Classroom Ideas From Colonial America - Blog! - Two-Fisted History


Classroom Ideas
Colonial America

I'm taking a thoroughly enjoyable course this semester as part of my Professional Development.  I wanted to share the answer I gave to one of my homework questions because I thought that these are some ideas that I'd love to institue in a US History class.

4.)       Visit This site sponsored by Colonial Williamsburg includes resources for teachers about the colonial period. Look through the materials offered at this site, pay particular attention to History and Education and look through the materials offered for educators and students. Choose two of the pieces listed. For each selection, describes what you chose, why you chose it, and how a teacher could use it in a classroom to help students learn about education and life in Colonial America.

I cheated! For my first choice, I chose two! There were sub-tabs, after all, and I didn't want to scam on my assignment. >:^)

Firstly I choose 'Life' under the 'History' tab.   There were two there that I would specifically choose for that sublist:  'Colonial Society' and 'Food.' 

One of the issues in teaching History, especially in a public school setting, is the tendencies of both teachers and students to judge people in History by our own standards.  We look at them as we would anyone that we'd meet on the street, elect to office, or be someone famous for being famous.  A slave-holding plantation owner from the Antebellum South, for example, in many ways has more in common with  Pericles than he does with me; yet we (both in Social Studies Education and as a society) judge the plantation owner by the same moral, ethical, cultural, & societal values that you or I are judged by.   People tend to see historical characters as living, breathing, thinking, feeling individuals with free will and different values than we have today.  Taking a sincere look at 'Colonial Society' helps us to get a fresh perspective on historical subjects, and in doing so, help us to appreciate difference that exist between societies today.

'Food' works in a similar manner.  What people ate is a characteristic of how they lived.  Paul Revere didn't pull his horse up to a Sonic after he had alerted the Minutemen, after all.  Even taking a look at what food our own genesitic culture ate, can give new insight to our forebears as actual people and not characters in a Social Studies textbook.

In the first instance, I could imagine some research assignment on 'Colonial Society' being given, with each student researching a particular aspect and presenting it; perhaps in a small group setting.  Alternatively, a Socratic Discussion on daily life could be used, and might be more fulfilling depending on the class.

In the second instance, 'Food' is a fun topic.  Depending on School and District rules about bringing in food, I've found students love to eat.  Students with allergies aside, bringing in period-specific food is a great way to engage students and it's something they'll remember.  As an example, during my student teaching, I was teaching 5th Graders about the Civil War.  To wrap up the unit, I had made hardtack and johnnycakes for the students for them to get a better understanding of what life was like for the troops.  Of course many thought it was disgusting, with several cries of 'Mr. S is trying to kill us.'  But they remembered it well enough that years later, a chance meeting with one of those students involved a former student saying, 'I remember when you made us eat that hardtack and thinking how bad I felt for the soldiers.'

The second choice I made was for 'Trades,' also under the 'History' tab.  Trades describes some of the sundry occupations held by colonials.

I chose it in sort of a rebellion against the Common Core mantra of 'College and Career Ready.'  It's disturbing to me that we put so much 'peer-pressure' on students, even in Middle School, to go to college.  I have nothing against going to college, but many people have skills, talents, and desires that lead them away from a higher education path. Others aren't suited for higher education, and yet others do not know what they want, but feel pushed into college by teachers, parents, classmates, etc.  I feel taking a look at what occupations previously existed in society helps give students a broader overview of potential fields that they can go into other than traditional higher education.  I feel it's good for students to know that there are fields out there, such as plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, etc., where someone out of high school can make a good wage doing something that they're skilled at.  Additionally, in the coming years, as we keep pushing students into 'College and Career Ready' directions, we're going to be losing qualified skilled labourers.  As teachers in general, and Social Studies teachers specifically, it's part of our vocation to ensure a stability in our society.

Ideally, to use this in a class, I think I'd like to have a Joiner or a Silversmith come in (the later especially if the students are reading Johnny Tremaine!), explain their craft, and perhaps demonstrate it and provide samples.  A field trip to somewhere where they do historical interpretations would also be an exciting way for students to witness historic trades being practiced.

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Tags : Education ProD ColonialAmerica Williamsburg

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