Sunday, November 26, 2006
Sometimes all you need is something very simple to move content along and to motivate students to think critically as any historian would do.
Prior to our Thanksgiving vacation my students were examining the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth and the later Puritan colony at Boston. Before that we managed to get Jamestown settled and coerced gold hungry men to work so they could eat real food ala John Smith.
It was at the point after we had taken a good hard look at initial French colonization that we turned to the Dutch. We discussed the purchase of Manhattan Island, the diversity of New Amsterdam, and the intolerance of people like Peter Stuyvesant.
It was at this point that I drew a blank outline of present-day United States on the board and turned to the class, “We’ve been talking about early colonization in North America. What are some of the colonies we’ve mentioned?”
Hands go up all over the class. I call on one young man. He answers, “Plymouth?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?” I counter.
He smiles and quickly states, “I’m telling you.”
“Great, then come on up and make a dot where Plymouth would be.”
The next dot to go up is for Jamestown.
Hands have continued to flap and wave during this exchange so while our first dot is going up on the map I call on another student.
A young lady wearing furry, mukluk type boots responds, “Roanoke!” in a loud, clear voice.
Another student agrees with her by saying, “Yeah, the Lost Colony.”
One of my arm flappers interjects more forcibly than he needs to, “But, it wasn’t a successful colony. It shouldn’t go up on the map.”
Other children argue it should be on the map. One student even says it should be on the map because it really is a place today. At any rate mukluk girl finally gets the marker and she makes her dot.
I refocus our energies by asking, “What about the Dutch colonies?”
We quickly get a dot up for New Amsterdam. I continue questioning students by asking, “Why would European monarchies allow colonization? What was in it for them?”
Various students summarize that colonies formed because the monarches granted permission through charters, and money was invested in companies like the Virginia Company in return for stock. Students advise that monarchs wanted colonies because it would give them power and prestige. My nine year olds don’t use the word prestige. I believe their wording was, “It would make them look good, it would make them look important, and others would like them.”
Finally I ask students to look at the map we had fashioned together on the board. I ask them to look at the map through the eyes of a king…..the king of England. “Look at your map. Look closely. Analyze it. What do you notice?”
We begin the answer dance where I’m peppered with various responses that are a mix of wild guesses and thoughtful attempts. I take refuge for a minute by sitting on my back table and swing my legs back and forth. I keep telling students to think, think, and think some more. I remind them to think like a king.
Finally, a revelation. One young lady observes, “The English colonies are divided.”
Someone agrees, “Yeah, the Dutch colony seperates the English colonies.”
“So. So what?” I respond, “Why is that a big deal?” We embark on a short discussion why it’s not a good idea to have territory split by a potential enemy.
I call on one particular young man who doesn’t appear to be involved with the rest of the class. Basically his head is below his desk and is actually inside his bookbag.
I approach his desk and rap on it. He sits up rather quickly. “Ummm, Uninvolved Student, what would you do if you were the King of England?”
Uninvolved sits up straight and for a moment looks like a deer caught in headlights. He looks around the room for a minutes and then he states, “Well…….if I was the king I would get rid of what’s in my way. I’d get rid of the Dutch.” He springs back to his original position....head in bookbag.
I stand there dumbfounded.
I guess some students can listen even when their heads are in a bookbag.
UPDATE: Make sure you check out the comments. One reader, Linda, asked a very good question concerning St. Augustine and Santa Fe----both established settlements during the same time period. I've posted my response in the comments section.