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Content: A Brief History of American Farming
At the time of the Revolution, approximately 95 percent of the American population was involved in farming. Today, according to government statistics, only two percent of the population farms as an occupation, marking a significant shift over the past two centuries in the way Americans live and work.
The small farms of the colonial period and early republic were mainly subsistence farms. Any surplus was used to barter for other needed goods. Work was accomplished with simple tools powered by human and animal labor. Tilling, planting, and harvesting were done by hand, without the benefit of machines.
But that began to change by the early 1800s. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 stimulated the development of large plantations in the South, so that by 1880, there were close to 1 million farms across the country. In addition, higher food prices -- largely caused by the economic deprivation of the South after the Civil War -- stimulated the development of farming technology. For example, in 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper, and in 1837, John Deere and Leonard Andrus invented the steel plow.
Two legislative acts in the mid-nineteenth century further promoted farming in the United States. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted 160 acres of land to settlers, and the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 promoted the teaching of agriculture; both encouraged the establishment of new farms and led to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Railroad companies even recruited immigrants to farm land on the Great Plains.
Farming continued to grow and change in the early twentieth century, with the invention or improvement of tractors, combines, milking machines, crop dusters, and irrigation systems. Increasingly, animal labor was being replaced by steam, gasoline, and diesel engines, which in turn affected the kinds of crops that were grown. For example, between 1910 and 1960, 90,000 acres were transformed from land needed to grow hay for horses to crop land. Agricultural production also increased to meet the food demands of warring European nations during World War I.
After World War I ended, the demand for U.S. farm goods fell. Farmers suffered, as did most others, during the Great Depression -- especially as world trade declined. Farmers began to receive government support in the forms of credit, electrification, and soil conservation programs. The programs worked, because by the end of 1940, the United States was the world's leading producer of wheat, corn, and soybeans. Farmers continued to increase their yields during World War II, but because of the rising cost of new machinery and the decrease in necessity of human labor, the number of poor farmers increased.
After WWII, crop production increased even more with the invention of new machines, the replacement of horses with tractors, the use of ammonia as a fertilizer, and the creation of hybrid plants that were better able to withstand harsh weather and disease. Between 1950 and 1980, farm production in the United States doubled. The United States, it seemed, was feeding the world, so that by the 1970s, one U.S. farmer could feed 75.8 people.
Since 1960, however, the nature of farming has changed. Farms have become more productive and efficient, but the number of farms and farmers has declined. The family farm has been replaced by large agribusinesses owned by corporations. As a result, farms have become highly specialized -- growing or producing what is best suited to the soil and climate, and what the market demands. And while competition has increased worldwide, the United States is still the leader, exporting more than $50 billion a year in agricultural products -- with about half going to Asia.
Teaching Strategy: Cooperative Learning and Graphic Organizers
Cooperative learning involves having students work with others -- in a formal or informal setting -- to enhance their learning. Elements that make this teaching strategy so effective are the interdependence of the group members as they work toward a common goal, face-to-face interactions in which students get to practice their interpersonal skills while promoting one another's learning, and individual and group accountability. Debriefing the groups to determine how well they functioned improves the effectiveness of cooperative learning experiences over time.
Graphic organizers are visual images that help organize thinking and learning. Some graphic organizers, like timelines, are used to show the chronology of important events. Others, like time wheels, are used to compare and contrast. Still others are used to illustrate cause-effect relationships. Having students organize information graphically helps them focus on the most important points, clarify relationships, and understand and remember important content.
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