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Row, Tow, Pull Your Boat

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The students will use previous knowledge and research to analyze and solve a scenario relating to the use of simple machines and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Students will be able to identify simple machines. They will communicate their ideas and findings and those of their group in writing, drawings, and written and oral presentations.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickel Series


  • The students will use previous knowledge and research to analyze and solve a scenario relating to the use of simple machines and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • Students will be able to identify simple machines.
  • They will communicate their ideas and findings and those of their group in writing, drawings, and written and oral presentations.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology


  • Third grade

Class Time

Sessions: Three
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 91-120 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • The Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Working in cooperative groups
  • Using resources to conduct research
  • Pushes and pulls

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (heads)
  • Commerce
  • Reverse (tails)
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Keelboat
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • American Indians
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Pirogues
  • Portfolio
  • Simple machines
  • Nickel
  • Northwest Passage
  • Sandbar
  • Technology
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Currency


  • 1 overhead projector
  • 1 overhead transparency of each of the following:
    • “Background Information” page
    • Keelboat Nickel reverse from the Resource Guide
    • “You’re Grounded” page
    • “What Can You Do?” worksheet
  • Copies of each of the following:
    • “North America in the 1800s” map
    • “Nickel For Your Thoughts” page
    • “What’s Your Problem?” page
    • “Making Work Simple” page
  • Chalkboard
  • Chalk
  • Manila folders
  • Crayons/markers
  • Construction paper


  • Make one overhead transparency of each of the following:
    • “Background Information” page.
    • Keelboat Nickel reverse from the Resource Guide.
    • “You’re Grounded” page.
    • “What Can You Do?” page.
  • Make copies of each of the following:
    • “North America in the 1800s” map (1 per student).
    • “Nickel For Your Thoughts” page (1 per student).
    • “What’s Your Problem?” worksheet (1 per student).
    • “Making Work Simple” page (1 per group).

Worksheets and Files

Lesson plan, worksheet(s), and rubric (if any) at

Session 1

  1. Display the overhead transparency of the “Background Information” page and read it aloud to the class. As a class, discuss the main reasons that the Corps of Discovery was sent on this expedition.
  2. Distribute a copy of the “North America in the 1800s” map to each student.
  3. Have the students use their fingers to trace the journey of Lewis and Clark on their maps, highlighting the fact that their trip would be by water and also by land.
  4. Lead a class discussion on what kinds of problems Lewis and Clark may have encountered on this type of journey. Record student suggestions.
  5. Ask the students to brainstorm about what modes of transportation Lewis and Clark may have used on their journey. Do not comment on right or wrong answers at this point.
  6. Write the following on the board:
    • Ohio River: Blue
    • Mississippi River: Yellow
    • Missouri River: Red
    • Columbia River: Orange
    • Pacific Ocean: “X”
  7. Direct the students to find and color each of the bodies of water on their map, using the key on the board as a guide. They should also mark the Pacific Ocean with an “X.”
  8. Explain that, starting in 2004 and continuing through 2005, our country is changing its nickels to tell the story of Lewis and Clark and their exploration of our western lands 200 years ago. Display the overhead transparency of the Keelboat Nickel reverse.
  9. Explain that the boat portrayed on the nickel is a keelboat and was one of the means of transportation Lewis and Clark used on their journey. Have students discuss how the keelboat might have helped Lewis and Clark in their many missions.
  10. Divide your students into groups of four to five students. Direct the students to sit in their groups.
  11. Distribute one copy of the “Nickel For Your Thoughts” page to each group.
  12. Ask each group to discuss why they think the keelboat was chosen as one of the new nickel reverse designs. Have each group list four reasons they think the keelboat was chosen on their worksheet.
  13. Ask each group to share one or two of their explanations with the whole class.
  14. Distribute a portfolio folder to each group. This folder will hold all of the groups’ important documents for the remainder of the sessions.
  15. Allow the groups to use markers and crayons to decorate their portfolio with Lewis and Clark-related designs, then to place their maps and “Nickel For Your Thoughts” page in the folder.
  16. Display the “You’re Grounded” overhead transparency and ask a student to read it aloud.
  17. Distribute a copy of the “What’s Your Problem?” worksheet to each student. Direct the students to complete the “Problem” box by describing the problem presented on the overhead.
  18. Have the students fill in the “Important Facts” box with a bulleted list of key facts about the problem. Have students place their papers in the group folder when they have finished their work.

Session 2

  1. Select a student to read the “You’re Grounded” overhead transparency to the class.
  2. Direct the students to assemble into their groups from the previous session. In these groups, they should share their individual “What’s Your Problem?” worksheets and begin brainstorming possible solutions. Direct the groups to record their ideas in the “Possible Solutions” box on their own pages. Have the students leave room in both boxes for future information.
  3. Monitor the progress of the groups as they develop possible solutions. Facilitate group discussion without giving them any answers. When the groups seem to be at the point of needing more information or their discussion leads to the idea of using a tool to get the keelboat unstuck, begin a class discussion of what they might be able to use to get the keelboat off the sandbar.
  4. Lead the class in a discussion of their knowledge of the use of pulls, pushes, and simple machines.
  5. Ask groups to generate questions that they have about simple machines or how to get the keelboat unstuck. Have students record these questions in the Questions column of the “Questions and Answers” box on their worksheets.
  6. Display the “What Can You Do?” overhead transparency. Select a student to read it aloud to the class. Then, give each group a copy of “Making Work Simple” and discuss the pictures.
  7. Have the students work in groups to discuss the new information and add it to the first four boxes on their “What’s Your Problem?” worksheet. Direct the students to record the answers to their questions in the Answers column of the “Questions and Answers” box on their “What’s Your Problem?” worksheets.
  8. Direct the groups to circle their three strongest ideas from their “Possible Solutions” boxes. In the “Solutions” box, have the students describe their solution for moving the keelboat and give solid reasons why and how it will work.

Session 3

  1. Direct the groups to review their “What’s Your Problem?” worksheets and to discuss and evaluate their selected solution.
  2. Distribute a piece of construction paper to each group. Direct the groups to diagram their solution on the construction paper. Their diagram should include a list of needed tools and materials, a clear drawing of what is supposed to happen, and a written description of how this method will work. Inform the students that this diagram will be the center of a class presentation.
  3. Have each group present its findings to the rest of the class using the group diagram. Each group member should be involved in the presentation in some way.
  4. Allow the class to point out and discuss strengths and flaws in each group’s plans. Have the class decide on the solution that is most likely to succeed. Encourage the students to discuss why the selected solution would be more successful than the others in freeing the keelboat from the sandbar.
  5. When all of the presentations are done, direct the groups to add their presentation diagrams to their groups’ portfolios.
  6. Refer back to the students’ “What’s Your Problem?” worksheets and assess their previous findings or questions. Ask the students to record any new information on this worksheet. Also allow for students to ask any additional questions. Direct the students to add these worksheets to their groups’ portfolios.
  7. Refer back to the “A Nickel for Your Thoughts” page where they listed the reasons why each group initially thought the keelboat image was chosen for the new Lewis and Clark nickel. Ask the students to assess whether or not they still feel the same. Direct them to create a new list of reasons underneath the first list, taking into account all that they have learned from their research. Direct the students to include this worksheet in their groups’ portfolios.
  8. Collect group portfolios for assessment.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Assign roles to group members that include that of reader, writer, timekeeper, and someone in the group who is responsible for making sure everyone in the group understand the tasks and findings that are presented.
  • Have the students work closely with partners throughout this activity.


  • Explore the many ways American Indians used simple machines using Internet resources, such as:
  • Explore other ways that technology was used by Lewis and Clark during their journey. One example is when they fashioned two wagons with wheels they shaped from a cottonwood tree and axles made out of the white pirogue’s mast (Portage Creek). Lewis called them “trucks.”
  • Read to the students an excerpt from a Lewis and Clark resource that refers to the many problems they had with the keelboat getting stuck on sandbars and in shallow water. Try to include readings that are specific to each of the groups’ rivers and include the methods Lewis and Clark employed to free the keelboat from the sandbar.
  • Let the groups rewrite the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” based on their river names, how to move the boat, and so on. Have the class sing each group’s lyrics aloud.
  • Have groups review the contents of the portfolio. Direct each group to design a creative way to present the artifacts that were developed during this lesson as a portfolio. Inform students they may use presentation software, design a collection box, write and act out a play, or make a group journal of the artifacts they have created. Once their portfolio presentations are completed, have the groups present their portfolios to another class, at a parent-teacher meeting, or at a similar venue.
  • Develop a rubric to assess each group’s skills and interactions during the problem-solving process.
  • Take anecdotal notes during the portfolio development, classroom discussions, and presentations that assess their ability to work in cooperative groups.
  • Develop a rubric to assess the portfolios and portfolio presentations.

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Science, Technology, and Society
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • enable learners to identify, describe, and examine both current and historical examples of the interaction and interdependence of science, technology, and society in a variety of cultural settings
  • provide opportunities for learners to make judgments about how science and technology have transformed the physical world and human society and our understanding of time, space, place, and human-environment interactions
  • have learners analyze the way in which science and technology influence core societal values, beliefs, and attitudes and how societal attitudes influence scientific and technological endeavors
  • prompt learners to evaluate various policies proposed to deal with social changes resulting from new technologies
  • help learners to identify and interpret various perspectives about human societies and the physical world using scientific knowledge, technologies, and an understanding of ethical standards of this and other cultures
  • encourage learners to formulate strategies and develop policy proposals pertaining to science/technology-society issues

Discipline: Science
Domain: K-4 Content Standards
Cluster: Science and Technology
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Technological design ability
  • Understand science and technology
  • Ability to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans

Discipline: Technology
Domain: All Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Cluster: Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
  • Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
  • Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
  • Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions

Discipline: Science
Domain: K-4 Content Standards
Cluster: Physical Science
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Properties of objects and materials
  • Position and motion of objects
  • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism

Discipline: Science
Domain: K-4 Content Standards
Cluster: Science as Inquiry
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Ability necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understand scientific inquiry