Friday, September 9, 2016

Social Institutions of the United States: Change Over Time Starting with the Colonial Era

     As young historians, students examine change over time beginning with the earliest days of European colonization in North America. State standards highlight that students should be able to describe the development of social and political institutions.

What are social and political institutions?
People are different in every era.  Our modern social beliefs and norms evolved over time and they're connected to our nation's past. Who we are today is related to who we were in the past. Investigating the social beliefs and norms of the colonial era allows students to understand “what life was like long ago”, thereby providing historical context so students can explain how we have changed over time. Socially, we want students to explore a variety of social beliefs and norms. This might involve investigating gender roles, norms for adults or children, and the creation of class systems in our past and present.    We also want students to recognize that different beliefs have always been a part of our society and they have also changed over time. Scientific beliefs and practices have changed over have religious beliefs and practices. Events such as the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening provide unique insight into our nation's scientific and religious history. Through a social lens, students are able to understand that we have modern social beliefs and norms that have changed over time...and the present is connected to the past. Some things change, some things stay the same. (Think about ordering A Day in the Life to help students develop social context of the colonial era.)
Second, we have developed beliefs and norms related to governing ourselves. Historians describe this as political change over time. Today, we have certain political beliefs such as 1) a limited government elected by the people and informed by the people, 2) embracing conflict and compromise as we collaborate to create political change, 3) government guided by a constitution, and 4) a balance of power and authority grounded in checks and balances.  Our beliefs of today have evolved over time and they’re connected to our nation’s past. In the past, the Mayflower Compact was one of the first forms of collective agreement established so citizens would be connected around common beliefs, rules and laws.  In colonial New England, there was little distinction between faith and community. Therefore, meetinghouses were built by the communities and used by everyone for both religious worship and town business related to governing citizens. This reflects the beginning of a democracy. For many colonies, the election of officials began to take place...a practice that was new and elevated the value of citizen input in government.  The way we operate today evolved over time.  To facilitate students in learning about this form of change over time, we look at the colonial era through a political lens.

What does this look like with 5th graders?
As teachers, we are going to pull as many primary sources as possible. Primary sources are at the heart of history instruction. Here are some ways to use primary and secondary sources to help students understand social and political change over time:

Questions to Guide Inquiry:

  • What social and political institutions (customs, beliefs, and norms) existed for people of North American in the 15th-17th centuries? How and why did they develop and change over time?
  • Why do historians use primary and secondary sources to construct understanding of the past?

  1. Students use a secondary source to investigate the big picture of life in the past with the book If You Live in Colonial Times by Ann Mcgovern. Students use different portions of the book to explain how life has changed over time and why.
  2. Students investigate the roles of men, women, and children in the past with the secondary sources in this lesson (Lesson: What was everyday life like in colonial Virginia?) Discuss how roles have changed over time and why.
  3. Students investigate social class in the colonial era with the primary and secondary sources (Social Class in Colonial America). Teachers might also use this site
  4. Students investigate a year in the life of a colonial farmer with a primary source (A Year in the Life of Thomas Minor). The language is tough but students can get the gist of this citizen's patterns of life. Students compare this person's patterns with the yearly patterns of a modern citizen or farmer and discuss how things have changed over time and why. 
  5. Students investigate rules of the past with this primary source (Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation). Discuss how rules have changed over time and predict why. 
  6. Students investigate one community's rules through primary sources (Rules, Rules, Rules). Today, we create rules for different communities. Students might describe how rules have changed over time and why. 
  7.  Students investigate communication in the past with this lesson using primary sources (Colonial Newspapers and Communication). Analyze the sources and discuss the topics that were "newsworthy" in the past versus today. Discuss how we share information today versus in the past. Discuss why these changes have taken place.
  8. Students investigate the items that people have in their homes through this lesson using probate inventories (How do we know about Colonial life?) Discuss what we might infer about the daily life from analyzing the inventories. Students create a list of what they have in their home and discuss what it tells them about life today. Discuss why things have changed over time.
  9. Students investigate how students new to a culture are educated through this primary source based lesson (Indian Boarding School). Discuss what school looks like today for students new to the United States. Discuss why things have changed over time.
  10. Students investigate medicine and science of the past by examining primary source artifacts. (Explanation of Apothecary and make sure you access the slideshow at the bottom of the page).  Students explain how the tools and approaches to medicine have changed over time and why. This is AWESOME!
  11. Students investigate how our knowledge of science and our response to illness has changed over time. Use this primary source lesson on Smallpox Inoculation
  12. Students investigate the Salem Witch Trials with this dot game from TCI. In the past, people were questioned if they had beliefs that differed from common religious beliefs. Today, we try to have a society that separates church and state. The way we address differences in belief looks different today as compared to the past.

What skills or discipline-specific thinking practices might I elevate?
Our goal in education is to create experiences so students practice the skills and thinking practices of real-life practitioners. In this case, we often land on the skills and thinking practices of historians. With the above resources, some skills and thinking practices include:

  • Analyze and gather evidence from primary and secondary sources. (When analyzing these sources, students are either transfer and reapplying reading skills or incorporating analytical processes. See my blog post on Traditional Literacy and Visual Literacy for guidance on how to do this.)
  • Create timelines. (Students can create a simple timeline that shows the social and political aspects of past and the present. Students might also add predictions about the future if they want.)
  • Explain why social and political institutions change over time. ("Institutions" are norms, beliefs, and structures we've created as people in a society. Therefore, students are explaining how our social and political norms and beliefs have changed over time. There are so many options for kids showing this in creative ways including creating short videos and skits.)

How can I extend this learning and ask students to transfer this concept in authentic ways?
Social education is based in developing students who are going to be educated, involved citizens in our communities. We might consider some of the ways that we might make this learning relevant. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Invite members of a homeless shelter to come speak with the class.  Find out about challenges they face in supporting homeless people and how people can become involved in change. Use this as an opportunity to help kids consider the actions they might take to be part of social change.
  • Invite a social worker to come in and speak with the class about challenges faced by people of diverse ethnicities. Use this as an opportunity to help kids consider the ways they might share ideas and influence change.
  • Invite a local leader to come in and speak about the value of parks and community centers in people's lives. Encourage these leaders to talk about their future projects and how they hope those future projects support social development for the people in a community.
  • Invite some grandparents into the classroom to speak about their life experiences and how they've noticed social change over time. Use this as a launching off point to ask students, "When you look at the world today, what social changes do you think need to take place? What steps can you take to influence change that matters to you?"

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