Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Math for the Frontier
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities


Media Components

Computer Resources:
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Software: Excel (optional)


Students need the following supplies:

  • Large sheets of paper to make charts
  • Markers
  • Calculators
  • Pencils

Bookmarked sites:
  • FRONTIER HOUSE - Getting Started: Packing and Preparing for A New Life
    Go to this essay and click on “Fergus’ complete list” for access to a complete list of supplies. This is the PBS site for the FRONTIER HOUSE series.

    This site lists dollar conversions of $1 in the 1850’s through the 1870’s into today’s dollars. This site also lists prices of some of the supplies that are listed on James Fergus’ complete list of supplies for the journey.

  • USA Gold - Inflation Explanation
    This site will give the teacher a brief and clear explanation about the history of inflation and how to explain it to elementary aged students.

  • US Inflation Calculator
    Performs calculations for any period between 1800 and the present. The pre-1975 data are the Consumer Price Index statistics from Historical Statistics of the United States (USGPO, 1975). All data since then are from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the United States.

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Introductory Activity:

  • Present students with the following scenario:

    Your parents/caregivers got new jobs so they need to relocate your family to a different state. What would you need to pack with you? What do you need to do? Pack, close down the house, say good-bye to friends and family, find a new home, send out change of address cards.

    Start a running list about the process of moving.

  • Then start a list of what the students and families would need to pack if they were moving next month. (The list should include clothing, furniture, appliances, toys, etc.) What would they leave behind? Why?

    Learning Activities:

  • Read the “Getting Started: Packing and Preparing for a New Life” section of the FRONTIER HOUSE website. Hand out the study questions to make sure that students understand what the site is about. Students should then answer and review the questions together in small groups.

  • Now ask students to create a master-moving list for 2002, which will later be compared to a list from 1880. To do this, have students work in small groups and make a list of the things that they would pack if they moved across the country with their family. From the small group lists, have the class compile a master list.

  • Then give students a complete list of supplies that James Fergus used (accessible at Students should answer the following questions based on the list:
    • What are the differences between your modern supply list and Fergus's list for the 1880's?
    • Why do you think they are different?
    • Provisions – Why don't we have to bring all of this food?
    • Clothing – Would the amount that Fergus and his family brought be enough for you?
    • Teams – Why would they bring cattle and a tent? Would you bring a tent yourself? What would you do for lodging instead?
    • Stationary – This seemed to be a major component of the packing? Why? Would this be such an important consideration for you?

  • Students will now look at what these items cost in the 1870's and compare them to today's prices. Have the class look through the grocery price list on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman site ( to find items that they can find in the grocery store today. They should find staples such as rice, butter and sugar. They should create an Excel or paper chart of items with the 1870s price and what it should cost today according to the US Inflation Calculator at Hopefully, students will notice that the prices are significantly more in today’s economy. The students should brainstorm reasons why this may be so.

  • The previous step is a perfect way to begin a lesson on inflation. Review to get the basics on inflation. The site mentions that monetary inflation occurs when banks extend loans (the supply of circulating money goes up); and monetary deflation occurs when borrowers repay loans (the supply of circulating money goes down). In simpler terms, when there are more bills in circulation, the dollar is worth less.

    Here's a visual example that you can use to explain this concept to your students:

    Picture me with a toy balloon in my hand. I put the balloon up to my lips and blow air into it. Result: the balloon expands. I have inflated the balloon! Assume that the air I expel from my lungs into the balloon is money, and assume that the circumference of the balloon represents the general price level. With each huff and puff more air (money) is injected into the balloon (the economy), and the result is that the circumference (price level) rises. This is what monetary inflation (injected air into the balloon) and subsequently rising prices (the growing circumference of the balloon) is all about.

  • Now ask the class to calculate the buying supplies for James Fergus and his family in today’s dollars. Divide the class into 9 different groups, one for each category of supplies on the James Fergus list. Each group will use the Internet to find the cost of these supplies.
    Once the students have found the prices of the items in question, they need to total the numbers and find the final cost. Their chart should include a column for each other following: item, quantity, per item cost in present day, and total cost of items in the present day. See organizer for sample chart.

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:

  • Give students the following scenario:

    Researchers, scientists, and astronauts are all reporting findings of ice on the planet of Mars. If ice does exist, that means that water exists on the planet. If there is water, then there can be life on Mars. The country is planning to settle and build a colony on Mars and you have to submit a plan about how to go about do it.

    You must determine:

    • What would you need to bring with you?
    • What would all of this cost? (Try to imagine what impact inflation might have on future prices.)
    • Who would you bring on your journey to Mars and why? (Answers should include engineers, scientists, doctors, teachers, and biologists.)
    Write a proposal for them explaining your reasons for bring certain ideas or people.


    Cross-Curricular Extension:

    Science – While on the journey across the cross-country trek in the 1880's, your father kills some buffalo for food. How do you preserve meat so that it will be edible for the rest of the trip? You still have about three months of traveling left.

    English and Social Studies – You have packed stationary items for the trip and your new home. Write a letter to one of your friends back home and tell them about the trip westward.

    • What if the entire wagon tipped over?
    • What if you and your family got caught in a snowstorm and couldn’t move? What happened while you were stranded?

    Cooking – Homesteading meant spending winters without a variety of fruits and vegetables. In a good year, they might have potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, squash and onions. Go to for recipes for potato soup, fried potatoes and onions, sourdough starter and sourdough biscuits.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students