Lesson Plan: Mythconceptions
Time Allotment: Two or three 45-minute class periods.
Overview: Over the course of American history, myths, half-truths, and downright lies have grown up around the earliest European colonists. Everyone knows, for example, that the Pilgrims enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and mashed potatoes during the fall of 1621. Or that an Indian named Pocahontas saved the life of colonist Captain John Smith. Or that most early colonists came to the New World in search of religious freedom. Or did they?
In this lesson, students will examine the myths and misconceptions surrounding early European colonists in the New World. After brainstorming and discussing their ideas about the colonists, students will take an online quiz to assess their colonial knowledge. Following the quiz, students will examine a variety of Web sites and assess their historical accuracy.
Finally, students will assess whether or not they would be prepared for the life of a colonist, via another online quiz. As an assessment of the lesson, students will complete a creative writing exercise, synthesizing knowledge from the lesson plan activities.
This lesson can be used as a pre- or post-viewing activity for the PBS series COLONIAL HOUSE, or as an independent lesson on early colonization in North America. A basic knowledge of early colonial history is required.
Subject Matter: United States History, Media Literacy
The student will be able to:
- Describe common misconceptions about early European colonists in the New World;
- Determine how these misconceptions differ from historical fact;
- Analyze images, artwork, and media relating to the early colonists and discuss their accuracy;
- Describe the living conditions faced by seventeenth-century New England colonists;
- Correct a peer's misconceptions about colonial life and provide historical rationale.
From the National Standards for History for Grades 5-12, available online at http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards:
Historical Thinking Standard 2: The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is able to draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
Historical Thinking Standard 3. The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation; therefore, the student is able to compare and contrast different sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.
Era 2, Standard 1A. The student understands how diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies. Therefore, the student is able to: analyze the religious, political, and economic motives of free immigrants from different parts of Europe who came to North America and the Caribbean; explain why so many European indentured servants risked the hardships of bound labor overseas; evaluate the opportunities for European immigrants, free and indentured, in North America and the difficulties they encountered.
Video: COLONIAL HOUSE, Episode 1: A New World (optional)
History Place Early Colonial Era Timeline
This site contains a timeline of events in North America from 1000 AD to 1700.
COLONIAL HOUSE: Mythconceptions Quiz
This interactivity, part of the Web site for the PBS series COLONIAL HOUSE, enables users to test their knowledge and misconceptions about early colonial life in North America.
Clicket.com: Thanksgiving Costumes
This is the Web site of a party supply company, and it features photographs of "authentic" Pilgrim costumes.
Peppermint Lane: Thanksgiving Fun
This Web site features "Thanksgiving Fun Pages" with downloadable seasonal illustrations to print and color.
Pocahontas and John Smith
This Web site, from the Brigham Young University Art museum, features a nineteenth-century painting by Victor Nehlig. Click on the image to see a larger version of it.
Liberty For All?
This Web site contains a brief article which supports the PBS series FREEDOM: A HISTORY OF US. An illustration of the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock accompanies the article.
Pilgrim Memorial State Park
This Web site, from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, describes the state park which currently houses Plymouth Rock.
Would You Have Survived the Colony?
This interactivity is also part of the COLONIAL HOUSE Web site, and it enables users to assess their suitability for life in a seventeenth-century New England colony.
For the class:
Chalkboard or whiteboard
Computers with Internet Acess
"Mythconceptions" answer key
For each student:
Pencil and paper
Prep for Teachers: Prior to teaching the lesson, preview the Web sites and the video clip to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Download and print copies of the answer key and the student handout, and make the appropriate number of copies for your class. CUE the video to the appropriate starting point, which is shortly after the beginning of the episode, when you hear the female narrator say, "It's spring, and the first day of COLONIAL HOUSE," and you see the colonists on the dock.
When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.
1) Tell your students that you need help clarifying some confusion you've been having lately about American history. Draw a long line on your chalkboard or whiteboard, and label the right end of the line "2004." Tell your students that you have created a timeline on the board, and that you want to have the timeline illustrate a majority of American history.
2) Move to the left end of the timeline. Ask your students when they think the timeline should begin, reminding them that you want to include as much of American history as possible. Write "1781" at the left end of the timeline. Explain to your students that 1781 was the year the Revolutionary War ended, and the United States gained total independence from Great Britain. Would this be a good place to start the timeline? (Student answers will vary.) Erase the "1781" and write "1776" at the left end of the timeline. Ask your students what happened in 1776? (The Declaration of Independence; the US broke away from Great Britain.) Ask your students if 1776 would be a good place for your timeline to begin. (Student answers will vary.)
3) Ask your students what year Columbus "discovered" the New World (1492). To the left of the timeline, write 1492. Ask your students how many years passed between 1492 and 1776. (284 years!) Tell your students that it was a LONGER period of time from Columbus' discovery of the New World to the Declaration of Independence (284 years) than it was from the Declaration of Independence to the present day (about 228 years).
Ask your students what they think was happening in North America for almost 300 years, if Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, and the United States declared independence in 1776? Where should you put the beginning of the timeline? (Student answers will vary.)
4) Ask your students to log on to the History Place: Early Colonial Era Timeline at http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/rev-early.htm. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to quickly review the information on the timeline and make three observations about what was happening in North America between 1492 and 1770. Give your students two or three minutes to look at the timeline.
5) Check for comprehension, and ask your students for their observations about what was happening in North America between 1492 and 1770. (Student answers will vary, but should include that it was a time of exploration and colonization by a number of European countries.) Ask your students if there were any events on the timeline which were already familiar to them. (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students which events from the timeline are probably the most famous and well known. (Student answers will vary, but guide students towards the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, Jamestown, Pocahontas, etc.)
6) Ask your students to examine the events on the timeline from 1606-1630. What images come to mind when they think about the events described in that portion of the timeline? What do they know about the people and places mentioned on this portion of the timeline during this period? (Accept all answers.) Ask your students if they think that, perhaps, the beginning of your timeline on the board could be a little earlier. (Students should answer "yes.")
7) Explain to your students that, in this lesson, they will be examining some ideas and widely held beliefs about the early colonists, and examining what their lives were like.
1) Divide your students into pairs. Distribute the "Mythconceptions" handout to your students. Explain to your students that they will be taking an online quiz, which will be fifteen true/false questions. They will not be graded on the quiz, but they should write down their answers on the handout. After completing the quiz, students should submit their answers to the Web site, students should "grade" their quizzes. For each question answered incorrectly, students should jot down WHY their answer was incorrect.
2) Ask your students to log on to the Mythconceptions Quiz via pbs.org/colonialhouse. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to complete the quiz, check their answers, and record the reasons why their incorrect responses were incorrect.
3) Give your students 15-20 minutes to complete the Mythconceptions Quiz. When they have completed the quiz and graded their answers, ask your students if they are glad that this quiz is not being graded. (Students will hopefully say "yes.") Ask your students what surprised them about the answers to the quiz. (Student reactions will vary.) Go over the answers to each question on the quiz. Poll your students to see how many students correctly answered each question, emphasizing again that these questions are very tricky, and prey upon common misconceptions.
4) Tell your students since they have now cleared up many misconceptions about early European colonists, they will be putting their knowledge to use. Explain to your students that another teacher in your school is putting together some Web sites and video clips for her students to use in a unit on early colonial life in America, and that this teacher would like your class to review the sites for their historical accuracy.
5) Tell your students that this teacher may be producing a play with her students about colonial life in the 1620s, and she's found a great resource for costumes. Ask your students to log on to the Clicket.com Thanksgiving Costumes site at http://www.clicket.com/costume/thanks/thanks.asp. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to review the photographs of the colonists costumes on the site and determine if they are historically accurate. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if the costumes on the site are historically accurate. (They are not historically accurate. The "Pilgrims" are seen wearing black outfits with white collars and cuffs; their shoes, hats, and belts have buckles on them. Clothing like this would not be appropriate for English colonists in the 1620s.)
6) Ask your students to log on to the Peppermint Lane: Thanksgiving Fun site at http://www.peppermintlane.com/thanksgiving/. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to review the coloring pages on the site and determine if they are historically accurate. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if the coloring pages on the site are historically accurate. (Many of the images on this page are not historically accurate. The Pilgrims have buckles on their clothes, and no one is sure of what was on the menu for the "First Thanksgiving.")
7) Ask your students to log on to the Pocahontas and John Smith painting at http://www.byu.edu/moa/exhibits/Current%20Exhibits/150years/840007200.html. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to determine if the painting on the site is historically accurate. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if the teacher should include this painting in her unit. Why or why not? (This painting may or may not be historically accurate. John Smith may have invented the story about being saved by Pocahontas, or the whole thing may have been part of an adoption ritual.)
8) Ask your students to log on to the Liberty For All? site at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/web03. Provide your students with FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to determine if the painting on the site is historically accurate. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if the teacher should include the painting in her unit. (The caption of the painting describes the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. This may or may not be historically accurate, as there is no mention of the Rock in any of the contemporary accounts.)
9) Ask your students to log on to the Pilgrim Memorial State Park Web site at http://www.state.ma.us/dem/parks/plgm.htm. Provide your students with FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to determine if this park is a "must-see" on a field trip for this other teacher's class. (Again, this site features Plymouth Rock, which may or may not have been the landing place of the Pilgrims. It's more of a symbol than a landmark. The Pilgrims first landed in the New World near what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.)
10) Tell your students that the other teacher will be using the TV series COLONIAL HOUSE to teach students about life in seventeenth century New England. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to preview a brief clip of the series to see if the colonists' clothing looks historically accurate. INSERT COLONIAL HOUSE, Episode 1 into your VCR. PLAY the tape from just after the opening, when you hear the female narrator say, "It's spring, and the first day of COLONIAL HOUSE," and you see the colonists on the dock. STOP the tape when you see the back end of the ship sailing away, and you hear music. Check for comprehension. Did the colonists' clothing look historically accurate? (Yes. They were not wearing black and white clothing, and there were no buckles in sight.)
11) Tell your students that now that they know what life was NOT like for early English colonists, they will learn a little about what life WAS like. Ask your students to log on to the Would You Have Survived the Colony? quiz. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to complete the quiz and honestly answer the questions to discover how well they would do in a seventeenth-century colony. Check for completion, and ask your students if they would want to live as a seventeenth-century colonist after completing the quiz. (Student answers will vary; most will probably say "no.")
1) As an assessment of this activity, tell your students that they have an option of writing one of two letters synthesizing their knowledge from this lesson.
2) Students' first option is to write a letter or email to the "other teacher," explaining why the online resources she found about colonial life are not historically accurate. Students should include specific information on what was wrong with the online resources, and cite historical facts to back up their assessments of the Web sites.
3) Students' second option is to write a letter or email to a friend who is considering applying to a hands-on history TV production which will require the friend to live under the conditions of the colonial era. What advice would they give to their friend? What would life be like in a seventeenth century colony? Ask your students to cite specific information about life in the colonies, and to explain why it may be different from what s/he thinks.
Ask your students to give the "Mythconceptions" quiz to at least three other friends or family members. Graph the class results. Which question was answered incorrectly most often? The least often? Why do your students think that is?
Investigate other myths and legends of history, including: the George Washington apple tree story, Paul Bunyan, and "King Tut's Curse."
Ask your students to examine books about early colonial life for young readers, and to assess the historical accuracy of the books.
- Visit a local history museum to learn about the earliest native and European inhabitants of your area.
- Look for examples of inaccurate depictions of colonial life in films, print, and holiday products. Collect these examples and create an "Inaccurate History" bulletin board.
- Invite a local Civil War re-enactor or other history re-enactor in to your classroom to discuss how they insure historical accuracy in their hobby.
About the Author:
Christopher W. Czajka is an Educational Consultant for COLONIAL HOUSE, and served as a Historical Consultant on Thirteen/WNET's FRONTIER HOUSE. He is also the Associate Director of the National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI), an educational initiative that teaches educators across the country strategies for incorporating PBS programming, instructional media, and emerging technologies into the classroom. To learn more about NTTI, and to explore more media-rich lessons, visit NTTI Online (www.thirteen.org/edonline/ntti).