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NYGA Invades Fort Ticonderoga!

August 21, 2012
Timothy McDonnell


Twenty-six geographic educators from all over New York State assembled at historic Fort Ticonderoga, America's Fort, on August 15-17th. We came to the shores of Lake Champlain to learn about this important place from both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Our task as geographers was to determine why it was so important.

Our two-day conference featured two great tours in and around the Fort, led by Education Director, Rich Strum. We also drove up to the top of Mt. Defiance (which overlooks Lake Champlain) and then down into the Village of Ticonderoga, following La Chute, the four-mile outlet of Lake George. This turns out to be the key to Ticonderoga's significance. La Chute is not a navigable river, because it drops over 250 feet in its short course, greater than the drop at Niagara Falls. Anyone traveling by boat in colonial times would need to portage around these rapids and waterfalls before going to Lake George. Fort Ticonderoga sits at the beginning of that portage, where La Chute meets Lake Champlain. For any invasion to be successful, this fortress would have to fall first. Our trip up to Mt. Defiance showed us that the fort had a major "Achilles Heel." If an army could put cannons on the summit, the Fort would be indefensible. That is exactly what happened in 1777, and the British Army under Gen. Burgoyne forced the Americans to withdraw from the Champlain Valley. (It was a temporary victory for Burgoyne. He was forced to surrender three months later in Saratoga).

Photo on the Left - Cannons protect Fort Ticonderoga from an assault from Lake Champlain, with Mt. Defiance in the distance. Photo on the Right - Teachers study maps created by Carol Gersmehl to learn how to apply spatial thinking skills to geographic lessons.

While we were in the fort's classroom, the teachers learned about the eight spatial thinking skills (Conditions/Connections, Region, Transitions, Aura, Patterns, Associations, Hierarchies, and Analogies). Under the guidance of Carol Gersmehl, they looked a maps of New York and eastern North America to see how to apply this spatical thinking skills to Fort Ticonderoga. Tim McDonnell, NYGA Coordinator, also presented three lessons. Rich Strum also had us do a lesson on military art, in an exhibit of important paintings inside the fort.

It is our hope that the educators all left Ticonderoga with ideas of how to teach geography better in their classrooms. We asked all of them to try a lesson on Fort Ticonderoga or a related topic this coming fall. Some are planning on writing a more detailed lesson, aligned with the Common Core. If they are successful in this endeavor, we will be paying them a stipend.