The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

European Explorers

At the beginning of the year, I had the students in my class work in small groups to research different animals. It was a really great project with amazing results, so I decided to build on that by having the students work in different groups to research the early European explorers. They have been working on their projects for the past several weeks (nearly a month, in fact) and finally presented the research findings to the class today.

As with the animal inquiry projects, I gave the students the option of selecting their presentation method. Of the eight groups, all but one decided to do PowerPoint presentations. The one group chose to make a poster, instead. Because the groups wanted to do PowerPoints, it meant that we had to spend a lot of time in the computer lab. Fortunately, the lab has been available during the times we wanted to use it on Tuesdays. Most of the students have been working hard whenever we were in the lab, but there were others who were not using their time as wisely. I have moved the deadline for the project presentations three times because of those who were working and wanted to really research, but today I decided that enough was enough. Every group but one was finished, and the one group that wasn’t was the only group that had been using their time in the lab for less important reasons. (They quickly changed what they were doing as soon as they realised that they had to present their project to the class today!)

Before starting the research project, we talked about exploration in general and the question of why people chose to explore. Some of the reasons given were finding new land, do something new/exciting, learn about other people, find money/gold, escape, and just to see what could be found. Then we focused on the explorers from Europe and I asked the class why we would be focusing on them. After some reflection, the students brought up that none of us would be here in the United States if it were not for those particular explorers. If we want to know about where we live, we need to know how we got here.

Finally we got down to the most basic question for the research project: who were the European explorers? The students made a list of names (with considerable help from yours truly) and then someone pointed out something they found slightly off-putting: all of the European explorers were men! One student, who had done a considerable amount of reading over the summer, brought up that Isabella of Castile was at least influential in European exploration, so we added her to the list. The students then divided up into small groups and began researching. I started them with a ThinkQuest site I found and then they were off and running!

Despite the vast number of Explorers from which to choose, the inquiry groups focused on a small set: Prince Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and Isabella. While the groups have found useful information about these few explorers (we are including Isabella, even though she herself was not an explorer), there are still many more they need to learn about. I am going to have them return to the ThinkQuest site next week and work through the entire site and then use the Games link to assess their understanding. I’m interested to see what else they will learn!


5 responses

  1. This project sounds very interesting. I wish I had known you were doing it, I would have loved talking with you about it. I could have given you the names of several female explorers. One interesting thing you might have taught them is that European explorers were very different in their motivation and methods than explorers in other cultures, which is one reason why so much of the world is deeply influenced by European cultures.

    I still remember doing this kind of thing in the 5th grade when I was but a tow-headed tyke in Ms. Oswald’s (fresh out of college and still in braces when we met) class. We used colored chalk to make presentations on one section of the chalk board. My group did a picture of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. I can still see them in my mind’s eye, so it must have been a profound experience.

    I am glad, Alex, that you seem to disprove so many of my assumptions about public education with what you do. Keep up the good work.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm

  2. Were the female explorers from Europe? All the research I did (limited as it was), produced not a single name. Would you be interested in coming in to talk to the class on a Tuesday afternoon, any time between 1 and 3?

    November 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  3. The particular ones I had in mind were actually Australian. You may recognize the name of Olive Pink, who was a scientific explorer. Unfortunately, Tues, 1-3 is a bit difficult. I have class at PC at 3, and those are usually my scramble and prep hours. But let’s talk further in the future–I would not mind at all being involved in your class in any way you would consider productive.

    November 16, 2011 at 6:08 am

  4. Ah, okay. She was a bit later. The specific period we are studying is the Age of Exploration (15-17th centuries). It would be great to tie in how the early explorers influenced future explorers, though. We shall definitely talk and see if we can come up with a plan that would work. I would love to have a real historian come in and share with the class!

    November 16, 2011 at 6:28 am

  5. The way I approach it in my class is to talk about the historical explorers in the context of “culture” of exploration–all the many ways and places people explore from the Pacific Islanders with their wave maps to Robyn Davison who crossed Australia on a camel and that guy that sailed the coastline of Canada in a Kayak. What kinds of things drive explorers to explore? What do they say? How do they contribute to what people know about the places they find? All such questions. Let’s chat.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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