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There are moments in some of our lives when we wish we had been born in a different time. This wish came true for three real life families who left the conveniences of modern times to travel to Montana and take part in an 1880s adventure on the PBS series FRONTIER HOUSE.

It is quite the opposite experience for a fictional girl named Jessie in Margaret Peterson Haddix's novel, RUNNING OUT OF TIME. For her entire life, Jessie thought she was growing during the 1840s in the town of Clifton. One day the peaceful routine of settlement life is shattered when Jessie's mother reveals a deeply kept secret. Suddenly, Jessie finds herself flung into the "future."

In this lesson, students will explore life in the 1800s and become aware of events and inventions that shaped the era as they compare and contrast FRONTIER HOUSE's real life families to characters in the novel RUNNING OUT OF TIME. This lesson may be used as a pre- or post-viewing activity for the PBS series FRONTIER HOUSE, or in an independent unit on westward expansion.

Note: Although this lesson incorporates the novel RUNNING OUT OF TIME, the actual reading of the book is not included in the timeline of this lesson. Teachers may want to use the book as a read aloud or as part of their own reading series.

Grade Level: 5-7

Time Allotment: Four 50-minute sessions

Subject Matter: Language Arts and Social Studies

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
  • Compare and contrast the lives of the characters in Running Out of Time to the real life experiences of three families in Montana;
  • Describe conditions facing both fictional characters and real life families during the 1800s;
  • Use timelines to gather and analyze information;
  • Utilize the Internet and written material to gain knowledge of events leading up to these
  • settlements;
  • Utilize the Internet and written material to understand the role of inventions in our lives.

From the National Standards for History, grades 5-12, available online at

1. Chronological thinking:
  • Distinguish between past, present, and future time.
  • Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story: its beginning, middle, and end.
  • Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.
  • Appreciate historical perspectives--(a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded--the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place.
  • Draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and, (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
2. The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation:
  • Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues.
  • Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and the opportunities made possible by past decisions.
3. The student conducts historical research:
  • Obtain historical data from a variety of sources.
4. The student engages in historical issues-analysis and decision-making:
  • Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.
  • Evaluate alternative courses of action, keeping in mind the information available at the time, in terms of ethical considerations, the interests of those affected by the decision, and the long- and short-term consequences of each.

Media Components

Web Sites

The West
This is the companion Web site to the PBS series about The West by Ken Burns. The site includes primary source materials, maps, timeline and archival photographs.

National Inventors Hall of Fame
This site provides a timeline of inventions.

The Telephone
This PBS site includes a technology timeline.

This site is the companion to the PBS series FRONTIER HOUSE. The site allows users to follow three families as they travel back in time to 1883 Montana.

For each student:
  • Novel RUNNING OUT OF TIME by Margaret Peterson Haddix. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. ISBN: 0689812361.
  • Current classroom social studies textbook and other related materials
  • Computers (for a class of 25, at least three computers is recommended)
  • Paper and pencil
  • Chart paper
  • Quiz sheets
  • Tally forms Click here to download (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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