Teach PA History
Explore PA History
Site and situation: Right Place at the Right Time
Equipment & Supplies
  • Overhead projector, Graph paper, Current road or topographical map of Pennsylvania

Prepare by downloading and copying the combined worksheets for this lesson.

1. The teacher will pose the question? "Have you ever been at the right place but at the wrong time?" Have students tell of experiences (e.g. went to the movie theater for the matinee, but it was over.)

2. The teacher will explain the geographic concepts of site and situation. (Site: refers to the exact position of something on the earth's surface. Situation: refers to the accessibility that place has to other places on the earth's surface.) Both are important in determining if a factory, store or settlement will prosper.

3. Project the satellite image of the Ridge and Valley region of Pennsylvania (Overhead 1: Satellite image of Pennsylvania, all maps and images are in the Student Materials PDF [Note: This file is corrupted]). Discuss the fact that certain "sites" have advantages and disadvantages in regard to what can be done in a region. Ask students to identify site "conditions" that influence activities (terrain, climate, vegetation, soil, mineral resources, etc.). Then discuss "situational advantages" that might influence the selection of a site. (transportation routes, political associations, etc.). Use the satellite image of an example of how settlements were originally near rivers or streams and near "gaps."

4. Ask students which is easier to change, the characteristics of the site or the situation? (Site characteristics are difficult to change because climate and terrain are static, nonrenewable resources can't be replaced, although technology has allowed for some changes. Situation is more likely to change, because new roads are built, technological advances allow for better communication, etc.)

5. The teacher will then will introduce the activity that will evaluate the site and situation of Altoona over a period of time. Students are provided with physical maps, resource maps of canal routes and old roads. (Maps 1-3) They will evaluate the suitability of the site for settlement and manufacturing (using the current location of the city of Altoona). Students will work in groups and write a brief report evaluating the site and the positive and negative characteristics of site and situation.

6. The teacher will now provide one additional map of the expansion of the railroad (Map 5: Railroad for entire state). At this point the teacher should provide some background on the Pennsylvania Railroad and its need to set up railroad shops. Student groups will reevaluate the site and situation. Students will speculate as to the effects the railroad will have on the site (The town of Altoona).

7. Students will be provided with population and manufacturing statistics for Blair County (Worksheet 1: Statistical data for Blair County 1850-1990). They will graph the numbers and analyze what effect the expansion of the railroad had on the city and surrounding region.

8. The teacher will lead a discussion on the findings of the graphing exercise. Because the statistics are for Blair County and not just Altoona, the question can be asked, what influence did the railroad have on the region surrounding Altoona? (New towns sprung up at railroad stops, increase in population.) Provide students the railroad map for 1889 which shows the large number of settlements along the railroad lines (Map 6: Historical Pennsylvania Railroad map from 1889).

9. The teacher will summarize by explaining that the expansion of the railroad changed the "situation" for Altoona and the surrounding area and allowed the city and the county to expand in population and manufacturing.

10. The following questions should now be posed, "What is the situation for this region today?" "Is the railroad still the major form of transportation?" The teacher will now provide one last map showing highways and the turnpike (Map 7: Current road map or topographical map) to each group and ask them to once again evaluate the site. Can they speculate as to what will happen to the population and manufacturing of the city? Also speculate on what has happened to the railroad industry in general? Have the students compare the railroad map with the current map of Pennsylvania. Have students prepare a list of changes they can see. What changes do they see? (Many of the towns have disappeared.)

11. Have students consider the different evaluation techniques that might be needed to decide on where to locate "high technology" industry today as opposed to the "heavy industry" of the past.

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