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What does it mean to be free in colonial America?

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This is an inquiry-based unit on colonial America for an 8th grade US history class, and my maiden voyage using the Smithsonian Learning Lab, the #C3Framework and #TeachingInquiry , and the guiding encouragement of my summer cohort, "Teaching Historical Inquiry with Objects."

For this entire unit, my students will be “in character" as American colonists -- from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland -- starting around the year 1763. In general, I hope to challenge my 8th graders to perceive a shifting constellation of connections, relationships, and identities that drive people's self-understanding as they decide whether to side with Loyalist or rebel colonists.

Our summative performance task will be a multi-day debate between rebel and Loyalist colonists, with "fence-sitter" journalists evaluating arguments.

Supportive Question 1: “How might physical geography influence your colonial life in 1763?"

I hope this helps my students begin to grasp how the daily lives and world views of American colonists varied greatly, both within a particular colony and between colonies. They will hopefully uncover this for themselves as they plant their colonial identity in a specific colony, and begin finding their physical bearings in a coastal port city or a more rural area. Our research should help us perceive how geographical location might have affected an American colonist's early experience and opinion of British rule.

Supportive Question 2: “How might British taxes and news of the Boston "Massacre" affect your colonial life in the early 1770s?"

Once planted in a particular “neighborhood", I hope my students will really begin developing their colonial character (complete with colonial name and occupation) as they begin researching and exploring the web of economic connections they might share within their colony, and between their colony and England. We will evaluate the cultural points of view behind British and colonial opinions about taxes in the colonies, as well as contrasting newspaper accounts of the Boston "Massacre" as it is reported in colonial and London newspapers.

Supportive Question 3: “Is it time to fight for freedom from Britain?"

By 1774, I hope students are enjoying walking around in their colonial shoes (and, perhaps, identify which of their classmates might have made those shoes). Hopefully, some will perceive points of creative tension within their colonial identity, where they find themselves feeling more “British" than they do elsewhere. The formative task here, however, will be to make those opinions plain. Students will compare and contrast excerpts of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Charles Ingliss' Loyalist response -- and begin to divide themselves (with some teacher intervention!) into rebel and Loyalist camps.

Spinning Wheel

National Museum of American History

Massachusetts Bay Colony House Interior

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Resources for Teaching American History: Colonial America

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Tall Case Clock

National Museum of American History

Pitcher, "Dr. John Hart"

National Museum of American History

Benjamin Franklin

National Portrait Gallery

Powder Horn

National Museum of American History

Ship Model, Colonial Sloop

National Museum of American History

David Rittenhouse Tall Case Clock

National Museum of American History

Bowl

National Museum of American History

The Colonial Governor

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Ship Model, Colonial Sloop

National Museum of American History

Interior Room of a 1684 Massachusetts House, NMHT

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Map of North and South America

National Museum of American History

Hall of Colonial Culture, NMNH

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Smithsonian in Your Classroom: Revolutionary Money

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Map of eastern North America

National Museum of American History

Hall of Colonial Culture, NMNH

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Sewing Machine Sperm Oil

National Museum of American History

William Bradford Cup

National Museum of American History

Fox and Geese Game Board

National Museum of American History

Massachusetts Bay Colony House Interior

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Map of North and South America

National Museum of American History

Powhatan

National Portrait Gallery

American colonial instrumental music [sound recording]

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Ship Model, Tobacco Ship Brilliant

National Museum of American History

Franklin printing press

National Museum of American History

Carpenter's Slide Rule by Bradburn & Son

National Museum of American History

Ship Model, Susan Constant

National Museum of American History

Diagonal Floral

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

The Groton

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

English oak chest

National Portrait Gallery

Surveyor’s Chain (1/2 Gunter)

National Museum of American History

The American Crisis

National Museum of American History

Sampler

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

French Damask

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

The Deerfield

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Communion Flagon

National Museum of American History

Franklin and Foxcroft rate chart

National Postal Museum

Stamp from the Stamp Act of 1765

National Postal Museum

A Massachusetts Shelf Clock, Aaron Willard, about 1820

National Museum of American History

Virginia, 15 Dollars, 1776

National Museum of American History

Bowl Fragment

National Museum of American History

Binding the Nation

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Caster Stand

National Museum of American History

United States, New England One Shilling, (1652)

National Museum of American History

Phillis Wheatley

National Portrait Gallery

Lewis Morris

National Portrait Gallery

The Wiley Family

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Joseph W. Faber

Smithsonian American Art Museum

No Stamp Act Teapot

National Museum of American History