Friday, December 28, 2007

Plymouth in the 1600s

This year my class is using a new (to us) textbook for our study of Massachusetts history and geography. Our previous textbooks were written for fifth grade students, and were inaccessible to most third graders, so they were not terribly useful. In using this new textbook as a framework for the curriculum, we just completed a unit on life in a Wampanoag village, which established a basic concept of the daily tasks and responsibilities of members of a village, and established that people had been living in Massachusetts for thousands of years before any European settlers arrived.
In teaching this unit, several questions came to mind about how to improve it for next year. The most obvious question our class discussions kept returning to was "how was life different for the Wampanoag than it is for us in 2007?" Asking students to think about what we value in our daily lives, or what is expected from them in terms of responsibilities and chores, and comparing that to the lives of the Wampanoag elicited many interesting responses amongst my students. We had a very interesting (and somewhat unplanned) discussion about clothing, which originated with learning about how the Wampanoag people used all parts of an animal when they hunted. Students considered how easily we obtain clothing in modern life, and compared that to how much work and energy (from various members of the tribe) went into making one article of clothing, beginning with hunting an animal, curing the skin, decorating it, etc. I would like to find other ways to create these connections to areas of life that they can understand.
Another activity we did was to compare two maps of southeastern Massachusetts (found in our textbook). One was a map with Wampanoag villages marked. The other was a contemporary map of the same area, with the current names of towns given. Students realized that many of the towns found in contemporary Massachusetts had origins that began with the Wampanoags, and some even retain the same (or similar sounding) name that the Wampanoags had given the settlement.
I hope that before I return to teaching this unit next year I am able to find more resources to use in the classroom. I have some great photographs of the Wampanoag village at Plimoth Plantation, which I took last spring. These definitely helped to illustrate some of the ideas my students were learning about, especially such ideas as making a mishoon, or burnt-out canoe. I would like to be able to find more images or objects to use in class.
When we return to class in January I am excited to see if students can take the information they know about the Wampanoag and consider how these peoples' lives were affected after European settlers arrived in Massachusetts. As we begin our study of the Pilgrims and the establishment of the colony at Plymouth, I want students to understand the complexities of the relationships with the Native Americans who already lived in the area, and how their lives had been altered by previous European exploration.