.b.(US); 17.C.2.a; and 17.C.3.a.

Teaching Level
Grades 6-9

Materials for Each Student

A copy of the narrative portion of this article

Activity handouts

Graph paper

Drawing paper

Objectives for Each Student
Create a descriptive and illustrated time line that traces the technological improvements associated with the history of the plow.

Create a line or bar graph that traces the manufacturing production of the plow by John Deere and his company.

Create an imaginary advertisement for a John Deere plow from the nineteenth century.

Describe how a largely rural population adapted, used, and changed the environment.

SUGGESTIONS FOR
TEACHING THE LESSON

Opening the Lesson
Activity 1: Have the students read the narrative portion of this article with attention to the technological improvements of the plow. Students should take note of such factors as what changes in materials and design have improved the plow and the efficiency of farm work.

Activity 2: Using the narrative information supplied in the historical article, students will take a piece of graph paper and create a descriptive and illustrated time line that traces the technological improvements associated with the history of the plow from 4000 B.C. to 2000. This work could be completed on an individual basis or in cooperative groups to take advantage of different students' skills in reading and reporting information, analyzing written material, and art work. This could also be completed as a whole class form of instruction with students providing information and written and artistic contributions on a large sheet of paper, the bulletin board, or chalkboard. Students will use Handout 1.

Activity 3: Using the narrative information supplied in the historical article, students will take the data supplied for the number of plows manufactured by John Deere and his company from 1837 to 1873. They will create either a line or bar graph that charts the growth in production and describe or speculate on the cause and effects of production advancement. Another dimension of this lesson could be to ask students to use their

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Plowing the Prairies Beyond the Mississippi

"Plowing on the Prairies
Beyond the Mississippi,"
sketched by Theodore R.
Davis. Appeared in Harper's
Weekly
, May 9, 1868.
Courtesy: Deere and
Company, John Deere
Archives

computation skills to determine how long it took John Deere and his workers to complete each plow. Students will use Handout 2.

Activity 4: Students will create an imaginary advertisement for a John Deere plow from the nineteenth century. The students will use information from the historical article that illustrates the improvements made in the plow by John Deere and its advantages over other plows. They should create their advertisement employing characteristics of the skills and creativity of John Deere. For instance, consider how Deere's marketing plans and advertising were attractive and effective in selling his product to farmers. Students will use Handout 3.

Logo from Deere company
Logo from Deere & Company stationery, 1855.
Courtesy: Deere and Company, John Deere Archives

Developing the Lesson
Prior to the lesson, the teacher can gather color pictures, brochures, advertisements, and perhaps some collectible toy farm equipment representing John Deere farm equipment from a local farm-implement dealer. Those teachers without such business connections can substitute such materials with a class trip to Deere & Company through their web site at www.deere.com, which offers information relating to Deere & Company's historic past under John Deere to its modern industrial legacy as one of the world's leading producers of agricultural, lawn, and forestry equipment. This opportunity to see the modern state of technologically superior farm implements will assist students in their understanding of the great advancements in agricultural equipment since early human agrarian activity There are links on the web site to such topics as corporate earnings, the geographic diversification of their manufacturing centers, and a visit to the new John Deere Pavilion and Commons in Moline. Most importantly there is a historical section dealing with the life of John Deere and the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour. Certainly, whether a teacher can obtain copies of Deere materials or not, the Deere web site will introduce students to pictures and an overview of the history of this American inventor and entrepreneur.

Students should be encouraged to ask their parents or other adults about the types of

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Headline from a Deere advertisement

farm equipment or lawn equipment that they use. They can ask such questions as: "How do their tractors or lawn mowers make their jobs easier?" "Do they own John Deere equipment?" "What influenced their decision to buy this name brand?"

Concluding the Lesson
Students could be encouraged to speculate on what advancements might be made in modern tractors and plows that will further improve agricultural efficiency and production. They could both draw and describe such equipment for the twenty-first century. They will want to describe what types of new materials or design features will be used in the tractor's engine, plow, wheels, etc. A visit again to the John Deere web site at www.deere.com will remind students of state-of-the-art farm equipment featuring computerized planting systems and tractor cabs as comfortable as passenger vehicles.

Extending the Lesson
Samples of the student work in the forms of the time lines, graphs, and advertisements could be displayed in the teacher's room or hallway. Representatives from the farming community and farm-implement dealers could be contacted to view the display and comment on the accuracy and comprehension of plow technology. This would be a great opportunity to also invite members of the local media for an illustration of how teachers and students are applying their study of technology, history, and economics, A contest with prizes (perhaps replica farm equipment) could be held to choose which advertisement would best attract consumers of farm equipment.

To be fair to other dealers of agricultural equipment, students could consult businesses with competing brands of farm equipment to learn of the history of their products and compare the evolution of their products with those of John Deere's. Are there similar stories about the founding of their companies? In what ways was the evolution of their products similar or different from John Deere? Students might also look into the research of farm implement companies that no longer exist. What factors that led to the success of Deere & Company were missing from these businesses?

Students might adapt the type of problem that faced John Deere to modern students or workers. For instance, people often need a better type of tool to make their work easier and more profitable. Consider a type of work that presently faces students or adults. Using everyday materials and production techniques, create a device that will serve people in their work.

Teachers could arrange a field trip to the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour (815-652-4551). There students will visit a museum with a slide show of the history of John Deere,

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Advertisement

examine the archeological remains of John Deere's blacksmith shop, travel through a replica of the original blacksmith shop, and take a tour of the Deere home in the same historic block. The site is open daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. from April 1 through October 31. There is a $3 entrance fee for visitors 12 years and older. Another museum worth visiting is the new John Deere Commons (the Pavilion and John Deere Store) in Moline (309-765-1000). There students will view slide presentations and displays tracing the history of farming in the Midwest; engage in interactive displays about various facets of farming, world population, and climate using computers and internet connections; climb into the latest Deere tractors and combines; and tour the impressive glass pavilion and store that features implements ranging from early Deere plows to the John Deere NASCAR racing car in the John Deere store next door.

Teachers of world history will also find applications of this material in a global context. Of course, material on the plow in world history must be introduced. John Deere's work, however, is one of the important world examples. Additional references to China would be helpful; consider: Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China. 6 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956 -1984, and Robert K. G. Temple, The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986).

Assessing the Lesson
Activity 2: With the students creating a descriptive and illustrated time line that traces the technological improvements associated with the history of the plow from 4000 B.C. to 2000, teachers will look for evidence of factual descriptions and graphic representations of the changes in the plow over this span of time. What people, inventions, and events were tied to the evolution of the plow and its impact on improved farming techniques and food production?

Activity 3: With the students taking the data supplied for the number of plows manufactured by John Deere and his company from 1837 to 1873, their line or bar graph should accurately reflect the increases in production of plows along the two axes, charting the years and number of plows manufactured. Following the graph, students will then describe and/or speculate on the causes and/or effects of production advancement. If students were asked to use their computation skills to determine how long it took John Deere and his workers to complete each plow, the teacher can check on the accuracy of student work according the length of time based upon how many plows might have been produced in one hour, one day, one week one month, etc.

Activity 4: Students will create an imaginary advertisement for a John Deere plow of the mid-nineteenth century that features both written and graphic characteristics of Deere's plow. The advertisement should emphasize the advantages of this plow over previous or other plows and use written and visual techniques to be both accurate and eye-catching as a form of marketing and advertising.

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Handout 1 - Time Line

  1. Review the narrative portion of this article.

    A. As the students read and take notes, they should record evidence of changes in materials and the design of the plow and how these factors improved the efficiency of farm work and agricultural production.

    B. Whether as individuals, in cooperative groups, or with the class as a whole, record the date, narrative description of the changes or improvement in the plow, and a graphic or picture of what they think the plow will look like at this time in history. This can be first done on pieces of graph paper to keep student work organized and to make it easy to read and view. A large piece of paper could be extended across a bulletin board to record student findings and their narrative and visual offerings. Their findings should emphasize the people, innovations, and events tied to the evolution of the plow and its impact on improved farming techniques and food production.

  2. The following dates from the article should be most informative and relate more specifically to the evolution of making, manufacturing and marketing the plow from 4,000 B.C. to 1997:

4,000 B.C.

1818

1848

1873

3,000 B.C.

1833

1849

1886

1,100 B.C.

1837

1857

1895

1600s

1839

1858

1911

1731

1840

1859

1913

1780s

1841

1863

1963

1793

1842

1864

1985

1797

1843

1867

1997

1803

1846

1868


Plow

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Handout 2 - Graph

  1. Review the narrative portion of this article.

    A. After the students read and take notes, they will then list the year and data that matches the number of plows that John Deere and his company produced from 1837 to 1873.

    B. With the data recorded in note format, use the graph paper to construct either a line or bar graph that charts the growth in production of plows made by John Deere and his workers. The vertical axis should record the number of plows manufactured. The horizontal axis should list the year of production.

    How many plows?

  2. Whether as individuals, in cooperative groups, or in a class as a whole, describe and/or speculate on the causes and effects of production advancement. Students may consider such factors as the availability of raw or manufactured materials, technological improvements, changes in the U.S. or world economies, increased labor force, changes in marketing, etc.

  3. The article emphasizes the following years for study:

    1837

    1843

    1839

    1848

    1840

    1849

    1841

    1857

    1842

    1873


  4. Teachers and students can further their study of John Deere and his legacy by visiting and using the following internet sites. A "must stop" would be at the John Deere Company web site at www.deere.com, which includes a link to the John Deere Commons center in Moline, Illinois. One can read a biography of Deere, view some of the paintings at this museum, and link their computer to another page with information about the Deere Archeological Site at Grand Detour. The Virtual Vermont web site has a brief biography and links to the birthplace of John Deere at www.virtualvermont.com/jdeere. The Illinois connections to Deere and the lives of early farmers in Illinois can be investigated at the Illinois Alive! site at www.ras.lib.il.us/~ilalive/. The city of Moline has historical information on one of the most influential nineteenth-century leaders of their city at www.moline.il.us/history/. For a look at a scientific study of the prairie in Illinois, direct their search toward www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~kenr/tallgrass3.html.

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handout 3 - Advertisement

  1. Review the narrative portion of this article.

  2. Students will use the available information from the historical narrative and the additional detail listed below to create an imaginary advertisement for a John Deere plow from the nineteenth century. The advertisement should include written and/or graphic illustrations of the improvements made in the plow by John Deere and its advantages over other plows. In designing the "copy," or written portion of the advertisement, they should also consider characteristics of the skills and creativity of John Deere that made his marketing plans and advertising attractive and effective in selling his product to farmers. The advertisement should be accurate and eye-catching.

  3. Some of the other features of the plow and John Deere's work that could be included in advertisement are: 1) the steel plow can clean or "scour" itself, with the sticky soil flowing off the plow rather than sticking to the plow surface, thus saving time and physical labor; 2) its light weight will make it possible for fewer and less powerful draft animals to pull the plow; 3) its system of interchangeable parts will make for easy repair; 4) the plow will save money for the farmer in the long run by not having to hire extra workers and plows to complete work when one is in a hurry; 5) John Deere's dedication to constant improvements, technological advancements, and top notch service by Deere dealers; 6) John Deere's innovative marketing plans to offer plows on credit, especially in tough economic times; and 7) the interesting descriptions and eye-catching graphics to present the plow to the farmer in newspapers and farm journals. Additional information about the legacy of John Deere and his products are found on their web site with quotes from John Deere such as: "I will never put my name on a plow that does not have in it the best that is in me" (www.deere.com).



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