Lesson 3: Making Sense of the Public Land Survey System
LESSON OVERVIEW: In this lesson students are introduced to the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and how it is used to identify and locate land parcels.
BEFORE BEGINNING THE ACTIVITY: One class period option: You can complete the lesson as an Internet activity, view YouTube videos and print copies of the Public Land Survey Background reading for student use.
OBJECTIVES: The student will be able to:
1. Define the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). 2. Explain why the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was created. 3. Explain how the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is used to identify and locate land parcels.
ESTIMATED TIME: One 30 - 50 minute class period with follow up home work reading assignment and One additional class period exploring PLSS in JMAPS system, Historical maps on-line and watching Minnesota The History of the Land – Episode __ Ordering of the Land Video.
MATERIALS NEEDED: Computer and LCD projector, Internet connection and YouTube videos
VOCABULARY: PLSS, township, range, section
1. Begin the activity by posing this question to students: If an immigrant farmer from Europe arrived in New York in 1850 and wanted to buy land in Minnesota from the Minnesota Land Office, what would he need to know in order to purchase and locate a specific piece of land?
2. Explain to students that the farmer would need to know the exact parcel of land that he was purchasing, so he could accurately locate it and settle it. This process was made possible by the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), which is still in use today. The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was proposed by Thomas Jefferson and began after the Revolutionary War as a method for dividing and describing federal government land in the United States. The government wanted to distribute land to soldiers as a reward for their service, and to sell land to make money. In order to do this, the land needed to be surveyed and assigned a legal description consisting of a township, range and section number. The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established surveying guidelines.
3. Show the YouTube video: PLSS – Surveying the Land
4. Project Images to the right - U.S. Public Land Survey System. Note that the system is not in use in most of the original 13 colonies, Texas or Hawaii. Discuss the idea that the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is similar to a grid overlaid on the land. A standard Township contains a 6 mile by 6 mile grid of 1 square mile Sections. Sections are numbered beginning in the northeast corner of the Township and snake back and forth across the Township from north to south following the tracks of the early surveyors as they moved across the landscape. Townships that are bounded by international or state borders, on the Iron Range or at a “seam” in the PLSS may have irregular shapes and sizes.
5. Explain to students that you are going to introduce them to some of the basic functions of the Firewise in the Classroom Community Assessment Process Internet Map Server and use it to show them the grid pattern on the land of Minnesota by projecting aerial photography with PLSS Township and Section lines overlaid.
Making Sense of the PublicLand Survey System
Answer the questions below:
1 - When was the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) established and by whom?
2 - Why was the PLSS established?
3 - When was Minnesota surveyed?
4 - How big is a PLS township?
5 - How big is a PLS section?
Exercise: Draw an illustration of a PLS township - 6 squares (miles) by 6 squares (miles) divided into 36 PLS sections - 1 square (mile) by 1 square (mile).
1 - What are PLS designations used for today?
2 - What do township lines form?
3 - What do range lines form?
4 - How are townships identified?
5 - How many township numbering zones are there in Minnesota?
6 - Explain the complication between the 4th Principal Meridian and 5th Principal Meridian in northeastern Minnesota.
7 - In the township and range number T63R2E, what does the letter E stand for?
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