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Colonial History Comes Alive in Lower School
April 4, 2013
Question: What were the names of the three ships that sailed across the Atlantic with the passengers who would establish Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in America?
Hint: Don’t waste your time on Google . . . just talk to one of our fourth graders!
In fact, as part of their recent history unit on the Jamestown Colony, two students are building a replica of one of the ships, the Susan Constant. Using just popsicle sticks (lots of them), glue (lots of that, too!) and pieces of felt, Owen and Gavin are creating an impressive likeness of the multi-masted boat.
At another table, Jacob and Miguel are building a sturdy-looking replica of the triangular Jamestown fort. (Jacob explains to a visitor exactly why a triangular-shaped fort was the best choice for the Jamestown colonists: it used less wood than a square fort and required fewer sentries on duty, having only three watchtowers instead of four.) In one corner of the room, there is a little bit of giggling—and a whole lot of concentration—as Annabel and Julie replicate a colonial farm, complete with pumpkins, carrots, and tomatoes fashioned of clay. At the next table, Grant, Ingo, and Gideon are recreating a Native American settlement like the type on the outskirts of Jamestown, putting a rounded roof on a popsicle-stick longhouse as well as adding canoes and outdoor scenes.
“Since the beginning of the year, the students have been developing skills that will aid them in becoming successful historians and teammates,” says teacher Dave Wallace (C’06), who has led the 18 students through a process of historical research and discovery. “Our Jamestown project provides the students challenging academic tasks geared towards creative collaboration.”
After being assigned one of six roles—gentleman, artisan, laborer, sailor, apprentice, or Indian—students worked with others in a team to learn about that group’s activities and contributions to the settlement and to build a model that correlates with their research. For example, the artisan group is constructing three small shops—for a carpenter, blacksmith, and tailor. In their final presentation, they will have to explain what each artisan did, how they did it, and why they were important to the society in which they lived.
This is experiential learning at its best, requiring students to develop skills in research, planning, teamwork, selection and use of resources, project execution, and presentation. “Working alone isn’t an option as there is far too much to do,” Wallace notes. “Flexibility, compromise, ingenuity, organization, enthusiasm, patience, and perseverance must be exercised regularly.”
This year, fourth grade’s experiential component has extended even farther afield, with a two-night trip to the Dana Brown Center in the Shaw Nature Reserve, about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis. This visit has laid the groundwork for the students’ next history unit—Westward Expansion. While at the Center, the students learned about science and got a taste of pioneer life. They observed stars, planets, and nebulae through a telescope and practiced identifying constellations, in addition to hiking through the woods identifying trees and animals. They used traditional tools to split wood, saw logs, and smooth wooden shingles.
In addition to the academic benefits of this trip, Wallace notes, the students “had to learn to cooperate and get along, even more so than during regular school hours. Many of them strengthened existing friendships and began building new ones . . . since they were with each other day in and day out.”
(And just in case you were wondering, the other two ships were named Godspeed and Discovery.)