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After reading The Mitten’s issue on Henry Ford’s Model T, students should be able to address these kinds of questions. This lesson is designed to help students understand the economic culture surrounding Michigan’s labor force, and the differences between the labor force of Henry Ford’s time and the labor force of current times by putting students in the position of a laborer and asking them to assess their own financial situation.
You Will Need:
A copy of the February 2004 issue of The Mitten, found here.
A copy of the Model T worksheet: ModelTDiagram
Students will need simple calculators, pencils, and paper to figure out wages and costs.
Questions to Consider during this lesson:
Ask students these questions at the beginning of the lesson, and see what they think, whether they have a way to formulate an educated answer or not. Tell them to think about these things throughout the discussion and activities. After the lesson, return to these questions and see what they think again; their opinions may change.
Why was the Model T such a popular car?
Who do you think would have bought a Model T, and why?
What made the Model T so important to both the United States and foreign culture?
How Affordable Was a Model T?
If a Ford assembly line worker made $5 a day and worked 250 days per year, how much would he or she earn in a year? ($5 x 250 = $1250.) What percentage of his or her annual income would the purchase of a $290 Model T represent? ($290 \ 1250 = 23%.) How does that percentage compare to costs today? How would you go about figuring this out? (Students can choose a car from the current ads they collected to price a new vehicle and use either minimum wage ($7.25 an hour in 2009), or an assembly line workers’ average hourly wages ($14.51 an hour for Floor Assembly III position, 2009) to compare the costs of purchasing a new car today.)
Workin’ the Assembly Line
Let students experience what it is like to work on an assembly line by setting up a series of simple, repetitive, timed tasks. Use the image of the Model T provided in this lesson. Have each student find
a specific part in the image such as the steering wheel, left front tire, back seat, assign each student a part to be colored with a different color crayon. When the line boss says go, each student colors the shape they are responsible for. When the timer bell goes off, the student must pass the project to the next person on the line whether they’ve finished or not once students can accomplish the tasks assigned, speed up the line. Some students may have bigger or more complicated tasks to accomplish than others and may not be able to finish the task in the assigned time. This will provide some material for later discussions such as: What problems did the class encounter? How did working on the line make students feel? Did the quality of workmanship change when the line was speeded up? How did students feel about working hard and not having ownership of the finished product? How did the time involved in producing the item by the assembly line technique compare to the time it would take one individual to complete the task?
Bringing Home the Bacon
After having completed both of the above activities, bring the class back together in a discussion setting. Initiate some questions wages and costs, payments of insurance, etc. Ask how the students would feel about trying to buy the product they’d just made on an assembly line salary in 2011, and in 1908 or 1927. Give the students the guideline of spending a flat %20 of their income on transportation. Set a fixed cost for factors like insurance and gas and ask the students to compute different figures relating to their purchase. How do they differ from then to now?
This Lesson Involves Michigan Education Standards as Follows:
3-G4.0.1 –Describe major kinds of economic activity in Michigan today, such as automobile manufacturing and explain the factors influencing the location of these economic activities.
3-E1.0.4 –Describe how entrepreneurs combine natural, human, and capital resources to produce goods and services in Michigan.
4-E1.0.1 –Identify questions economists ask in examining the United States (e.g. What is produced? How is it produced? How much is produced? Who gets what is produced? What role does the government play in the economy?).
N.MR. 04.14 –Solve contextual problems involving whole number multiplication and division.
3-E1.0.1 –Explain how scarcity, opportunity costs, and choices affect what is produced and consumed in Michigan
4-E1.0.5 –Explain how specialization and division of labor increase productivity (e.g., assembly line).
For additional ideas and lesson plans related to the Model T, go to:
Henry Ford’s The Model T Road Trip: Lesson Plans, at: http://www.hfmgv.org/education/smartfun/class/modelt/main.html