Making a Scene: How Landscape Artists Contributed to the Establishment of the    National Park System
Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and Other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit
Charts, Figures and Other Teacher Materials

A. Lesson 1: The National Park System: America’s Best Idea
  • Developers: Verena Calas, National Park Service Museum Educator, Washington D.C
  • Grade Level: 6-8 grades
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: 6
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B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: Treasured Landscapes: Virtual exhibit artworks from multiple parks.
  • Description: This unit explores how landscape art contributed the preservation and conservation of natural, cultural, and historic places of importance to Americans that are part of the National Park System. These artworks, are owned and preserved by the National Park Service and are locate in the collections of many different parks. This unit includes activities that develop students’ skills of observation, documentation, and analysis. Students will be able to apply these skills to through a real-world application in which they will develop a campaign to conserve and reorganize a significant local site.    
  • Essential Question: How did American landscape artists and photographers such as Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson help to promote the conservation of America’s natural and cultural wonders and establishment of the National Park Service?

    Lesson Overviews
  • Lesson 1: This lesson teaches students how to identify NPS parks by theme and state on a U.S. map. Students will also discuss the relationship between 19th century conservationism, Westward expansion, and the NPS.
  • Lesson 2: Explore Your World! This lesson teaches students how to compare and contrast casual and scientific observation techniques and interpret the field notebook of a Yellowstone botanist. Students will systematically observe and document the geography, plants, and animals of an area.
  • Lesson 3: For the Record: This lesson teaches students how to compare and contrast photography, drawing, and painting as visual records while using primary source sketches to identify artistic choices and perception of an artistic subject. Students will also explore the process and tools of traditional film photography.
  • Lesson 4: The Campaign for Yellowstone: This lesson explores who 19th century conservationists worked to establish Yellowstone National Park. Students will conduct a mock interview of a historical figure and write a newspaper article.
  • Lesson 5: The Bull Pen: A Photographic Comparison: This lesson explores how landscape painting and photography preserve and convey the significance of historical places.
  • Lesson 6: Crafting Your Campaign: In this lesson students will collaboratively design a campaign advocating for the preservation and recognition of a local site.

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C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
This lesson teaches students how to identify NPS parks by theme and state on a U.S. map. Students will also discuss the relationship between 19th century conservationism, Westward expansion, and the NPS.
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Parks museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time

Lesson 1: The National Park System: America’s Best Idea

Ohi’A Lehua by Lloyd Sexton

Sunset in the Yosemite Valley by William Bradford

Manzanar – Block 18by Samuel Malcolm

Braintree by William Bradford

The Prison Pen at Millen Ga. as it appeared previous to the arrival of Gen. Sherman’s Army From a Sketch by Lt. T.A. Prime

Rabbit Huntby Pablita Verlade

Grand Canyon

Desert Showers, by Maynard Lafayette Dixon

President Lincoln’s Home, Springfield, Illinois, Harpers Weekly

Similar Items [similar to objects in the Park museum collection] & OTHER MATERIALS:



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D. National Educational Standards

NSS-USH.5-12.1 Era 4
Standard 1
Understands United States territorial expansion between 1801 and 1861, and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans

Common Core Standards
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

National Visual Arts Content Standards
Demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art or design.

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E. Student Learning Objectives
  • Students will be able to (SWBAT) identify NPS parks by theme and state on a U.S. map.
  • SWBAT discuss relationship between 19th century conservationism, Westward expansion, and the NPS.
  • SWBAT select a local site worthy of preservation/recognition as focus of culminating project (advocacy campaign).

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F. Background and Historical Context
See Making a Scene, Background Information PowerPoint

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G. Vocabulary

National Park System:The collective organization of over 400 sites of natural and cultural units within the U.S. and its territories. National Park Service [NPS] units are associated with pre-historic peoples; eminent Americans (presidents and cultural leaders); important cultural/social events and ideas; historical conflict (battlefields, forts, etc.); and natural expression (flora, fauna, and habitats). The NPS also administers the National Register of Historic Places, the National Historic Landmarks Program, and the National Heritage Areas Program, among others.

Organic Act of 1916 (16 USC 1 et seq.):Act of Congress that authorized the creation of the National Park Service. The act states that the mission of the NPS “is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

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H. Teacher Tips
  • Use online collections; objects, documents, maps, and photographs to further student inquiry and to address student learning objectives.
  • Activities can be adapted for class length and grade levels.

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures
Lesson 1
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
15 mins Display Pre-1916 map

List what students can infer about early NPS goals and priorities.

Display all other maps (side by side if possible)

List and discuss what types of sites have been added and how the NPS has changed in the last 100 years
Pre-1916 Map
  • There aren’t very many national parks
  • Most of them are located in the west/southwest.
  • We can infer that these were places the government wanted to preserve – perhaps for their natural beauty? Or resources?
Other Maps
  • National Parks are in every single state
  • Some seem to be the homes or properties of famous historic figures, others are named after geographical features/landmarks, others seem to be named after Native American tribes.
  • There are battlefields and memorials.
  • Overall, there are many different kinds of National Parks all over the United States now.
  • We can infer that NPS wanted to preserve all different kinds of history – cultural, natural, social.
  • We can also infer that all these places may vary in size depending on what their mission is.
15 mins Distribute a printout of the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act.

Facilitate discussion about its establishment of the NPS and its specific inclusion of historic and cultural sites and “historic objects” in the mission of the NPS.
The mission of NPS is clearly stated in the Organic Act of 1916. Section 1: “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” What are the differences between the three main groups of sites that NPS deals with? (national parks, monuments, and reservations) Think about why people visit them and what they see when they are there.

Why do you think it is important to not only conserve “scenery” but “historic objects” as well? What information can we learn from each? In your opinion is one better than the other?
20 mins Break students into groups and give each group a copy of the landscapes (or a selection from the list) to observe.

Students should look at each landscape and determine with their group members why each one is a National Park – is it a national park, monument, or reservation? What is the reasoning behind their answer. After students discuss the questions allow them to share their responses and reveal what park each landscape belongs to.
10 mins Introduce the culminating project of the curriculum (a campaign to recognize/preserve a significant local site, area, or landmark, and a student-curated exhibit about the site).

Distribute the prepared list of possible local sites, areas, or landmarks that Expedition Teams may select for the Culminating Project.

Teams each decide on one site, area, or landmark for which to campaign.
J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
  • Participation in daily activities.
  • Products from Student Activities (Lessons 2-5).
  • Individual homework assignments that build towards culminating project.
  • Campaign material preparation
  • Mounting of campaign material in exhibit
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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities
  • Produce a 5-10 minute documentary video on a selected local landscape/monument/landmark.
  • Create a publicity poster for the student-curated exhibitions
  • Use the dates and locations recorded in Thomas Moran’s diary to trace the route of the Hayden expedition. Use maps of Yellowstone to calculate daily distances that Moran travelled.
  • Research a recent preservation or conservation controversy at a National Park of your choice (e.g. the reintroduction of gray wolves in Yellowstone).
  • Select a National Park or Historic Site and research its designation as a protected site
L. Resources

M. Site Visit

The site visit includes a visit to:
  • Any NPS, state, regional, or local park near the school.
  • If appropriate, students can participate in a BioBlitz (collaboration between NPS and National Geographic that collects data about the ecosystems within participating national parks). For more information, see
  • Pre-visit: Before the visit, have students visit the site’s website for an overview. Each student should prepare one question about the site’s significance.
  • Site visit: Students analyze at least two objects on exhibit (or, if visiting a park, sights within the landscape) using the “How to Read an Object” chart and detailed sketches.
    • If participating in a BioBlitz, follow the instructions of the selected activity, using the resources and instructions available via the activity pages linked above, or at the BioBlitz educational resources website