Just prior to testing we started our unit on Colonial America by taking a look at Roanoke and Jamestown. During those lessons I incorporated technology by giving kids the chance to do their own exploration of the theories behind Roanoke and try their hand at establishing a colony at Jamestown.
Our next focus was Plymouth and the Puritan settlements. Monday we read about the two settlements, but I felt like I wanted to do something more to bring it to life for the kids. Instead of going the technology route, I decided to take a step back in time. I did a little research and found some blurbs in kid language about the religion and children's lives in Puritan colonial settlements. Our school also happens to have 4 random wooden benches like you might find in a meeting house. With the help of my aide and my boys (the girls were up in arms about that, but they understood later on), the benches were brought to the room and set up facing each other.
I had the students get their graphic organizers, pencils and clipboards out, and I started reading the blurbs about Puritan life. As I read I got more and more strict until the students were frozen and completely silent. I then directed them to move to the benches where they sat, backs straight, hands folded except when writing, in silence, required to show no emotion, while we went over our work from Monday. Those students who were "sinful" (laughed, showed emotion, slouched, spoke) were sent to the hallway for their punishment. Since switches are not allowed any more, their punishment, handed out by my aide, was standing straight (no leaning against the wall), holding all of their materials, and no talking. Those who stayed in the room were shocked and startled when I started smacking the clipboards with rulers to get them to sit up straight, look straight ahead, and show no emotion.
It was a hard lesson for me; I hated being cruel and uncaring to my students, but I wanted them to try to get an idea of what school was like for these children. It was a hard lesson for the kids as well; I could see on their faces as they moved from shock, to thinking it was funny, to sadness and back to shock. Once we ended the simulation, I asked, "So, what did you think?" The first reply I got was from a student who had tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said, "That was hard. It made me appreciate what things are like today."
We had a great conversation and covered so many different topics:
- the differences between girls and boys during this time
- whether or not punishment works
- how different we would be growing up in an environment where you were not allowed to show emotions
- having the right to express oneself
- the irony of the Puritans traveling for religious freedom and then persecuting those who believed differently
- what it means to be a child
- individual rights
- how people of the same faith (Christianity) can believe different things about God (vengeful vs. forgiving)
- the consequence of speaking out against the group
There is NO way I could have ever planned a lesson to cover all of those topics. These ideas came from my kids during an open discussion where they could reflect upon our experience. What I saw today is that technology is grand, but you don't need technology for great learning to happen. What you do need is an opportunity for students to reflect, share their thoughts, and have a voice. That is when the true magic happens.