Curricula for Primary and
Secondary School Students

The Center has developed lesson plans suitable for Maryland State Service Learning requirements for students in grades 6 through 10.   These include:

“Mapping the Past: The Choptank River”

“Steamboats on the Choptank River: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

“Digital Geography:  Exploring GIS, GPS, and the Online Choptank and Tuckahoe RiverGuide”

There are many educational and service learning opportunities that unite under the theme, “River Heritage Exploration ... An Educational Experience.”

Overview of the Center’s Educational Programs and Curricula

The goal of these programs is to offer a half-day or a one-day educational experience for school children (as well as Scouting, 4H and other youth groups) to learn about and better appreciate how the navigable rivers of the Eastern Shore were the lifeline for transportation, trade, commerce and recreation before the 1930’s.  Ideally, the program will be coordinated with the various school systems to meet State Curriculua and Service Learning requirements.  Orientation packets (compiled by the Center's staff) will prepare the class for their visit and a post-visit analysis or "reflection" will enable teachers and students to continue their learning experiences.

Upon request from the teacher (or youth group leader), a date will be scheduled for the group and a program orientation package will be sent including conformation of date and time, place of arrival, number of students and what they need to bring (i.e. lunch, appropriate clothing, etc.).

Following are potential themes and activities for a one-day or half-day school group field trip.


Roles of African-Americans in Maritime Trade

Many African-Americans were caulkers, shipbuilders, and fishermen.  Frederick Douglass, who was born on the Tuckahoe River, became an accomplished caulker in Fells Point after he was sent to Baltimore by his Talbot County master.  Other African-Americans found employment working on sailing and steam vessels as well as working at the wharves loading and unloading goods of all kinds.  Based on information available at the Center identify at least five different occupations African-Americans worked on the Eastern Shore in the 1800s; turn of the century; and today.  How have these occupations changed over time?  Why? 

Relationship of Rivers and Agriculture on the Eastern Shore

Vegetables and fruits from the surrounding farms were shipped to market on sailing and steam vessels.  How did the advent of canning affect this market?  At one time, Caroline County had the largest number of canneries on the Eastern Shore.  On a map find Baltimore, Philadelphia and Dover.  Follow the navigable waterways and determine how goods from the upper Choptank River were shipped to these cities?

Maritime History of the Eastern Shore

Before the present network of roads and railways lines existed, how did travelers and goods get to the larger cities in the region such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Norfolk?  Look at several steamboat schedules and determine how long it would take you to get from Denton to Baltimore?  What did it cost?  How did needed commodities such as fertilizer, manufactured goods and news about the world reach the communities in this region? How long do you think it took for goods to be shipped in the 1700's from England as opposed to today?  From Baltimore?  From Philadelphia?


Vessel Documentation

How do you measure a boat, which has a rounded bottom and no or few square sides?  What do length, breath and depth mean?  Measure a model skipjack and see how easy/difficult this is compared to measuring a model of a typical house which is usually square-sided.

Tide Calculation

Determine the water level of the river above or below normal tide by using the tide gage on the Center’s wharf. Use simple math to determine when the high and low tide will be today based on the known tides from yesterday.  Use a tide chart to help you understand how the times of high and low tides change.

Environmental Sciences

Water Quality Monitoring

Use a seiche (pronounced sash) disk to measure the clarity of the water of the Choptank River. Compare your measurements with those taken over the past several years.  Is the river muddier or clearer?  What other events such as rain, storms, erosion, construction along the river, etc. can affect water clarity.  Compare these measurements with measurements taken over the past several years during different seasons.  Do you see any trends when oxygen levels seem to be higher or lower?  If so, during what time of year?  What causes these changes?  How does this affect the plants and animals that live in the river?  What can be done to keep oxygen levels higher? Measure the current of the river and determine what direction the current is running.  Compare your measurement and direction with tide charts and similar measurements made during the last several years.  What differences do you notice? Why are there differences?  Is the tide rising or falling?  When is the current the strongest?  When is the current the weakest?  How did currents affect sailing vessels and steamboats coming up and down the river?

Wildlife Habitat

Along the Center’s wharf are several lines attached to minnow traps and oyster baskets lying on the river bottom. Slowly and carefully raise one of these and see what types of finfish or shellfish you can identify from the field guides available at the Center.  From material available at the Center, compare the kinds of finfish and mammals that once lived along the river with those that live here today, 10,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago, and 400 years ago.  What are some examples of species that lived along and in the river? What can be done to help wildlife?  Make a blue bird birdhouse, fish reef or oyster reef.

Shoreline Restoration

How has the shore of the river changed since the first humans came to this region?  What can be done to help restore the shoreline to its original appearance?  In what ways can the shoreline be protected from erosion? Tour the shoreline erosion control demonstration project at the Center’s Joppa Wharf facility.


Biographies of people who lived and worked along the river - Use the reference material at the Center and/or your school library and write an essay about one person who once lived and/or worked along the river. In your essay compare and contrast their life with what life is like on the river today.

Oral histories of people who lived and worked along the river - Listen to or read transcripts of oral history tapes provided at the Center. What did you learn about these people? Conduct an oral history of an older individual such as a neighbor or resident of a senior citizen center. Ask them what life was like along the river when they were younger.  Transcribe the tape so others can more easily learn about your work.

Write an essay relating what you learned during your visit to the Center.  When would you have liked to live on the Choptank River in 1700s? 1800s?, early 1900s?, now?  Why? Would life have been simpler? Easier?  What would you miss (that you have now) that you would not have had back then? 

Write a newspaper article that answers the questions of “who, what, when, where, and how”, based on one of the actual newspaper headlines from the Center’s archival collections.


Early Port Towns

Politics and Designation - Many of the first port towns designated in Maryland never developed or have since become ghost towns.  Why? Using the information at the Center, identify the 17th century port towns designated on the Choptank River.  How many survive today? Why?

Maritime and Water Resources Laws and Enforcement

Using information at the Center, what were some of the first laws that were enacted governing trade and commerce on the Choptank River? How many of these laws are still applicable today?

Other Educational and Museum Resources

Maryland Student Service Alliance supports a web site that supplies service-learning project ideas such as stream restoration, adopting a wetland, story telling, and preserving a historic cemetery.  The site also provides activities, ideas, curricula and links to other web sites. Contact by mail at Maryland State Department of Education, 200 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201; by phone at 410-767-0358; or the Internet at

Many Museums have developed educational web sites, which might be useful as models.  These include: Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring, Maryland, and the National Capital Trolley Museum.  The latter has an excellent curriculum guide, “The Electric Street Car: A Curriculum Guide.”  It has lesson plans with documents and activities.  One of the activities is how to use a photograph to interpret history.

The Department of Interior, National Park Service’s National Register -- Teaching with Historic Places -- is another avenue that is relevant to the Center’s programs, since two skipjacks and the warehouse are listed in the National Register. One such site on the Internet is the shipwreck Josephine, which has a teaching standards program that meets the requirements of the National Council for Social Studies.  The program has objectives for students, a materials list and exercise sheets.  One exercise is the creation of a paddlewheel to show students how a paddlewheel works.  All you need is a small plastic bottle, two pencils, a rubber band, milk or juice carton, tape and scissors, paper towel roll, and a tub filled with water.

The Heritage Education Network (THEN) is a web site that provides ideas, lesson plans, activities, and sources of information for heritage education.  Contact by mail at Center for Historic Preservation, 1421 East Main Street Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 37130; by phone at 615-898-2949.

Edsitement, a web site sponsored by the National Endowment of the Humanities, has several lesson plans, including  “At-Home: Mapping Change in Your Neighborhood”, “Mapping the Past”, and “Eyewitness to History.” 


© 1999-2005
Choptank River Heritage Center
10215 River Landing Road
Denton, Md.  21629
410.479.4950 --