Students study Iowa’s state seal and learn about the historical importance of each symbol it contains. They learn about the state motto, and then create their own seals that either represent their school or personal lives.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 4: Civil War and Statehood." In this unit, students will survey the role of Iowans in the Civil War and the crucial era of Iowa gaining statehood.
H.SS.5.22: Explain how economic, political, and social contexts shaped people’s perspectives at a given time in history.
- Image: Iowa State Seal
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show images to the class
- Construction or loose-leaf paper
- Pencils, markers, or crayons
- Introduce the concept of symbols by asking students for the symbols for words such as “love,” “dollar,” “peace.” Clarify that symbols are abstract representations of ideas and concepts; images are visual likenesses of actual things.
- Then, project the Iowa State Seal.
[Source: Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons]
- Explain that a state’s seal is used on government documents and to identify government buildings and officials. Out of necessity, the seal of each state was usually created before the state flag, but because the seal contained important historical and cultural information about the state, it was often used as part of the state’s flag. Most state flags were designed around the state seal or incorporated some of its elements. (For further information, see the Government of Iowa’s web page on State Symbols of Iowa.)
- Point out that a state seal shows a state’s history and cultural origins. Each symbol was picked to represent the state at the time of statehood. Ask students what they see on the Iowa state seal. Have students discuss the symbols on the state seal of Iowa and how each one relates to the state’s history. Some of the elements and their meanings are:
- Citizen soldier holding US flag – represents volunteer soldiers from Iowa during the Mexican-American War
- Liberty cap – symbol of freedom
- Wheat field, plow, rake, sickle – Agricultural background, main industry of the state until the introduction of railroads
- Lead pile/furnace – represents the role of the mining industry
- Mississippi River and steamboat – primary route of transportation and the fastest vessel during the 1840s
- Mountains – Loess Hills of Western Iowa
- Eagle – a federal symbol that carries the state motto
- Explain that each state seal usually has a state motto that captures the spirit of the state or expresses its basic ideals. Discuss with students the motto of Iowa: “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”The motto was written by three State Senators and incorporated into the seal at their request. It represents the early struggle to establish statehood and the role Iowa played in the American Civil War.
- To conclude the lesson, have students create a seal for their school. Students should include symbols that have meaning to the school. They should also include a school motto. Students may instead choose to create a personal seal that includes symbols and a motto that have personal meaning for them.