School Building and Playground, Tribes Hill, c. 1900

Historical Context
By the late 1800s, there were over 200,000 one-room schools in America.  The school year was based on the farming calendar because the children were needed to help on their farms with the planting and harvesting.  The one-room school had one teacher who taught grades one through eight.  The number of students ranged from six to over forty, and they all went to school at the same time and in the same room.  The youngest students sat in the front of the class, and the oldest children sat in the back.  Students had to memorize much of the schoolwork.  There was a lot of "drill" (repeating lessons over and over), and the students had to give recitations (students would say aloud the answers to questions on a prepared lesson).  Different levels of "Three Rs" (reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic) were the main subjects, since the teacher had so many grade levels to teach.
Essential Question
How does culture and economy influence a society's education system?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the influence of culture and economy on American education during this time period.
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Education. School Building and Playground, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_A3804
Document Description
A school building in Tribes Hill, in the town of Mohawk, with students playing on the playground, circa 1900.
  1. What playground equipment do you see in this picture?
  2. How is the outside of this school building different from your school?
  3. Compare and contrast the school playground in this picture with your school playground.
  4. Why aren't there any girls in this picture?
Historical Challenge
What were the subjects taught in one-room schools? Why were these subjects so important to the children living at that time?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Why was it important for children to learn math?
Science: What time of year is it in this photograph? How do you know?
English Language Arts: Write a journal entry from the perspective of a girl at this school.
  1. Kalman, Bobbie and Barbara Bedell. Games From Long Ago. Crabtree Publishing Company, May 1995. ISBN: 0865055211
  2. Kalman, Bobbie. Schoolyard Games. Crabtree Publishing Company, October 2000. ISBN: 0865054711
  3. Kalman, Bobbie. A One-Room School. Crabtree Publishing Company, July 1995. ISBN: 0865055173
  4. Bial, Raymond. One Room School. Houghton Mifflin Company, September 1999. ISBN: 0395905141