Title:  The Panama Canal

Grade Level:  8-10

Subject and California State Standards met: Environmental Studies, Social Studies, History, Geography

Overview: Students will learn the history of the Panama canal and environmental concerns surrounding it's existence while reading, writing and discussing this engineering accomplishment from a variety of perspectives.

Purpose:  This lesson will enable students to learn about the history of the Panama canal and environmental issues surrounding it.



  1. Copies for each group of the Panama Canal Worksheet
  2. Copies of the Readings for each group
  3. Websites of interest www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/canal.htm , www.canalmuseum.com , http://panama-information.com/in-panama-history.html

Activities and Procedures:

  1. Introduce the topic with questions and a brief discussion.  What is the Panama canal?  Where is it?  Why was it built?  What is it used for?
  2. As with all projects of this magnitude there is much to learn from a variety of sources.  Divide the students into groups of four.  Give each student in the group a reading about the Panama canal with a different focus - see Readings.  Give the group as a whole a copy of the Panama Canal Worksheet.
  3. Have the students read their article silently.  Then answer the questions as a group.
  4. Discuss some key questions as time permits and in accordance to the focus of your class.  An additional question of interest - If you were in control of the Panama canal now what would you do and why?  This question can focus on environmental issues, or economic and social issues (How would they spend the toll money?  What aspects of society would they invest it in and why?  Long term vs short term gains).  

Tying It Together:  What are some other impressive engineering feats in the world?  What impact are these accomplishments having on the environment and nearby communities?  What projects are occurring in your state?