200: Teaching Chronological Thinking and Causality (Rail Strike of 1877)





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Chronological Thinking
  • Beyond sequencing events in temporal order
  • Examining sources to determine how events relate to each other
  • Looking for causes of events and consequences of events
  • Understanding the difference between causal and correlational relationships
  • National Standards for History (related to chronology):
    • Identify in historical narratives the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story
    • Measure and calculate calendar time
    • Interpret data presented in time lines
    • Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration
    • Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives of their own
  • Chronological thinking needs to be taught alongside causality
  • Math / Science Connections:
    • Scientists / mathematicians are more likely to say that two variable are correlated than causally related because the latter is harder to prove
    • The relationships among things is emphasized throughout the disciplines, it is the basis of functions and functions are a main ingredient in mathematical / scientific models and the predictions that emerge from the models
  • Standards related to causality:
    • explain causes in analyzing historical actions
    • grasp the complexity of historical causation, respect particularity, and avoid excessively abstract generalizations
  • Debates surrounding causes of events / eras can make history more real and engaging to students
  • While introducing this concept, select sources that require students to form a chronological narrative – NOT multiple causes, perspectives, or other types of historical thinking – isolate chronological / causal thinking
Why the Railway Strike of 1877?
  • images involve buildings that are local and recognizable to Baltimore students
  • Background info:
    • economic recession and racial tensions during the Reconstruction
    • 1873 Wall Street panic negatively affected nationwide economy
    • 1874 6,000 businesses close
    • railroads hit really hard
    • railroads engaged in a rate war to minimize effects of the depression
    • lower rates led to lower labor costs
      • paid workers less
      • workers hired for less hours
      • workers had to pay for travel home when work took them to distant cities
    • railroads ended rate wars in favor of an agreement to lower workers’ hourly wave
      • workers striked
        • sometimes destroyed railroad property
        • involved 100,000 workers nationwide
      • strike ended due to
        • federal trop deployment
        • lack of central workers’ org
    • Impacts:
      • stirred fear in the public
      • some reforms:
        • created Employees Relief Association – provide some medical services and death benefits to employees (1880
        • 1884 companies setup pensions for workers
      • momentum for Workingmen’s political party and labor movement
      • highlighted problems of industrialization
Implementing the Lesson
  • Display image from strike that shoes building on fire and ask students to identify elements in the image that aid in understanding artist’s viewpoint
  • Introduce Driving question: What event does the image depict and what is the artist’s message about the event?
  • Four sources:
    1. letter advertising Gatling gun to owner of B&O Railroad
    2. broadside announcing lowering of worker wages
    3. letter from president of B&O to President Hayes asking for federal troops
    4. insurance document listing damages caused by worker
  • These four sources can help students’ determine causal relationship among events of the strike
  • Cursive note: can provide typed copies of cursive sources just in case students struggle to read the handwriting
  • Jigsaw analysis
    • Students analyze different sources within a team of 4 with the help of thinking sheets that use question prompts to guide students to notice and interpret key features of the sources and formulate hypotheses
    • As a group, students use collection of sources to create a chronological account that generate original artist’s image at project launch
  • Alternative to group analysis
    • Each group analyzes the same source and presents their finding to the whole class
    • The whole class tries to process and arrange the sources in chronological order
  • Note about the sources and lessons learned:
    • the dates on sources do not necessarily correspond to the actual dates of the events they describe
    • this fact requires students to use causality to correctly order the sources
    • students learn that dates alone do not order sources / events; determinations about the relationships about the information within the sources influence the chronology
    • history is more than a random aggregation of information – there is an organization to the information due to causal relationships
  • Concluding the lesson:
    • Is the launch image pro- or anti- labor?
      • after discussing this question, teacher reveals caption of image: The Frenzy and What Came of It”
Leveraging these Lesson in the Future
  • Lessons learned by students:
    • Challenges misconception – sources created close in time to the event are more valid
      • sometimes sources created farther in time from the event have useful things to say because they are written from a broader perspective with access to more corroborating evidence
    • Moving beyond timelines – students learn to interpret sources and their relationships to each other to develop chronological frameworks that connect the sources
    • Students learn to view history narratives as jigsaw puzzles that can be solved
      • students were more engaged by “creating” time line than simply memorizing it – led to better retention
      • caveats – students may read too much or too little into sources and develop chronologies with logic flaws; promoting discussing among discussion may helps students to catch logic flaws
  • Teaching tip:
    • Many historical tools can be used to analyze and interpret sources
    • While scaffolding these tools, it’s helpful to emphasize one over the others
Math / Science Connections:
  • This style of lesson can be used to design lessons that show:
    • chronology of events that led to expanding understanding of a concept or the development of a currently well established math / science model (often called a theory)
      • examples:
        • development of quantum mechanics – happened very quickly and may have a lot of sources with dates that don’t necessarily match the exact discovery dates – (can also remove dates from source until after students have a hypothesis about the chronology). Within quantum mechanics – there are several concepts that can be focused on such as:
          • development of model for an atom
          • development for model of behavior of light
          • development for model for atomic nuclei
        • development of understanding of models to describe electricity and magnetis
        • development of model to understand gravity
        • with biology – the development of the theory of evolution
    •  can open with quote or a cartoon inspired by model being studied and ask students to describe what they notice and answer the driving question – What does this image depict and what is the artist’s message about the contents?
    • teaching students to logically link the development of models can help them to learn how mathematicians / scientists incrementally create new knowledge using more and more sophisticated models (or sometimes simpler models) to understand phenomena


Teaching students how to create their own chronological frameworks by interpreting and connecting primary sources teaches students that history is not just an random aggregate of facts and events.  Creating their own timelines as opposed to simply memorizing ones can involve students in an engaging jigsaw puzzle that makes the resulting sequence more memorable.  This type of lesson can be applied in science / math lessons that investigate the development of now accepted models for describing phenomena.


Note:  This sequence will be written for science teachers.  If you’re looking for advice on how to prepare and implement lessons related to historical lessons on chronology, read the WHAT? summary above.


Preparation Steps
  • Research the unfolding of discoveries that advanced the development of models that describe a specific phenomena.
  • Find student friendly, engaging sources that represent different models that describe the same phenomena.
  • Select sources whose dates don’t necessarily relate to the dates of the origin of the models OR expunge the dates from the sources.
  • Developing thinking sheets with several question prompts that guide students to analyze each source and its relationship to the anchor image.
  • Find an anchor image to launch the project that shows the model in an interesting way that hints at its origins and implications.
  • Create a driving question that requires students to investigate the sources to chronologically relate the models depicted in them to the model depicted in the anchor image?
Early Implementation Steps
  • Introduce anchor image and driving question.  Hold preliminary discussions to share and record what is initially notices and initial hypotheses
  • Have different teams investigate different sources with the help of thinking sheets.
  • Have each team present their findings to the class.
  • Use teams’ presentations to have a discussion aimed at sequencing the models
  • After models are sequenced, reconsider the anchor image and re-address the driving question
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Lesson could have models that relate to concepts that are still in flux and have students predict future expressions of the model



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