Saturday, January 2, 2010

Building a Colony

December 11, 2009

Our Town

As part of their study of life in colonial North America, the 5th grade class is in the process of assembling a model village complete with houses, a town green, and public buildings. Each edifice in the three-dimensional display conforms to an accurate scale model, has been colored to match the hues that would have been used at the time, and includes details such as chimneys, porches, and sheds. Even more engaging than the technical and visual appeal of the village is the elaborate story that ties all the elements together. The paper houses were built by students to represent the homes of fictional colonists, and every colonist has a full biography. Earlier in the unit, Mr. Sucich presented a list of occupations that would have been practiced by the citzens of an 18th century New England town. Following the lesson, each student chose one of the professions as the basis for an alter-ego. The children investigated their jobs, learned about the possible daily activities of their characters, and began creating identities.

The town includes booksellers, blacksmiths, glassworkers, tavern owners, wigmakers, and other artisans and tradespeople. The housing styles vary to show the relative income of the inhabitants as well as the variation in architecture that would have existed at the time. Many of the homes include trade signs to indicate the work of their residents. Mr. Sucich noted that as the children expanded their biographies, they established connections with others. Neighborhoods and affinity groups have emerged as the town has grown. One student approached Mr. Sucich with a question about whether or not there would have been Jewish members in communities such as this one; upon finding out was that there were indeed Jews and people of other religions in the colonies, a few children decided to build their homes near one another and create their own congregation. This spontaneous choice ties in directly with the lessons the children have learned about why people chose to leave England and pursue religious freedom in North America.

Other housing locations were determined based on geography or natural resources: the blacksmith’s house is near the water, for example. The meeting house and other communal buildings will be centrally located along the town green and will be made by students whose houses are finished. As the town comes together and as the stories are completed, the students are literally building their knowledge of the details of colonial life as well as the ways in which a community grows and develops.

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