Lesson: Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?
Subjects: Language Arts, Literature, Geography, History
Grades: 6-8, 9-12
Students use inquiry-based learning to gather information about Columbus's impact on the Americas. They use this information to answer the question of whether a fictitious community should continue to recognize Columbus Day.
use information literacy skills to evaluate the reliability of source material on Columbus,
use problem-solving skills to create a solution to an ill-constructed problem that has no clear right or wrong answer,
work in cooperative teams to gather information, discuss a problem, and come to a conclusion.
research, evaluation, collaboration, media literacy, Columbus, debate
a wide variety of literature or history texts with background information on Columbus
Internet access (optional)
Explain to students that they have been hired by town officials to consider whether the town should continue to recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. In recent years, protests from Native American groups have increased and town officials have been under increasing pressure to stop celebrating Columbus Day. Those groups argue that Columbus's legacy is one of murder and theft and is not worthy of memorializing. On the other hand, many other community members feel it is unfair to judge the morality of a man who lived 400 years ago by today's standards. They argue that Columbus was a man of his times, when expansion and conquest were accepted as normal. They further argue that even if Columbus was not a moral icon, it is really the spirit of adventure, exploration, and innovation that we celebrate on Columbus Day.
Tell students that in the course of their research they will have to determine exactly how much is known about Columbus and what he did. They will have to evaluate the actions of the man and the results of his actions (i.e., present-day American culture). Finally, they will have to decide the best course of action the town can take to resolve the conflict between its residents.
Tell students to divide their conclusions into three sections:
Summary of the issues. Students should summarize the basic arguments for and against the continuance of the Columbus Day holiday. They should support each argument with specific evidence from research.
Possible options. Students should describe in detail a minimum of three options to resolve the conflict within the town. They should provide an explanation of how each option would satisfy and not satisfy the groups on both sides of the argument.
Final recommendation. In two or three paragraphs, students should give a final recommendation. They should also include an explanation of why they selected that particular option, the pros and cons of that selected option, and an explanation of why the option selected is the best of all possible options.
Have students work in groups to put together an action plan. The action plan should list:
Tell students to submit the action plans by the end of the first day. Grade each group based on how detailed the plan is and on the quality of the questions.
where to look to find the answers to the questions (the Internet is not always the best place);
who will gather the information for each question and deadlines for completing research;
what outside texts group members will read;
a detailed description of what the group will do on each day of the one-week project;
who will do the actual writing; this should probably be more than one person and the entire group should discuss what is going to be written;
Tell students that each group should hand in its final report and "division of labor" sheet by the end of the week. The division of labor sheet should list what each group member did on the project and should look similar to the information provided in the plan of action. The information in this document should reflect whether each group member met his or her responsibilities within the group.
Tell students that each group may send one member to the computer center or library during class time. Point out that, although they can find an enormous amount of information about Columbus on the Internet, they should not use only the Internet for their research. Some Web sites that might be useful include:
Because this was the first major assignment of the year and many students were unfamiliar with this type of project, many had trouble understanding exactly what I expected. I strongly suggest creating a model (perhaps on a related but separate topic) or displaying a student project example from a previous year to give the students an idea of the required format.
Evaluate students on the written quality of the final project. Additionally, consider the quality and depth of the questions asked and the students' ability to provide answers.
Trevor Shaw, St. Benedict's Prep, Newark, N.J.
Last updated 10/04/2011
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