Native American Residents and European Explorers: How Did Cultural Exchange Occur?

By: Tom Malone

How did cultural exchange occur between Native American residents and European conquerors upon first contact?

This is the question I want my students to tackle. By utilizing documents and artifacts from both sides of the cultural exchange, students will be able to develop a multi-perspective viewpoint on European/Native American contact as opposed to the Eurocentric viewpoint that most students in the U.S. experience.

For this academic adventure, students will look at European exploration documents (Columbus’ journal entries, European artists’ depictions of initial contact, financial records, etc.) and Native American resident documents (Aztec interpretations, oral history that has since been written, paintings depicting a Native American perspective, etc.). Students will explore an equal number of European and Native American documents. These documents will not be nation-specific, but will look at contact across the North American and South American Atlantic Coast.

The exercise will allow students to develop a more complete view of this segment of history by developing perspectives from various lenses. Students can explore narratives from both sides, find textual and visual evidence to show these statements, and interpret these observations in order to develop their worldview more completely.

Through group discussions and written analysis, students will be able to share their experiences with these documents and artifacts.

A Reflection on Learning

I have always been a ‘fly by the seat kind of guy’ so at first, the concept of a lesson study seemed pointless to me. This viewpoint changed slightly however, once I realized how effective it was to have other people look over the lesson that you plan to teach.

Grouping up a fellow student who held a similar lesson was an incredibly informative experience, and I learned a number of things that would never have occured to me if I simply wrote up my lesson and then presented it. I plan on modifying my already existing lesson plan to include the tips and advice that was given to me during this time. Unfortunately, once we stopped our one on one meetings the overall concept began to drag. Far too much time was spent simply listening to other groups talking, and many times they were talking about lessons that had no common ground with my own, and while there was some discussion between multiple groups I feel as though there could have been more. One way this could have improved was to space out student presentations, or simply stop them after 5 or so minutes, that way we would not have been overwhelmed by what was going on.

I do think that working with peers is a very effective way to improve our lessons (as seen through my lesson improving during our one on one meetings) but I feel that working with peers, in the sense of an entire classroom, would have been much more effective if we were given a lesson before hand, made a lesson plan for that, and then discussed that all having something in common.

As an absolute overall, I think that this lesson gives a unique insight as to what many of us believe students should do, and while there are some that are more creative than others (tug of war for example) I believe that we are all desperately trying to convey history to our students in an active and engaging way that does not rely on simple and inane lecturing, One other aspect that comes to light due to this lesson is the dedication of each student teacher, it becomes obvious from listening each person speak that they put true effort into their study, and that is a very heartening pattern to see.

A Reflective Lesson

This week, our class focused on creating a ‘lesson study.’ Each lesson was supposed to relate to a possible topic that we might be teaching in the near future. After meeting with a partner that had a similar topic, we discussed strengths and weaknesses of the potential lessons. Everyone seemed to have put a lot of thought into the general idea of their lesson which spawned a great classroom discussion.

Throughout the discussion process, I took so many notes about awesome future projects that I could tweak to meet my class’s needs. For example, I really like the idea of Levels of Questioning which gets students involved in creating their content objectives. (Level 1- basic content such as who, what, when; Level 2- How or why questions; Level 3- the generative question or “In your opinion…” question that asks students to reason and provide evidence.) Another idea that I want to think more about for American history was the Mock Congress idea. It seems daunting to deal with those logistics but that’s what colleagues are for!

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Image from Mr. Volk’s Mad Science Website at Drake Middle School

This class is full of awesome ideas as well as some great future social studies teachers. I feel confident in others’ opinions and advice. Everyone is so willing to listen and contribute to the conversation. In terms of this last assignment, my partner definitely helped me think about some futures issues with my lesson study but, at the same time, delivered constructive criticism.

Overall, this project let me think about the more important components of putting together a lesson. I think this assignment worked well so that the class could generate new thoughts and ideas about what is necessary for student learning. I look forward to doing this when we have actual lesson plans to come up with.

Perspectives

I completed this assignment while simultaneously writing my lesson plan, and I discovered that this process really helped me to focus and shape my lesson plans. By writing down the steps and goals of my lesson in a format more recognizable to me, I was able to clearly express those in my formal lesson plan. Besides narrowing my ideas, this assignment also helped me to examine critical pieces of the lesson (content, process, etc.) In this way I was able to objectively examine my lesson, and to visualize it from an outside perspective.

The most valuable experience however was when we brought in our lesson studies to class, and got to discuss them with our peers, it was helpful since we haven’t really gotten much time at all to share our ideas and strategies with the other students in the program. This assignment allowed us to do that, and using specific details from our teaching moments. Most everyone in the program have very good ideas and I would like to be able to continue to exploit that resource. There are also those who have much different strategies than I do, and I really like to see how other individuals approach teaching. I think it would be valuable to utilize the small groups more, as I can really gain an insight into the others’ strategies. Reconvening into a large class was nice, so we could hear what everyone was doing, but it wasn’t as revealing.

As a final piece to the assignment, I really think that reflection is very important for the learning process. In the moment of execution, I can list what went right or wrong, but I cannot clearly say why they went in either direction. It is important to take a moment and reflect on the experiences and actions of those moments, to achieve the greatest clarity possible.