The students in my 4/5th grade classroom at Mt. Pleasant Blythedale School have a great deal of responsibility. In addition to meeting the demands of everyday schooling, each pupil receives intense therapies on a daily basis as patients of the conjoined Blythedale Children’s Hospital. Our school is a community where students can learn as their bodies heal.
As part of the New York State Social Studies curriculum, all 4th and 5th graders learn about Colonial America. Students are asked to consider, “What did America look like, before it was America?”
At the beginning of the unit, I considered various ways to make a topic as complex and historic as the American Revolution relatable to a group of modern 4th graders.
Then, one morning our school principal approached me with an online resource to take a field trip into history. The first topic on the flier read: “For Crown or Colony: Put yourselves in the footsteps of a printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston.” I hit the jackpot.
After navigating the site briefly on my own, I was sure my students would love to take this virtual journey to Colonial Boston. With the help of this tool, they would encounter the Loyalists and Patriots they read so much about in class. Students could finally visualize (beyond the illustrations on a page) America as a burgeoning nation.
My class spent four exciting afternoons following around Nat Wheeler, a young apprentice trying to survive in unruly New England. Students were forced to make difficult decisions and complete harrowing tasks on their journey. They used Nat’s avatar to navigate through riots, protests, and angry demonstrations. Students made difficult choices about their loyalties and futures. They asked themselves, “Who is right in all of this chaos? Should the Patriots be upset by the imposition of taxes? Do the Loyalists have good reason to remain faithful to their King?”
When the mission was complete, my students ended their journey by choosing to have Nat cut his ties with the Patriots. They thought it would be best for him to leave the colonies and start a new life in London. Though this decision may seem unusual, students justified their reasoning. Life, they thought, would be more peaceful away from the colonies. Although they felt the Patriot’s fight was just, they couldn’t imagine living in the trenches of violence.
In the end, the students in my class benefited tremendously from the challenges they encountered on this digital field trip. This program inspired discussion and made a unique experience accessible in our classroom. Thanks to WNET, my students were able to witness life in America during a time of revolution and change.
Mission US: For Crown or Colony? http://www.mission-us.org/pages/landing-mission-1