There is a curious connection in history between the expansion of empires and giant construction projects, particularly canals. Students at KS2 looking at the Central or South American civilisations of the Aztecs, Maya or Incas will certainly look at their monuments.
KS23: examine the European explorers and how and why they failed to find the isthmus. Then fast-forward to the early 20th century to see how the Panama Canal was built as a statement of the US's industrial might.
KS3: compare working conditions during the building of the Panama Canal and Suez Canal.
GCSE or A-level: compare the economic and political significance, or the human cost of the Panama Canal with other imperial canal projects, such as Germany's Kiel Canal or Stalin's Belomor Canal. There are some fascinating human stories to be explored here, such as the history of the panama hat (www.thehatsite.companama) or the Darien Adventure (www.rbs.co.ukGroup_InformationMemory_Bank).