Human Power or Machine Power
by Randy Colton

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Suggested Curriculum Areas:
- Social Studies
- Economics
- Environmental Education
- (Technology)

- Compare different means for accomplishing tasks.
- Explain benefits and liabilities for the above different means.

Photos of laborers, animals, and machines doing work:
- plowing fields,
- building projects,
- mixing concrete,
- constructing roads,
- quarrying rock,
- fishing,
- loading trucks,
- delivering goods,
- sweeping streets,
- collecting garbage (see Joel's lesson)

Bike Carts


Bike Deliveries

Old & New Boats

Getting Water

Modern Mine Quarry

Mixing Concrete


Spinning Thread

Old & New
Fishing Boats


Fishermen and Motorized Raft


Time required:
1 hour

Teacher Background

There are a variety of ways to extract resources, to do work, and to move materials and goods. Human, animal and mechanical power are primary modes of labor in India. In daily life you see evidence of all forms of labor. For instance, at a stone quarry you may see men and women breaking slabs of rock with hammers and chisels: you may also see workers using explosives and air hammers to break the rock. Laborers carry rocks away from the site, and place them onto tractors to take them far away. In the rice fields, laborers use their hands, cattle and plough, and machines to extract the grain.

Thinking about these different ways of doing work, keep coming back to the question, "Why this particular way?"

Human power does not require as much a commitment in capital investment and does not require the resources or maintenance to continue working. Human power employs more people than mechanized power. Animals can provide power in greater magnitude than humans. They may hold their value for some time, and they have potential for providing offspring, future work animals. Machinery may be able to handle larger workloads and get work done more quickly than human-powered endeavors. Which is more efficient? Which is quicker? What are the work safety, economical, and environmental costs for each?

Student Background:


- Natural resources
- Human resources
- Transportation
- Distribution
- Environment


When people want to get natural resources to use for their needs and wants, they have to extract or harvest them from their environment. How may people get them?
When people want to get work done, they may be able to accomplish tasks in different ways. Suggest different ways to

- dig a trench for a telephone cable (people digging and carrying away earth by hand, machine excavators)
- build a road (people with tools, motorized equipment, trucks)
- erect a building (humans carrying materials, mixing materials, and erecting scaffolding; machine hoisting materials, mixing materials)
- plow a field (human power, bullocks, camel, tractor)
- move a fishing boat (paddling, rowing, motor)
- mining rock from a quarry (chiseling rock out by hand, breaking rock with hammers, carrying rock by hand; dynamite, air hammers, motorized excavators, bulldozers, tractors, and trucks)
- distribute goods (bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, motor rickshaws, motorcycles, bullock carts, trucks, trains)

People may move natural resources, materials, or goods, to where they want them. What are ways they can do this? Generate a list with many possible means for transporting things.
(walking and carrying, bullock carts, buses, cabs, trains, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, trucks, cars, motorcycles)

What are the advantages / drawbacks of these?
(Human and animal power use renewable energy sources for fuel, there are more jobs for people, animals can reproduce, they may traverse rugged terrain / these transportation sources are not very fast, they may not be able to carry large loads, injuries may happen, there is a toll over years of hard physical work. Motorized transport may offer speed and a large capacity for loads, not as many personnel are needed / capital investment in mechanized transport, fuel, and maintenance can be sizable, they are dependent on fairly good roads, they pollute, by size, trucks are not as maneuverable in congested areas, they exacerbate road congestion)

In India, people use all of these means. Decisions about what to use may be based on many of the ideas you have generated.

See photos for various ways to do work. List what you see as you view the images. Keep watch for details and context, noting them to use and share later.


Create a spreadsheet table showing different kinds of work, different means of accomplishing them, and their positive and negative aspects. See the following sample:


Human power
Animal power
Machine power
Road construction
(+ low cost)
(+ powerful)
(+ versatile)
(+ fast)
(- small loads)
(- expensive)

(- not fast)


Plowing field
(+ versatile)
(+ environmentally friendly)
(+ can plow large tracts)
(+ progeny)
(- expensive)
(+ manure)

(- special care)

(+ detail work)
(+ volume)
(+ selective)
(+ powerful)
(- slow)
(+ fewer workers)


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