No Series: Farming in the Gilded Age: A Simulation

Farming in the Gilded Age: A Simulation

Lesson Objective: Understand what it was like to be a farmer during the Gilded Age
Grades 9-12 / History / Economy

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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does participating in a simulation deepen students' understanding of history?
  2. What life lessons did the students learn from this activity?
  3. How do the students' views about farming during the Gilded Age change over the course of this activity?

31 Comments

  • Private message to Jose Perez
This activity was great in simulating farming in an era that was not advantageous to the farmer. Many dismiss farming as a simple line of work that hardly ever fails. The activity personifies the farming struggles of the late 1800s due to weather and the economy in general. Speculation is taught as a vital part of guided age farming. Many lost their lively hood by over speculation and the students are taught its dangers. Very awesome activity that I will look into using when I teach High School.
Recommended (1)
  • Private message to Yu Wen Chen
I like how you made the students see and feel what the farmers had to go through in order to make a living. I also like how there are so much life lessons involved in the activity making them make decision that they will have to face as they enter adulthood.
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Sherri Devine
@Mary King, This video is available publicly to any visitor to Teaching Channel. This includes students, though our Terms and Conditions states that no one under 13 use the site, which is a fairly common internet standard. Thanks!
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Mary King
Is there a way to allow a student who may be home school or distance learning for awhile to be able to see this video? Please advise
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Spencer Moran
I liked how the stimulation strategy helped get the student's brains working, Excellent! would this be too advanced for younger students?
Recommended (0)

Transcripts

  • 1:00:00 Tough to Teach –
    Uncertainty of Farming Speculation in the 1880’s [music]
    Shots of classroom
    My life is devoted to the

    1:00:00 Tough to Teach –
    Uncertainty of Farming Speculation in the 1880’s [music]
    Shots of classroom
    My life is devoted to the strength of this nation. I am a teacher.
    King (INTV)
    KING:
    I think that history has a tendency to be dry because it’s a bunch of old people that really don’t have any connection to the kids any more, especially with this population, and so these kids really need something to attach themselves to. I want to make sure that the kids are interacting with that history as well in the main ideas of the lessons.
    TOUGH TO TEACH
    The Uncertainty of Farming in the Gilded Age [music]
    Student STUDENT:
    Every day when I walk into the door it’s like a whole different world. I’m used to getting lectures and stuff, and I always like fall asleep in class. But with Mr. King, I actually want to come to school, and I actually want to like learn because he does it like in a different way.
    King (INTV) KING:
    Today what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be giving a lesson on the Gilded Age, particularly we’re going to be focusing on farming during the Gilded Age.
    King, Students KING:
    What we’re going to learn about here today, guys, is what farming actually entails and why this is actually a difficult thing to do.
    01:00:47 King (VO) KING:
    So, what we’ve decided to do is we’re going to go ahead and break up the students into four families, and what they’re going to be doing is they’re going to be gambling, trying to see which, ah, crops and which livestock are best to grow during this time period.
    King, Students KING:
    As you guys remember, most of the homesteads in, ah, American typically failed during this time period. Why did they fail? I mean, farming is typically easy, right? Most of these farmers are uneducated. What is actually difficult about farming? You just put, you know, stuff in the ground and then you’re good.
    King (VO) KING:
    People just assume that farming is easy, and so when I explained to them that half of Kansas went bankrupt in a year, it’s hard for kids to understand why that happens. They say, “Okay, well, just plant more food. Why don’t they just try harder? Maybe if they went to college, they’d be a little bit better. Oh, that’s why, you know, they were left because they weren’t educated.”
    King, Students KING:
    Here are kind of the basic directions first, and then we’ll kind of go from here. In your assigned groups, I’m going to loan you guys 2,000 dollars because, let’s be honest, did anyone bring 2,000 dollars with them today? No. Actually, maybe you did. You’re going to have to set aside 200 dollars for transportation, okay? Because if you guys grow your crops, do you still have to ship them all the way to the East coast? You do, right, so you need to set aside money to ship them.
    01:01:49 DIRECTIONS KING:
    Because there’s no point in growing crops if you can’t sell them. Now, what’s going to happen is you have about 11 items to choose from. You have about 8 crops and 3 livestock.
    King KING:
    And you as a group have to decide which of these items is going to be the best ones to grow.
    King (INTV) KING:
    What my goal is, is to make them realize how difficult farming is, how much gambling is actually involved, how much over speculation they’ll be dealing with. this, right here.
    King KING:
    I’m going to pass out these recorder sheets, and I’m going to go ahead and loan you guys all $2,000.
    King (INTV) KING:
    I think it’s also really important is that the whole loan process I think will make them a little bit more weary about taking loans in the future because they’ll remember that they have to pay that back because I feel like there’s a lot of life lessons here.
    01:02:23 King KING:
    I need one of you guys to sign
    King (VO) KING:
    My goal is to make them sign it, give them the 2,000 dollars and make sure they forget that they even, ah, signed a certificate loaning them the 2,000 dollars. I kind of take that. I put it aside. I don’t mention it ever again.
    King KING:
    So, the year is 1885. Here’s what you guys are going to farm.
    CROPS KING:
    You have eight options in terms of crops. You’ve got corn. Everyone knows what corn is. Yeah. Beans. Now, these are not necessarily coffee beans. They could be like Boston baked beans or whatever, but just beans in general. Okay. Wheat. Okay. Everyone knows what wheat is.
    King (VO) KING:
    I go over the basics of maybe they don’t understand what wheat and barley is and what the different livestock is, and then they go ahead and they start beginning to choose what the different crops and livestock they want to grow.
    King, Students KING:
    So, what your job is now for the first 10, 15 minutes is to decide what crops you guys want to put on your box. You guys are going to write down, corn, corn, corn, or wheat or whatever, and decide how many you want to grow and decide how many sheep or hogs do you guys want to buy. Everyone cool. You’re limited by the amount of space you have in terms of crops, and you’re limited by the amount of money that you have. But otherwise, it’s fair game. The group that makes the most profit by the end of the game will win 200 extra credit points.
    STUDENT:
    Oh, my God, you guys.
    01:03:28 King, Students KING:
    Ah, incentive! All right. So guys, you have 15 minutes to decide what you guys want to plant. I’ll come around for if you have any questions. Begin. Decide what you guys want to grow?
    Students STUDENTS:
    I think two of each. I think we should do wheat though, like usually you make bread...
    King (VO) KING:
    At the very end once they’ve decided what crops they want to grow, they’re going to go over to the crop market where they start exchanging their money for [INAUDIBLE].
    King, Students KING:
    What’s going to happen is as they’re coming in they’re going to tell you I want to buy this, this, or this. All of these are worth $50.
    01:04:02 King (VO) KING:
    I collect a $500 deposit for transportation and living expenses.
    King, Students KING:
    I need $500. So, first of all, it’s going to be $100, $200, $300, $400. So, you owe her.
    King (VO) KING:
    I really believed it was important for them to exchange physical documents to show they know sheep [PH] was actually being exchanged because otherwise [INAUDIBLE] train that world are metaphorical and, again, they start losing their grasp on what exchange actually looks like.
    King, Students KING:
    All right, so, let’s see what happened. So, the year 1885 comes to a close. Let’s find out what the outcomes are.
    King (INTV) KING:
    After that I go ahead and read the result of that year, and they realize they’ve actually lost some money.
    King, Students KING:
    A serious lack of early spring rain in July almost destroyed the wheat, barley and oat crop in Central Nebraska. The prices paid for corn, beans, field peas and tobacco are up because of drought east of the Mississippi.
    01:04:50 ONSCREEN TEXT KING:
    Cattle prices are depressed because of large herds of rain stock being sold in Texas.
    King, Students KING:
    The price for sheep is up, and the price for hogs is at an all-time high. Here’s what your investment returns are guys. On the back of that sheet start filling out your cards. Remember, everything was originally $50. So, if you’re making $50 more on each one, you guys start figuring that out. So, start doing the math, guys. Once you guys are good with that sheet, bring your sheet up, and we’ll pay you guys off.
    King (VO) KING:
    Now, if they’re lucky, which some kids were in the first year they actually might make some money off of barley or sheep, but for most kids they already realized that they’ve made some wrong choices. We go ahead and repeat this process again in1886, where they go ahead and plant their crops one more time, exchanging tiles for money and money for tiles.
    Students STUDENTS: Tobacco. Tobacco again? I trust tobacco. There’s a ton of money...
    King, Students KING:
    Some groups are being very risky here. I’m liking what I see, and yet I’m concerned about over speculation. Ahh.
    King (VO) KING:
    I think that’s really good for them to really grasp the concept of over speculation.
    01:05:56 King, Students KING:
    This is what over speculation is. You guys are welcome to bargain. You guys can speculate what the market might be, but if you over speculate, we always know what happens there, so be a little bit careful.
    King (VO) KING:
    Key goal for me is to get that relevancy because they can now take that [INAUDIBLE] and apply it to other things like over speculation in the stock market, over speculation in their home lives, and I think they get it.
    Student STUDENT:
    You do well one year with one crop, so you go into the next year with that mindset that, oh, tobacco is great. It’s really profitable. Ah, everyone wants it and you never know what the weather is going to be, so it’s like you put all your money into this one crop, and it failed. I can see why over speculation really, um, messed up a lot of the farmers.
    King, Students KING:
    You guys ready? All right. Here we go. Let’s see what the weather was like in 1886. This was the coldest winter in history with temperatures of 60 degrees below zero, destroying most of the cattles and hogs.
    King (VO) KING:
    After 1887 they started planting their crops again. I asked them how much money they made, and they realized, nope, that’s it.
    01:06:54 King, Students KING:
    Are your farms doing poorly?
    STUDENTS:
    Yeah.
    KING:
    Is that kind of risky?
    STUDENTS:
    Yeah.
    KING:
    Now, if you guys remember correctly, did I loan you guys $2,000?
    STUDENTS:
    Yeah.
    KING:
    Do I want to continue giving you that $2,000,?
    STUDENTS:
    No.
    KING:
    Because what’s going to happen to your farm maybe?
    STUDENTS:
    We fail.
    KING:
    And are you going to be able to pay me back?
    STUDENTS:
    No.
    King (INTV) KING:
    As a banker, I find that your farms are a little bit risky. You’re making poor investments. I need my money back.
    01:07:19 King, Students KING:
    So, guess what, guys? You ought to pay me back my $2,000 right now because I need my money back because are your farms a risk? Yes, they are. So, those certificates you gave me, I’m calling them in right now.
    STUDENTS:
    Oh, my God!
    KING:
    So, I need $2,000 from you guys. So...
    King (VO) KING:
    I think the real aha moment was when I represented the bank at the end of the simulation, and I explained to them I want my money back.
    King, Students KING:
    Oh, so you don’t have $2,000? You only have 1570. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to give me all the money that you have. I’m going to take your land. I’m going to take your stuff, and I’ll probably put you in jail until you’re able to pay it off, maybe. So, that’s, that’s your future.
    Students STUDENT:
    I was pretty angry because all of us were told we were going to jail. And then I overheard that they were still going to be able to be farmers, and I was kind of upset because I was like, “We all didn’t make a profit. We all still owe money. Why are we being discriminated against?”
    01:08:07 King (VO) KING:
    And I think what the kids realized is that it’s not just the weather that’s going to be a bit unpredictable but rather when the bankers are going to realize that their farms are too risky. And I think that when they realized that really farming was almost entirely out of control of these farmers, they realized how difficult it was. And I think they started realizing, oh, that’s why thousands of farmers went out of business. That’s why the economy started tanking. That’s what over speculation looks like.
    Students STUDENT:
    You don’t know what’s going to, like what the outcome would be the following year. So, just deciding like, oh, I want this much of that. So, it was kind of hard just deciding on what we wanted to do.
    STUDENT:
    You work so hard for something and then still in the end it’s you don’t make anything out of it, and you end up going to jail or having to work for someone else for free.
    King (INTV) KING:
    I would say what I like about teaching it is the mere fact that you definitely feel like you’re making a difference. You definitely have kids come into class, you know, not liking history, but they’re wanting a challenge.
    01:08:56 King, Students KING:
    And so guys, do you guys understand why homesteads failed in the 1880s? Because it’s a gamble. And do you start it with your own money anyway?
    King (VO) KING:
    We get outside the, the basic narrative of US history, and we get the kids to relate. We tell all the fun stories, and we make history seem a little bit more relevant to them.
    King, Students KING:
    And that’s why you have this huge exodus from the farms back to the cities after the Gilded Age.
    King (VO) KING:
    And what I like about it is that you really do genuinely feel like you’re making change. You’re making kids love history. You’re getting them involved. They’re... making them feel like, no, the world is something that is tangible, that they can actually relate to now.
    01:09:26 Students [music]
    01:09:31 With special thanks to Andrew King and the staff & students at La Puente High School
    CREDITS
    Wingspan Pictures Logo [music]
    01:09:41 Fade to black

School Details

La Puente High School
15615 East Nelson Avenue
La Puente CA 91744
Population: 1288

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Teachers

Andrew King
Social Studies / 11 / Teacher
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