As part of our social studies curriculum in fifth grade, our students study the colonial times and what life was like before having luxuries such as instant communication and simple technology. While much of this information can be learned through reading nonfiction text, we decided to take a different approach in order to fully immerse our students into the colonial life.
This past week, fifth graders were handed a mission in which they had to make crucial decisions about their livelihood as an individual colonist. Each student’s critical thinking skills were put to the test as they had to make decisions as to what they would bring on their voyage. Each was provided a list of items and weights. Their total cargo could not exceed 200 pounds, which meant difficult decisions had to be made such as, “Which is more valuable, a saw or cooking utensils?”
To make things more realistic, students were then given an even greater challenge as they were placed into a “family” with several of their peers. Each family began by developing their own “colonial” last name to match their newly acquired “colonial” first name. The task they previously completed as an individual colonist, now had to be completed to suit an entire family with the same restriction of not exceeding 200 pounds. As single colonists, many were able to pack most of the essentials. However, with a family to now consider, many decisions had to be adjusted. We used the structure “Talking Chips” to debate these ideas and ensure all voices were heard.
After coming to a consensus on what to bring on their voyage to the New World, the students faced two more challenges. First off, they had to introduce themselves as a colonist to someone from each of the other “families” in the room and explain a decision that they made with their own family. After meeting our fellow settlers, each family was then asked to decide where they wanted to settle and establish their colonial village. For this, the students had to work together to determine how to best satisfy the geographical wants and needs of fisherman, tradesmen, officers, and farmers.
While this activity was fun and informative for all involved, the best part of this activity as a teacher was watching the students independently facilitate conversations and debates on what they needed to do and why. These fifth graders have an amazing capability to discuss, challenge, and explore their own ideas as well as the ideas of others. Believe it or not, I would argue that these fifth graders would make very suitable colonists!