Unlocking Canal Locks


Why do canals incorporate locks? Find the "key" to lock engineering with this art-infused lesson plan.


1. Canals allowed boats to transport goods through man-made connective waterways. The canal system allowed freight to be moved more quickly and efficiently than in the past. Why was the canal system more effective than previous modes of transportation?

2. In order to move boats from one elevation to another canals incorporated watertight chambers called locks. A series of locks connected two waterways. When the ship enters a lock, it is filled or drained of water to change the boats elevation and move it to the next level. Research the engineering of locks and discuss your findings.

3. Originally people called locktenders operated the lock system. They worked long, hard days to keep the locks running. Today locks are generally mechanized. Locks were originally constructed of timber and stone. Today locks are made of steel and concrete. Compare and contrast the changes in lock construction and operation. How have these changes impacted the canal system?

4. Using your research as a guide, work as a group to construct a representation of lock system out of Model Magic® and recycled materials. Model Magic that is fresh from the pack will stick to itself. Dried pieces can be glued together. Incorporate recycled materials like cardboard or craft sticks to build the chambers. Create boats from modeling compound to bring the model to life. Add additional recycled materials to replicate water and other canal features.

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.

Adult Assistance is required for this arts & crafts project.

Crayola Modeling Materials including Crayola Model Magic®, and Model Magic Fusion™, Crayola Air-Dry Clay, and Crayola Dough—

  • Keep away from open flames. Do not use to make candleholders, hot plates, trivets, or other similar objects that will be used or placed near fire and other heat sources.
  • Do not put in an oven, microwave, or kiln.
  • Do not make into vessels/containers that will hold unpackaged food.
  • The use of modeling material to make items that look like food is discouraged for children younger than age 5 to avoid their confusion with real food.
  • Unless sealed with a water-resistant glaze, do not make projects exposed to or immersed in water, such as boats or outdoor bird feeders. They would disintegrate when exposed to moisture.
  • Crayola Dough—contains gluten (wheat flour) as an ingredient.
  • Crayola Air-Dry Clay, Crayola Model Magic and Model Magic Fusion are gluten-free. However, they are produced on the same machinery as Crayola Dough which does contain gluten. Although the machines are cleaned prior to the start of each production run, there is a slight possibility that trace amounts of gluten from Crayola Dough may be present in the other modeling compound products. For information regarding specific ingredients or allergic concerns, please call our Consumer Affairs department at 1-800-272-9652 weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Model Magic Fusion Glow in the Dark—Activate Glow in the Dark Model Magic Fusion compound by holding it near a light source like sunlight, a flashlight, or an ordinary (not a halogen) lamp. Halogen bulbs burn much hotter than regular bulbs.

Modeling Tools—Use the least dangerous point or edge sufficient to do the job. For example, craft sticks, plastic knives and forks, and cookie cutters can cut or carve modeling materials.

Wood—By its nature, wood is rough and may contain splinters or sharp points


  • The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas. This canal does not incorporate locks. Why? Research the answer to this question and logistical importance of this canal.
  • Locks have been used for over a thousand years. Where did locks originate? Find out more about their beginnings and history.
  • Visit the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA. Distance an issue? Check it out online at www.canals.org.

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Model Magic®
household supplies
  • recycled items
  • craft sticks
  • recycled cardboard
  • foam board
  • household items (various)
  • felt



  • Grades 4 to 6


  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Multiple Sessions


  • Children discuss the canal system of transportation and analyze its construction.

  • Students examine how locks modified the engineering of canals.

  • Children compare and contrast the lock system’s construction and operation from its inception to modern times.

  • Students work as a group to design their own lock system replica using engineering elements discussed in class.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards