This lesson introduces students to the topic of infrastructure in preparation
for the Miller
Center debate. Students will define infrastructure, view a NewsHour report
on infrastructure, research infrastructure challenges and proposed solutions including
sustainable infrastructure proposals, and debate the effectiveness of using increased
infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. Several lesson activities can
stand alone as introductions to the topic of infrastructure or the lesson can
be used in its entirety.
1. Ask students to define infrastructure. Write the class definition on the board.
Infrastructure, the basic organizational structures needed for the successful
operation of society, includes roads, public transit, bridges, railroads, water
and sewer systems, levees, power grids, telecommunications and ports.
Post the following quote from President Barack Obama:
"To build an economy
that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America. Yes, we'll put people
to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog
of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we'll also do
more to retrofit America for a global economy. That means updating the way we
get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money,
protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative
forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines
across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete
with their counterparts anywhere in the world. And it means investing in the science,
research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries,
and entire new industries." (http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/economy/)
3. Ask students to summarize President Obama's plan for the economy as
quoted above. Explain that President Obama and some economists believe that funding
"shovel-ready" infrastructure projects will revitalize America's struggling
economy. Ask students whether they agree that spending on infrastructure will
revitalize the economy. Why or why not? Should spending on infrastructure be a
national priority? Why or why not? (Students will have the opportunity to consider
these questions again towards the end of class).
4. Listen to Ray Suarez
introduce the PBS
NewsHour Series on Infrastructure (5 min.). Then, answer the following discussion
questions as a class.
a. What current infrastructure problems does Suarez mention
in this interview?
b. Why does Suarez say that cities and states put off repairing
c. Who do you think should pay for infrastructure, especially
in times of economic recession?
d. Currently, what is the primary source of
revenue for infrastructure spending? Why is the revenue decreasing?
problems arise when towns continue to delay repairing infrastructure?
does Suarez think that infrastructure should be debated just as much as "the
military and schools and the price of gas"? Do you agree? Explain.
Arrange students in small groups and assign each group one of the following areas
to research on the PBS
Blueprint America website: Commuting & Transit, Growth & Development,
Bridges & Roads, Water, Power & Energy, or Shipping & Cargo.
Handout 1. When all groups are finished researching, ask group representatives
to share their research with the class.
6. Watch the PBS report "Infrastructure
Spending May Be Key to Boosting Economy"(8 minutes). Discuss the following
questions as a class:
a. When was the last major federal spending on infrastructure?
What was the result of that spending?
b. What is the current state of the
Pulaski Skyway? How much does just painting the bridge cost?
c. What concerns
economist Ed Yardeni about increased government spending on "shovel-ready"
d. What is a "shovel-ready" project? What are some of the
"shovel-ready" projects mentioned in this segment? Yardni is concerned
that in today's service economy there aren't enough "shovel-ready" workers
to complete the infrastructure projects. Do you agree? Explain.
e. Do you
agree that spending money to improve infrastructure is the way
out of the current
economic rut? Why or why not? Use examples from the report to support your answer.
7. Divide students into small groups. Distribute
Handout 2. Allow students ten to fifteen minutes to complete the Budget Committee
Role Play. When all groups are finished, ask groups to share their budget plans.
How much money did each group allocate for infrastructure (have groups tally the
public works and transportation categories)? From what areas did they have to
cut funding? What other thoughts or questions do students have?
8. As a
class, brainstorm responses to the following question and record thoughts on the
board: What are the infrastructure needs in your community? Ex. Crumbling schools,
traffic congestion, the need for a commuter train, the need for alternative energy,
etc. Ask students to grade the current state of your community's infrastructure
and explain their reasoning. If you have more time, read and discuss the American
Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card for your state.
Compare student grades with ASCE grades.
9. Divide students into the same
small groups. Each group will choose one community need from the list on the board
and will develop a plan to address the need. Distribute one copy of Handout
3 to each group. When all groups are finished, group representatives will
present ideas to the class. If you have more time, discuss how all the groups
ideas could be combined to create a long-term comprehensive sustainable infrastructure
plan for your community.
10. Submit suggestions to the Miller
Center website and/or to www.whitehouse.gov.
Also, submit suggestions to your community's city planning commission.
1. Host a speaker from your community's planning commission to discuss the city's
current and long-term infrastructure plans. How do the current plans differ from
the student's ideal infrastructure plans? What are the challenges to achieving
the city's infrastructure plans? How can students get involved?
an economist from a local university or business to discuss the pros and cons
of boosting the economy through infrastructure spending.
3. Host a student
debate on the Miller Center Infrastructure Resolution prior to the Miller Center
debates. For ideas about organizing a student debate, refer to the IDEA website.
4. After the Miller Center debate, ask students to review the debate. What
points did the debaters make that the students had not considered? What points
in the debate did they find to be the most compelling or convincing and why? What
points would students like to research further?