Friday Visualization #7 - How Much is 160 Acres?

So, the Homestead Act provided settlers with 160 acres of land provided they met a certain criteria.  What does 160 acres look like?

This question recently came up at my school and we found the Planimeter to help provide students with a more concrete visualization of the answer.  The Planimeter uses Google Maps and allows you to mark off an area anywhere in the world.  It will then tell you the acreage for the area you selected.

In class we started off with our school football field.  This was a great starting point since a football field is such a tangible unit of measurement familiar to students (plus, we could see it out of the window of the classroom).  Planimeter determined that our football field was approximately 1.3 acres in area.  Wow!  the homesteaders received 160 acres... so we now had a math happening... how many football fields in 160 acres?

click any image to enlarge

 We then tried out our school's campus... only 34 acres.  Another math happening... how many of our campuses would fit onto a homesteader grant?

Still not 160 acres.  We needed something larger... how about the nearby (and world famous) Tyson's Corner Mall and all of its voluminous parking?

Only 79 acres (and another math happening).  What about Tysons I and Tysons II (conveniently located across the street)

Hey, 160 acres... look at that.  That's a lot of land.  We looked around at a few other Washington, DC landmarks also.  We found that FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins, and all of its parking, is also right around 160 acres.

I liked this activity a lot because:

  • It's visual - I could tell students that 160 acres is about the size of Tyson's Corner, but so much better for them to see it.
  • Its localized - We used references that were familiar to students.  Most of them had been to Tyson's Corner and knew that it was big.  Naturally, using our own school playing fields and campus was also great.  Students were encouraged to draw 160 acres around their own houses to see what that looks like.
  • Students can be involved - with laptops, students can be involved in following along and then trying out their own measurements.  Send students out on an acreage scavenger hunt.
  • It's (potentially) interdisciplinary - While this activity was centered around a Social Studies discussion about homesteaders, it could easily extend to...
    • Math - Loads of math here, conversions from acres to square feet, square meters, perimeter, what percentage larger is FexEx field than our school campus, scientific notation, etc.
    • Technology Education - Evolution of farming equipment as farmers wanted to have larger and larger farms.
    • Social Studies - Map skills and Geography are a no brainer.

Of course, there is more you could do with this, I'm sure.  Give Planimeter a try and remember to share your ideas.