1 IMG_6584History, in the fifth grade, focuses on America from early native culture through European exploration and colonization to the founding of the United States and the Constitution. In the past few years I’ve been very fortunate to be able to to participate in American history seminars and institutes which have allowed me to travel to the east coast and learn on location. It has transformed my understanding and my teaching.

One of the most powerful realizations I’ve had is how vital it is to use primary source documents in learning. When we are able to look at period information we can construct a rich and authentic understanding of historical people, places, events, and issues. Since, I am not able to bring the actual documents into my classroom, however, we use a lot of reproductions and online resources.

Today, students used a series of eleven different etchings to analyze the Powhatan, African, and English cultures which converged in Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century. They considered six basic needs: clothing, food, housing, technology, transportation, and communication. Once we got past the “tee-hee”-ing about the lack of clothes that African and Powhatan people often sported, students were able to make some excellent observations and build understanding themselves. They formed connections that I don’t believe they would have picked up on had we only read through the textbook.

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Tomorrow, we will bring words into the mix when students examine quotations from the period to add to their learning. The quotes will give a good sense of perspective and cultural bias which we’ll need to compare and contrast with what we gleaned from the images. After wrestling with the primary source documents and sharing our learning, we will wrap up the exploration with our first Socratic Seminar. Honestly, it could go either way…disaster or victory. In either case, the process will be exciting.

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