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 2: Explore Your World!
  • 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 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.
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Parks museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time

Lesson 2: Explore Your World!
“How to Read an Object”

The Devil Tower by Thomas Moran

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


minutes/120 mins (2 days)

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D. National Educational Standards

NSS-USH.5-12.1 Era 4
Standard 3
Understands the extension, restriction, and reorganization of political democracy after 1800.

Common Core Standards
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.

Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

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E. Student Learning Objectives
  • Student will be able to (SBWAT) Compare and contrast casual and scientific observation skills.
  • SWBAT interpret Yellowstone Botanist Field Notebook (content and potential scientific uses).
  • SWBAT systematically observe and document the geography, plants, and animals of an area.

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

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G. Vocabulary

Casual Observation: observing something at the right place and time by a matter of chance or luck.

Specific Observation: observation using tools (sometimes of measurement) and methods of recording what you are looking at.

Yellowstone National Park: America’s first national park established in 1872. Itspans Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and is known for its abundant wildlife and geysers, including Old Faithful.

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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.
  • Lesson can be split over 2 days, with outdoor activity filling a full class period.

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures
Lesson 2
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
15 mins Post the terms “casual observation” and “specific observation” on the board.

Allow students to work with partners to come up with a short definition for each.

Students can share their responses with the whole class.

Display correct definitions and give a real world example of each.
  • Casual observation – Going for a walk in the summer and observing a beautiful sunset.
  • Specific observation – Going for a walk in the summer at exact at 8pm when the sun is going down. You bring a stop watch and video recording device to keep track of how long it takes the sun to set.
“Casual” and “specific” connote different meanings (one is more “important” or “serious” than the other)

One might different tools or methods of recording with specific observation.
45 mins Use the Moran sketch (JEFF 4222) and “Yellowstone Botanist Field Notebook” as an example to identify and analyze 1) the type of information that field investigators observe and 2) different ways they record information

Brainstorm different ways that scientists might use the information from the “Yellowstone Botanist Field Notebook.”
See the words “Survey of Old Faithful”

Draws rudimentary maps with different landforms and their general shapes

Records measurements and elevations

Use both visual representations and text to record what they see

Scientists might use the information to:
  • help preserve natural resources
  • track changes in the natural environment over time
60 mins Before taking students outside model how to do small-area demarcation with string and tape measure.

Assign each Expedition Team a different schoolyard area to document.

Expedition Teams complete a detailed exploration of pre-selected area in the schoolyard. Students should record the details of their schoolyard site (flora, fauna, geography, man-made features).
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