Grades 6-8Grades 6-8

Unit 2, Lesson 1

Who's "Driving" Change: The History of American Transportation and Designing for a Sustainable Future

While evaluating a timeline of events related to the development of the automobile, students will begin to see how social pressures, economic influence, governmental action, and technology affected the development of our transportation systems.

During the activity they will place themselves in the shoes of their grandparents and parents. They will then step back into their own shoes and use what they have learned to form predictions about where the development of our transportation systems may go.


The students will:

  • become familiar with the timeline and background,
  • identify groups of people who have influenced the design of the United States's transportation systems over the last hundred years, and
  • propose how these groups influenced the United States's transportation systems.


Social Studies

  • Grade 6: 7A-C, 20A-C, 21A-D
  • Grade 7: 10A, 11C, 13C, 20A, 20C, 21A-D
  • Grade 8: 10A, 11C, 12B, 28A-D, 29A-C, 30A, 30C


One or two 45-minute periods


  • "Who's Driving Change?" Student Information Worksheet
  • A copy of "A History of Transportation and the Environment" Timeline cut into strips.

Teacher Preparation:

  1. Become familiar with the timeline and background information.
  2. Cut timeline into strips.


  1. Explain to students that they will be investigating the history of the automobile and air pollution. Let them know that they will be asked to think about why people throughout history changed the way they got around and what groups of people drove these changes. For example, why did people stop using horse-drawn carriages and start using trains to get from city to city? Why are automobile manufacturers trying to build cleaner cars?

    Finally, ask students to think about the changes they might like to make in the way people get around today and predict what each change might do to the world of tomorrow.

  2. Many students will find it helpful to have a large timeline of key events in the development of our nation's transportation systems available for their review during this activity. You may want to do the following:

    Option A: Hand out the background reading, "Who's Driving Change?" and, as a reference source, "A History of Transportation and the Environment" timeline.

    Option B: Have the class construct its own large-scale timeline that is posted somewhere in the room. Explain to the students that they will be participating in a class discussion concerning the history of the automobile and the environmental movement. To start, they will create, as a class, a timeline large enough to be displayed and used as a reference for this activity.

  3. With a copy of the timeline cut into strips, separate the individual events. Randomly distribute one (or two) to each student.

  4. Facilitate a discussion based on the timeline. Teacher background information is included.

  5. Have the students share and post their event(s) on the timeline.

  6. Pose the following questions for class discussion:
    What other things happened during this time frame? Are they somehow related to this timeline? Can students place the birth years of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents?

  7. Once students have a timeline available to them and have had a chance to review this timeline, hand out to each student a copy of the background reading, "Who's Driving Change?"


Either through a class discussion or through small-group discussions that then report to the class, have students respond to the discussion questions at the end of the handout, "Who's Driving Change?"

During the discussion emphasize the following:

  • Major changes occur when many people either support a change (e.g., they buy and use a new technology or product) or they demand a change (e.g., they ask their government to lead the way to a change).
  • The Environmental Protection Agency was started because U.S. citizens wanted their government to monitor and help control pollution.


Classroom Materials

Source: "Transportation and Air Quality," Chapter 2, page 21, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association

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