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posted: Wed, Oct 29th, 2014

Students 'discover' 16th Century shipwreck

Project asks seventh-graders to use their knowledge in a unique way

“It's not just memorizing facts and events any more, it's what they mean and their implications,” said social studies teacher Marlene Lang, explaining how social studies instruction has changed and a recent project for her seventh-graders. 

The students learned about the exploration of the Americas during the 16th Century, with emphasis on the role of the Spanish in leading the race to stake out claims in the New World. The unit went far beyond who discovered what, however. It examined the very reasons for exploration and what life was like during this Age of Discovery. The classes also learned about the technological advances being widely adopted at the time that made sailing and navigation easier, including the magnetic compass, the astrolabe, and triangular sails. 

Inspired by a September news story about a Canadian archaeologist who had found a sunken ship in the arctic and a research assignment she found online, Ms. Lang designed a project for her classes that allowed them to show the depth of their learning about this important period in our history. She asked students to imagine themselves as archaeologists who had discovered a submerged 16th Century Spanish sailing ship and each list eight artifacts that were found.

Using their notes, textbooks, and resources from the Internet, the students researched and brainstormed. In their projects, they included sample images of the artifacts along with descriptions, details of their importance, and categorizations of their uses. Some of the artifacts that these young archaeologists found were Bibles, sugar cane, European weapons, gold and silver, and orders from a Spanish monarch explaining the procedures to follow if native populations were encountered.

“This project gave students the opportunity to think about what they had learned in a different way,” Ms. Lang said. “It put them into a real life scenario that pushed them to go beyond the everyday facts of history and show that they understood how the exploration of the Americas was happening. Social studies isn’t just about the ‘what’ any more.”

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Mount Olive Middle School
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