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Teaching children about people and the changes they go through with time is imperative especially in the primary level. Children from K-3 should be made aware of their own existence, origin/culture and community in order to prepare them for higher levels of study. With this objective, lessons in Social Studies should introduce basic concepts of the self, family, community, and society.
This paper evaluates a Social Studies lesson plan for Grade One students. The rationale of this evaluation is to determine aspects of the lesson plan that address the needs of the target population.
Each part of the lesson, namely content, objectives, motivation, discussion/activity, and assessment is discussed individually to identify strengths and weaknesses of the plan. In particular, the evaluation focuses on the lesson plan’s suitability to the level and needs of the students, and its ability to enhance students’ learning styles, participation, development of thinking skills, empowerment, and parental involvement. At the end of each section, the author provides suggestions for improvement.
The lesson tackles the First Thanksgiving, a historical celebration that dates back to 1621, when the Pilgrims or the first settlers from England celebrated their first harvest in America. This event is historically important for it also marks the friendship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, the Native Americans from Rhode Island. History has it that the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, along with ninety men joined the celebration (Pilgrim Hall Museum, 2005; “Wampanoag,” n.d.), thus making the First Thanksgiving a memorable event for all Americans up to the present time.
Teaching students about the First Thanksgiving allows them to become aware of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. By knowing the first inhabitants of America, students develop the concept of community and society. Moreover, with this lesson, students gain understanding of the changes that people undergo through migration and enculturation. Notably, making them realize this is one of the aims of the NYSED Social Studies curriculum. In view of this, the choice of material for the lesson is very ideal. The story, “Happy Harvest Feast” (Teacher’s Friend, 2008) is very relevant to the main concepts to be learned, and contains other elements that are likewise significant to teaching Grade One students.
The story, “Happy Harvest Feast” teaches about the way of life and culture of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. Aside from the Thanksgiving celebration, it illustrates the values and relationship among the two cultures. It also elucidates a close family tie among them, thus inculcating the importance of family and respect for the elders. Additionally, it mentions the food that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags ate, and the kind of environment they lived in, which in a way promotes a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, it allows discussion of the clothes and ornaments they used, which help to better characterize their identity.
Further to the historical and cultural content of the story, “Happy Harvest Feast” also teaches about friendship and acceptance of others. These values are very important to help build connection among students, especially if the class is composed of students from diverse cultures. In addition, the main characters namely, Sarah, Little Doe, Strong Bear and John are little children just like the students who will read the story. This makes it easier for the class to relate with the experience of the characters.
The level of language is another consideration. Notably, the story makes use of easily comprehensible and conversational language, making it an ideal text for all, including those with language difficulty. Moreover, the text is suitable for readers’ theater or role-playing, thus allowing students to show their creativity and skill in dramatics.
Overall, the content of the lesson and choice of material are very appropriate to the level and needs of the students. The lesson plan considers diversity by teaching about different cultures, learning difficulties by using simple and comprehensible language, and empowerment by emphasizing camaraderie and acceptance.
However, some preparation should be done before the class. In particular, the plan should include an introduction of the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims, which should come at the beginning of the discussion or before the motivation part. These information may be gathered by students themselves in the form of a previous assignment to allow enhancement of learning strategies. Some questions that need to be addressed before the lesson are, “Who are the Pilgrims/Wampanoags?” “What is the origin of Thanksgiving?” and “Why do we celebrate it?” These questions would aid students to gain a background of the lesson, so as to help foster student participation during discussion.
Identifying the objectives of the lesson is very important to establish direction. It is a common knowledge that the objectives of the lesson should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). As such, we first evaluate the objectives according to these standards. The objectives of the lesson are as follows:
1. To develop an understanding of the colonial and Wampanoag cultures of the early 1600s
2. To compare and contrast lifestyles and the culture of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags.
3. To use technology tools to access, explore, and synthesize information about the Pilgrims, Plymouth colony, Wampanoags, and the first Thanksgiving
4. To demonstrate the ability to compare and contrast items and the culture of Thanksgiving between the past and present time periods.
The objectives mentioned above are specific. It is clear that the lesson aims to provide students with knowledge of the Pilgrims’ and the Wampanoags’ culture, and a comparison of the two. It also aims to teach students the importance of technology tools to aid in their study, thus providing means for varied learning strategies. On a different note, the objectives of the lesson are non-measureable for they do not specify the means by which they will be achieved. To make them measurable, evaluation tools should be indicated. In this regard, the objectives should read as such:
1. To develop understanding of the colonial and Wampanoag cultures of the early 1600s through discussion and answering worksheets
2. Compare and contrast lifestyles and the culture of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags using a Venn diagram
3. Use technology tools such as Smart board to access, explore, and synthesize information about the Pilgrims, Plymouth colony, Wampanoags, and the first Thanksgiving
4. To demonstrate the ability to compare and contrast items and the culture of Thanksgiving between the past and present time periods by analyzing elements of the story, “Happy Harvest Feast.”
On the question of being attainable, the objectives of the lesson would appear attainable if specific activity or measurement tools will be indicated as written above. As with being relevant, the objectives of the lesson are relevant to the level and needs of the students. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) Curriculum for Social Studies (1996) requires the teaching of people and the changes they undergo starting in the primary level. In this regard, the objectives of the lesson adhere closely to the standards set by the NYSED.
However, the use of technology tools other than the Smart board may be a little too advanced for Grade One students. Therefore, the plan should specify and limit these tools to only two; for instance, the Internet for advanced research on who the Pilgrims and Wampanoags are, and the Smart board for discussion purposes. On being time-bound, the lesson plan does not specify the time allotment for the lesson thus making it difficult to determine whether the objectives are time-bound or not.