7th Grade New York

Westward Migration

This inquiry prompts students to investigate the factors, conditions, and conflicts related to westward expansion in the United States before the Civil War. In the inquiry, students wrestle with various economic, geographic, and social ideas as they consider the value of the push westward. The compelling question “Was it destiny to move west?” prompts students to think about the historical justification for white Americans moving west in light of what we now understand as the problems associated with that expansion. In doing so, students explore the economic, geographic, and social conditions as well as ways new technologies contributed to westward expansion. Students also examine conflicts that arose as whites encountered Native peoples as well as the conflicts with Mexico over western lands.


Compelling Question:

Was It Destiny to Move West?

Staging the Question:

Discuss actions students have taken that resulted in a moral conflict.

Supporting Question What factors influenced westward expansion?

Formative Task List the factors that influenced westward expansion.

Sources Source A: 1836 protest song
Source B: Image bank: 19th-entury population
Source C: Excerpts from “The Great Nation of Futurity”
Source D: Map of United States territorial acquisitions
Source E: Excerpts from James K. Polk’s Fourth Annual Message
Source F: Image bank: The California gold rush
Source G: Excerpt from the Homestead Act of 1862


Supporting Question What new technologies influenced westward expansion?

Formative Task Create an annotated illustration (e.g., comic strip, political cartoon, timeline) that depicts technological forces that influenced westward expansion.

Sources Source A: Image bank: Maps of the Erie Canal routes*
Source B: Chart comparing travel by dirt road and canal*
Source C: Excerpts from Digging Clinton’s Ditch
Source D: Image bank: Technologies of the mid-19th century
Source E: Maps showing changing rates of travel in the United States, 1800–1857


Supporting Question What conflicts arose from westward expansion?

Formative Task Make a claim supported by evidence about the conflicts that arose from westward expansion.

Sources Source A: Timeline of European and US conflicts with Native Americans
Source B: Map showing military engagements in the Mexican-American War

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Create a video documentary about whether or not westward expansion was destined and/or justified.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Investigate a contemporary issue in which the United States may be benefiting from something that could be considered controversial (e.g., drilling for oil in Alaska, carbon pollution, cheap labor in emerging nations).
Assess: Evaluate competing perspectives and evidence supporting each of these views.
Act: Share and discuss findings in a school-wide forum to which parents and other interested community members are invited.