Canoe Study: A Math Lesson

Students will use math skills to measure and draw north canoes and master canoes used during the fur trade era by Ojibwe and French traders of the upper Great Lakes region.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Talk with students about how trappers and traders traveled. Who was responsible for the design of the traveling canoes? How big were the canoes? Show some pictures of various canoes in action.


Read about the canoes of the fur trade era (see resources)


Based on the historical readings about the Ojibwe cultures of the Great Lakes and the trade era, we chart out the various canoe sizes, uses and construction materials as a class on butcher paper. We talk about the reasons for the various sizes and navigational reasons for certain canoe materials, and the natural materials in the region (birchbark, spruce root, birch sap). Students were able to suggest ideas of weight, ratio, and surface area.

We then measured and illustrated the varying sizes of the canoes with sidewalk chalk, outside in an open lot. Students worked in teams to estimate, draw and design birchbark canoes in actual scale. Some students also decorated the bow of their canoe with traditional family crests or clan symbols of their families.


Begin talking about where trappers and traders lived and the construction of seasonal wigwams.


Students correctly answered comprehension questions regarding canoes used during the fur trade and correctly measured and labeled each of their "canoes".

Vocabulary Words


Many students had a good time drawing canoes in actual size. It felt a bit like play and allowed students to learn while having fun. Many took a lot of time to design a detailed crest for their canoe.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards

Language Arts


Social Studies