Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Laying a Foundation in Forty Minutes Flat!

My students have been discovering the French and Indian War as our introduction to the American Revolution. If you are uncertain as to why we are studying a war to study a war, well, that’s because the aftermath of the French and Indian War was one of the sparks that caused the shot heard around the world.

I began our discussion this week as I do every unit. I passed out study guides that contain the state standards Georgia students are required to meet, text pages, test and quiz dates, unit vocabulary, and key questions. Students read the state standards and underlined the verbs after I reminded them that the standards are the things they should be able to do concerning the American Revolution. In this way I have set the bar for expectations. Students realize at some point I will want them to explain and describe the causes of the American Revolution including how the French and Indian War played a role in the birth of our nation…a perfect opportunity for writing across the curriculum, but that will come later.

Our first foray in the content was with a line graph that indicates population in the Thirteen Colonies from 1710 to 1750. I asked students to remind me the steps they should take when reading a line graph and, I asked them to take a minute or two and answer five multiple choice questions printed below the graph. As they worked I walked the room to view their answers. My quick assessment concerned me a bit as many students did not answer the first question correctly regarding the purpose of a line graph. The proper response was “A line graph shows changes over time.” Several students chose the answer historical events. As we went over the answers I allowed students to correct their papers and took advantage of the teachable moment regarding the purpose of a line graph including reminders that obvious answers aren’t always the correct one, and if they use a line graph in science they can’t possibly be used for historical events only.

We continued analyzing the graph which shows a steady but moderate increase in population until the year 1730. Beginning that year until 1750 there was a marked increase in the population of the colonies. We discussed the effects of more and more people in the colonies in relation to our own suburb of Atlanta which is growing by leaps and bounds. I asked students, “What do you parents say about all this growth?” One young man responded, “We gotta get out of here!” Time passes, but people stay more or less the same.

I drew a quick outline of present-day America and hurriedly created some upside down V’s to represent the Appalachian Mountains. I question students on the points I’ve been driving home all year. Where did the colonists first settle? (along the coast) What is the area called in behind the initial settlements called? (backcountry or frontier) What happened to the Native Americans who lived in the areas where colonist settled? (treaties were made, broken, and the Native Americans were continually pushed west) By 1750, did the Native Americans like the British or dislike them? (I think that answer is obvious. One young man said, “Well, duh!”)

I drew a line down the map and ask students, “What is this?” Many correctly state the line is the Mississippi River. I sketched in another line flowing into the Mississippi and identified it for students as the Ohio River. I used a different color marker to shade in the area known as the Ohio River Valley. I asked students, “What do we know about the French? Who can remind us about their role in America?”

Through a series questions and discussion we identify the French had intricate trade networks with the Natives who lived in the Ohio River Valley. We compared and contrasted the British goals in North America compared to the French. The British colonist brought their families to the New World and set up towns, churches, and schools. The French came over in much more limited numbers and rarely brought whole families. The Ohio River Valley was the stomping ground of French fur traders who desired profit more than settlements.

At this point I put all of the information on the table and asked students to digest it. I reminded them, “Ok, our line graph tells us the population in the colonies begins to increase in great numbers after 1730. The French can’t seem to get people here to settle, but have a great trade network going on in the Ohio River Valley. What do we think about that?”

The hardest part of being a teacher, who loves to share her passion, is to shut up long enough to allow students to discover the answers on their own. It’s hard, but I wait, and wait, and wait some more. At one point I rephrase my question. “You own a farm outside of Philadelphia. Gradually the town has gotten closer and closer to your property. You are no longer in the country. What do you want to do?”

Forty minutes later after we have had one lost tooth, five sign-outs to the restroom, two intercom interuptions, and one graceful trip over a bookbag strap we finally got to crux of the lesson. Gradually the population of the colonies increased. Colonists wanted additional land to settle on and began looking towards the Ohio River Valley which the French already claimed.

The foundation is now set. Now we begin on the walls.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


As a guide, I need to condense history into short segments and still promote critical thinking skills. Luckily for me, not one student wants to use the restroom in the rear of the bus (unless it's a real emergency); I have a captive audience rolling along at 55mph!

This year, two of my schools from California will travel to New York State and Pennsylvania to learn more about the French and Indian War up front and personal. In fact, we will be staying overnight at Fort Niagara and mustered into the King's Army! (They have great educational programs!)

These ETP's coincide with the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War. There are lots of commemorations and activities throughout the region (including Canada) which your readers, students, and families might want to take advantage - especially in the summer.

I have found that students hardly learn or remember anything of the French and Indian War as well as the War of 1812. Pity, since these two conflicts were so important to the development of our country.

Thanks for your good work!