Extending Kansas History into Other Subject Areas



Julie Johnson

Teaching a unit on Kansas history gives teachers a chance to extend the activities of the unit into other subject areas. This plan could work at all levels but is particularly well-suited to the elementary level and middle schools using the team concept. Dave Schroeder of Buhler, Kansas, shared with us his four week contract unit for his seventh grade social studies classes. I am including this in the newsletter. I also appreciate the assistance of the following ESU faculty members: Sam Dicks, professor of history; Joyce Thierer, instructor; and Ken Johnson, professor of chemistry.

One of the minimum requirements is that students trace their family trees back to great-grandparents. An appropriate English assignment for this time period might be to write a biographical sketch of a person on the family tree. Information for the bio would come from personal interviews. Such an assignment gives the student a sense of his/her own family history, practice with a personal interview, and a writing exercise.

One of the superior requirements is to diagram the making of lye soap. Making soap would be a logical experiment for a science class. I am including instructions for making soap and other activities that would hone students' observation skills. As with all science experiments, the scientific method should be emphasized. Written reports about the experiment, including student observations would increase the usefulness of this exercise.


by Dave Schroeder

In the spring of 1990 I created a 4-week contract unit for my seventh grade social studies classes on Kansas history. The contract unit format allowed for individual interests and gave students the opportunity to earn the grade of their choice. The unit generated a great deal of enthusiasm among students and was generally a success.


In this unit, you will be allowed to make some choices about the activities you complete for a grade. Each grade will have a different set of requirements, increasing in number and difficulty for higher grades. You will be working individually and independently. Your personal behavior must not interfere with other students concentration or work. If your behavior becomes a problem, you will be given an alternative assignment. Good luck!

Minimum Requirements (C) - Complete ALL of the following assignments:

  1. Using the handout, trace your family tree back to your great-grandparents.
  2. Working with a partner or by yourself, create a display illustrating one period of Kansas history.
  3. Read three articles from FoxFire magazine and write a one-page report on each.
  4. On our field trip to a retirement home, interview your subject on their recollections of the Great Depression. You must have at least 10 questions and will use a tape recorder to record the conversation. When we return, write a paper about your subject and the Great Depression using information from the interview.
  5. Write a story about an Indian buffalo hunt (Ten sentences minimum). Then write the story using only pictures as the descriptive medium.
  6. Keep a journal of the activities of this unit, making at least two dated entries per week, describing what you have learned, which activities you worked on, and your impressions of Kansas history. (Journal entries should be no less than six sentences each.)

Above Average Requirements (B) - Complete ALL the minimum requirements AND five of the above average requirements.

  1. Working by yourself or with a partner, create a mural depicting an event or time period in Kansas history.
  2. Write a one-page report on homesteading in the Kansas Territory.
  3. Using a bow drill or flint and steel, take the class outside and demonstrate fire building technique (DO NOT ACTUALLY BUILD A FIRE!!).
  4. Create a quilting design and quilt a one block example.
  5. Using an antler and flaked flint, knap an arrow point and demonstrate the technique to the class.
  6. Write a one-page report on one-room schools in Kansas.
  7. With a camera and film (black and white or color), shoot and write a photo essay entitled "The Kansas Prairie."
  8. Create a diary containing at least six (five sentences minimum each) entries describing life on a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas in the 1870s.

Superior Requirements (A) - Complete ALL the minimum requirements, five of the above average requirements, AND four superior requirements.

  1. Pick an Indian tribe that lived in Kansas. Describe to the class the rite of passage to manhood practiced by that tribe with their young men.
  2. Carve and set a figure four dead-fall trap and demonstrate its use to the class.
  3. Demonstrate and lead the class in a game which your parents or grandparents played as children. (You must lead play at least five minutes.)
  4. Draw a step by step diagram showing the making of lye soap.
  5. Research and write a one-page report on John Brown.
  6. Research and write a one-page report on Coronado's trip into Kansas.
  7. Complete a wood carving.
  8. Create a display on Dodge City, showing various aspects of a cattle town in the 1870s.

You must complete all the requirements for the grade you are attempting. Failure to complete all the assignments required will result in the next lower grade being awarded.


After students have traced their family tree back to great-grandparents, you might give them the opportunity to interview a member of the family and write a record of the interview. This is known as oral history and is a technique often used by historians doing research. A class activity might include a brainstorming session for ideas for questions to be asked. The books listed below would be excellent sources of information for this assignment.

Emily Anne Croom, Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy, 2nd edition, 1989. Published by Betterway Publications, P.O. Box 219, Crozet, VA 22932.

This is an excellent work for beginners and for high school students. It is extremely easy to read and discusses such basic topics as how to interview relatives, maintain records, understand different systems of dating, read old styles of handwriting, and provides basic bibliographies and lists of research centers.

David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty, Your Family History: A Handbook for Research and Writing , 1978. Published by Harlan Davidson, 3110 North Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60004.

This work by historians encourages the use of photographs and other materials in understanding social history and for placing family in context. Recommended for high school and college students.

Susan Provost Beller, Roots for A Genealogy for Young People , 1989.

This excellent work includes the charts also in Croom and is published by the same publisher. It is for middle-school and high-school age children and emphasizes researching within the family and the community.

Rosemary A. Chorzempa, My Family Tree Workbook: Genealogy for Beginners, 1982. Published by Dover Publications, 31 E. 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501.

This work is for upper elementary and middle school children. It has blanks to insert photographs and information and emphasizes family and ethnic traditions.

All of the above are paperback. No matter what the grade level taught, the teacher can get excellent ideas from each of them. Teachers should also inquire about materials available from the state historical society and from local historical and genealogical societies.


Making soap is a good way to introduce principles of chemistry to students. This basic necessity was produced almost 5000 years ago from potash (KOH, from wood ashes) and animal fat. The basic hydrolysis of fats or oils is called saponification.

Three basic ingredients are need to make soap--fat, water and lye. Since all types of lye are highly caustic substances that react with plastic, aluminum, and tin, soapmaking utensils should be made of wood, glass, enamel, stainless steel or ceramic. Fat for soapmaking can be almost any pure animal or vegetable oil from reclaimed kitchen grease to castor oil. The water should be soft. You will need the following equipment:

  1. A container to hold the lye solution. A glass juice bottle will work.
  2. A 3 quart pot to hold the lye solution and fat.
  3. A wooden spoon to stir the lye solution and fat.
  4. A candy or dairy thermometer that is accurate to within 1 degree F in the 80' F to 120' F range. For convenience you may want to have two such thermometers.
  5. Rubber gloves. Wear these as a precautionary measure, since lye will burn if it touches the skin.
  6. Molds for the soap. Prepare the molds by lining them with plastic or greasing them with Vaseline.
  7. Insulation to keep the soap warm after it is poured into the molds. Cardboard, styrofoam, or an ordinary blanket can be used.
  8. Enough newspapers to cover work surfaces and floor areas where you are working.


1/2 C. cold water, 2 heaping tablespoons commercial lye, 1 cup melted beef tallow, lard, or shortening.

The first step is preparation of lye solution by pouring cold water into an enamelware pot and then slowly adding the lye while stirring with a wooden spoon. The reaction between lye crystals and water will generate temperatures over 200o F. Have both lye solution and fat at about body temperature. Combine the two in a glass bowl and mix slowly and steadily with an egg beater until the consistency is that of sour cream. Pour mixture into mold and cover. Remove soap from molds after 24 hours and leave uncovered in open place four two to four weeks.

Reactions of Soap. Prepare a soap solution using shavings from your bar of soap and 40 mL distilled water. Using the solution, run the following tests. To 5 mL of soap solution in each of three test tubes add 2 mL of 0.1% CaCl2 (calcium chloride) solution to one, 2 mL of MgCl2 (magnesium chloride) to another, and a few drops of dilute HCl (hydrochloric acid) to the last. Calcium and magnesium are two of the hardness ions of hard water. (Iron is the third.) What can you conclude from your observations about the use of soap in hard water? The addition of acid also causes a precipitate to form but for a somewhat different reason. In a fourth test tube add about 1 gram of Calgon water conditioner, which is about 70% sodium tripolyphosphate, to a 5 mL sample of the soap solution. Shake to dissolve and then add 2 Ml of 5% CaCl2 solution and note the difference from the first trial. Repeat the tests with hardness ions and acid using a synthetic detergent such as Dreft, instead of the soap solution. Record the results and compare them with the soap tests. The main advantage of a synthetic detergent in clothes washing detergents should now be apparent--state what it is.