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Classroom Ideas

Sal the Mule on the ComputerAs part of the NYS Curriculum, teaching about the New York State Canal System can be a fun way to explore the past and discover how the Erie Canal shaped not only New York State, but America. Some ways in which you may be able to incorporate innovative ideas into your classroom include:

Field Trips

  • Bring your class to see how an actual lock works. Canal Corporation lock personnel can explain the mechanics of the locks and many will be able to share interesting facts with your students. To arrange a tour, please contact our Canal Marketing Department at 518-449-6028. 
  • This program is focused toward fourth grade curriculum and combines fun and history in a one-hour outdoor program.  To book your class, call 518-449-6028.
  • There are over 20 Canal-related museums across the Canal System. Take your class on a field trip to one of these museums and relive some of the Canal’s great history.

In-Class Ideas

  • Sal the Mule on the ComputerCanal Activity Book PDF 
  • Write or re-enact a play about what life was like along the Canal System.
  • Build a replica of a Canal barge.
  • Build a replica of a lock.
  • Have students write a fictitious journal about a week-long journey along the Canal System. It can be in the past or the present. If the present, the students can research local attractions and places to see and visit along their trip. They can contact tourism offices for additional information.
  • Create an art exhibit of drawings or paintings which feature the Canal.
  • Learn songs about the Canal System and hold a concert for parents and friends.
  • Research and find out what kinds of boats were used on the Canal for hauling goods. Calculate distance and loads based upon their cargo and destinations.
  • Use the Internet and find out about current rental boat companies. Calculate how much a day and/or weeklong trip would cost a student and/or their family. Where would they go and what would they see and do?

The Erie Canal Song

  • Low Bridge
    written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen

    I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
    Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
    She's a good ol' worker and a good ol' pal,
    Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
    We've hauled some barges in our day,
    Filled with lumber, coal, and hay,
    And we know ev'ry inch of the way,
    From Albany to Buffalo.

    Low bridge, ev'rybody down!
    Low bridge, for we're comin' to a town!
    And you'll always know your neighbor,
    You'll always know your pal,
    if you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

    We better get on our way, old pal,
    Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
    'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,
    Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
    Get up there mule, here comes a lock,
    We'll make Rome 'bout six o'clock,
    One more trip and back we'll go,
    Right back home to Buffalo.

    *Some versions substitute "fifteen miles" for "fifteen years".

    Download the Sheet Music

The Erie Canal Poem

  • Building the Erie Canal
    written by Gabrielle Toborg

    The Erie Canal
    DeWitt Clinton made us start diggin'
    We'll build the Erie Canal.
    Some immigrants from Ireland came over to help us.
    We'll build the Erie Canal.
    We invented the wheelbarrow and the stump-puller.
    We'll build the Erie Canal.
    Mosquitos have bitten us and we've gotten sick,
    But we'll build the Erie Canal.
    Someday the boats-packets, freighters, and barges-
    Will travel the Erie Canal.
    They will pass through our locks and our aqueducts,
    When we've finished the Erie Canal.
    The hoggees will drive the mules that will pull
    When we finish the Erie Canal.
    And when ships get mudlocked, we'll have us a laugh
    Then settle back to enjoy
    Our hard handy-work: the Erie Canal
    Cause now that we've started,
    Surely, we'll finish
    Building the Erie Canal.

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Additional Resources

  • Watch this video about the Canal Corporation education program
  • Sal the Mule Plays Drums
    Visit “A Guide to Canal Records Leaving NYS Canal's Website ” and "The Erie Canal Time Machine Leaving NYS Canal's Website " in the New York State Archives.  The site describes 360 series of records documenting New York’s Canals from the earliest Erie Canal surveys to the completion and operation of the Barge Canal.
  • The New York State Museum Leaving NYS Canal's Website has been researching early inland navigation and Canals built prior to the Erie Canal in New York, including evidence of the oldest canal in New York built near Utica in 1730.
  • ePodunk Leaving NYS Canal's Website – This site has created a multimedia tour of the Erie Canal, combining interactive songs, historic information, post cards, and photos. Individuals looking for an overview of the building and significance of the Canal System will find a wealth of information on this highly interactive site.
  • Modern Marvels: The Erie Canal DVD Leaving NYS Canal's Website - The History Channel production features materials from the New York State Archives and the New York State Canal Corporation.
  • Marco Paul's Travels on the Erie Canal Leaving NYS Canal's Website - An Educational Voyage.
  • Erie Canal: New York's Gift to the Nation - Tells the history of the Erie Canal through documents and essays and can be used by elementary, middle and secondary school teachers to teach math, science, language arts, as well as history.

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