Overview

This unit was designed for implementation in the fifth grade class where I am now working. Although the lessons and activities were developed with fifth grade students in mind, the materials could easily be modified to meet the needs of other grade levels, multi-age classes, and students with various needs. The thirteen colonies were chosen as the topic because the students were finishing a social studies unit on early explorers in North America. In addition, it just happened that the students would participate in the mini-unit around the time of Thanksgiving. Fortunately for me, social studies is my favorite subject and history is my area of concentration. Therefore, I enjoyed using my previous knowledge to design fun activities for the students.

As mentioned, the students have already learned about the attempts of various European nations to colonize North America and the failure of Roanoke before engaging in the mini-unit. A study of the development of democracy and the American Revolution will follow the mini-unit. A complete study of the thirteen colonies will have a greater focus on the American Indians, and how they were influenced by the colonists. Also, I feel it is vital that students be exposed to the historical development of slavery in the colonies and what became the United States.

The overall intent of this mini-unit is that students will gain not only an understanding of how our country began, but also an appreciation of the challenges met by the colonists. Additionally, I hope students will gain an admiration for the Native American culture that was present when the colonists arrived. Further students will come to acknowledge how the Native Americans contributed to the success of the colonists and how later the land was taken from these peoples. These goals will be met by providing students with a variety of activities with which they can make personal connections. Engaging in these new learning experiences will allow students to demonstrate their knowledge.

Each of the mini-unit activities is designed for whole class participation. In the first activity students are asked to imagine the motivations and experiences of the seventeenth century colonists as they complete a character sheet. The sheet allows each student to become an English colonist in North America. This "You Are a Colonist!" activity provides students a purpose to search for information and allows them to become personally involved in this social studies unit. Periodically during the unit, students are asked to write letters and other literature pieces from the perspective of the colonist which they created. These writings allow students to demonstrate an understanding of how people really viewed and dealt with the hardships and situations they encountered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

"Imagine the Life" uses math to measure the amounts of space allotted to the colonists on the ship and in the colonies. Students are able to connect their own traveling and moving experiences with those of the colonists. While actually reconstructing the physical space allotted each adult colonist on the Mayflower, students imagine the ship ride over to the colonies. As students set-up the area of a home with its inhabitants and furniture they gain an idea of what the life of a family was like once they arrived and moved into their one room homes in the colonies. Students are asked to write a journal reflection about this experience.

Another activity introduces students to "Winter Count," a form of record keeping used by the American Indian tribes in the areas of the colonies. After discussing how the American Indians used wampum or pictures on skins or bark to record the significant aspects of each year of an individual’s life or the life of the tribe, the students create their own wampum belts. This allows the students to appreciate the art of making wampum belts while permitting them to connect their own lives to this social study.

The final activity I have included in the mini-unit is a game. Knowing how intermediate children enjoy reviewing material with a quick paced game, I included "Colonial Password." Working cooperatively as a team, students will have this opportunity to synthesize all they have been exposed to during the unit. Additionally, the nature of the game allows students to teach each other important concepts, events, names, and terminology. "Colonial Password" also serves as a way for teachers to assess areas of instruction that need to be touched upon again.

These actives will be appraised in a variety of ways. In each of these learning experiences I will look at the students’ thought processes. I will also be concerned with the effort the students put into each of these activities. The character sheet, letter and journal writings will be evaluated based on the extent to which the descriptions are realistic and detailed. Grammar standards will be considered minimally as I am more interested in students express an understanding the overall history and its effects, rather than in how perfectly a student meets writing conventions. When judging the students’ "Winter Count" wampum belts, I will be looking for individuals’ rationale explaining why they chose the events and symbols that they did. Finally, during the "Colonial Password" game, students will be evaluated based on the levels of thinking exhibited by the clues each team generates.

I have included a few additional lesson plans and ideas I want to incorporate into a study of the thirteen original colonies. Of course, these lessons do not have to be used in sequence. Rather they should be implemented to fit the needs of the students. A culminating idea I would like to pursue in my own classroom would be a "Colonial Day." On this day, students would experience the life of colonists during a specific period, for instance the beginning of the Jamestown settlement. The students and I would dress as colonists and eat traditional foods such as hard tack, corn and cranberry dishes. Still more activites such as role-playing also fit nicely into this scene. Students would set-up family units and practice completing an individual family member’s chores for the day. Some students would serve on the Council and others would carry out various appropriate occupations. This activity would be the ultimate synthesis as students would have to cooperatively research and plan all of these facets of colonial life.

I am pleased with the structure of this mini-unit because it allows students to learn about the colonies in a stimulating and meaningful context. Although we will read about and discuss the colonies during class, the students now have opportunities to put themselves in the position of the colonists, experience a Native American tradition and exhibit their new knowledge during the game. I think the students will greatly benefit from these activities and complete them with greater understanding and appreciation of our country’s past. While I do have a rather extensive knowledge of American history, I am eager to be learning along with my students.


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