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First Place

3-5 | Social Studies | Simulations

Station KOCE in California

My Classroom Innovation

Our class project was a multi-disciplinary unit on the Early American Colonies. We began our unit by using books and web sites to study Roanoke and Jamestown. Once gaining an understanding of the two colonies, we began a simulation that reenacted the building of the Jamestown Colony. Students took on the roles of John Smith and the noblemen of Jamestown while completing activities to build a church, cabins, and palisades for their settlement while avoiding disease and Indian attacks. Along the way, we learned how hard the colonists had to work to overcome obstacles such as farming in marshland, living far away from their homeland, and getting along with people who had different values. We continued studying the Colonies by reading “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. We also watched episodes of the PBS series, “Colonial House”. Students were able to better understand the life of the early colonists as they watched modern “colonists” struggle to build a settlement. Students created wikiprojects on our district Learning Management System where they showcased their knowledge about the novel and the New England Colonies through writing and discussion boards. Our unit culminated with a Colonial Day that included food, games, and projects that reflected the Colonial Times. Students learned how to make homemade butter from cream, and ate it with fresh johnny cakes. We played games of Marbles and Ring Toss, and tried to solve puzzles such as Ben Franklin’s Magic Square. We used our Smart Board to play “Coffee Bean Solitaire”, and also the Colonial House web site to complete the “Myth-Conceptions” Interactive. Finally, we cross stitched our initials onto fabric to make a modern-day sampler. All of these activities served to bring history to life for my students.

How Students were Engaged

My goal is to encourage understanding through critical thinking, and enhance my students’ abilities to connect with the curriculum through hands-on learning. Many students in my class have Special Education plans due to learning disabilities or attention issues. Lessons presented to these students must utilize a variety of learning methods to make concepts accessible to everyone, and allow each child to be successful. Our Colonial Unit is an example of this type of teaching. My students did not simply read about history and complete a worksheet. Instead, they took on the roles of the colonists and learned about their endeavors. The Jamestown Simulation allowed even my struggling learners to become engaged with the materials. The use of technology, through video and the Internet, motivated students to learn. Watching the Colonial House PBS series helped them to understand the lifestyle of the colonists. Because research has shown that nonfiction writing has more impact on learning than other activities, I incorporated an online writing project which allowed students to write for an authentic audience. This provided motivation to create a quality product because students knew their classmates would be reading and commenting on their work. Culminating our unit with a special activity day gave us the opportunity to experience and connect with the Colonist’s lifestyle. After completing this unit, my students are able to describe the reasons why the Colonists began to settle America. They can describe the hardships faced when building a new settlement, and they can identify the reasons why Roanoke failed while Jamestown and other later settlements were successful. I have built a knowledge base for students to use for reference as we continue our study of American History. More importantly, I have shown my students that learning can be fun.

PBS Program/Content Used

"Colonial House"