Lesson 1: Founding of the Colonies


Activity 1: America, The Story of Us

For this first activity, you'll watch the first episode of the History Channel's mini-series America: The Story of Us. It is titled "Rebels" and covers the colonial period of United States history.
Web Link
Often, when people watch television or a video online, they do so passively, just sitting back and enjoying the story without actively thinking about what they are viewing. When you watch episodes of America: The Story of Us as part of your homeschool social studies work, try to be an active viewer. Here are some tips for doing so:
  • Watch with curiosity about history. Ask yourself questions like, "Why did things turn out that way instead of some other way?" or "Where did the film's writers get their information?" or "How is the time period I'm learning about different from today and different from other time periods I've learned about?"
  • Think about the craft of film-making. Wonder why the film's director and editors made the choices that they made, how the special effects were created, or how the costumes and sets were designed.
  • Don't be afraid to hit the "pause" button. If you have a question, pause the film and ask a parent, look up more information online (with a parent's assistance and permission), or consult a book on the same topic.
  • Take notes as you view to remind yourself of things you'd like to know more about or important information that you've learned.
As you watch Episode 1, keep a pad of paper and a pencil handy. During this first episode, jot down notes about anything you learn while watching that is new information for you. When taking notes, don't worry about writing complete sentences or about grammar and spelling. It's fine to just write down a few words or a phrase to remind yourself of each new thing you've learned. For example, if you had never heard about the Lost Colony and wonder about theories about what happened to it, you could write "Roanoke — Lost Colony — What might have happened?" and that will remind you later that you had a question about the Lost Colony so that you can look up more information about that topic.

After you watch the first episode of America: The Story of Us, talk to a parent about what you found interesting about the video. Your parent will have some questions to discuss with you as well.
You may have noticed that, unlike the social studies programs of most middle schools, the U.S. history units of this level of Moving Beyond the Page do not use a traditional textbook. Textbooks usually provide a workable narrative of a large swath of history, but they may not be as engaging to read as living books or the real "meat" of history — primary sources written by the people who lived the history that students are studying. The survey of U.S. history presented at the 12-14 level incorporates numerous primary sources, mini-biographies, Internet-based resources, project-driven books, and books about specific topics in U.S. History. In order to provide a narrative of U.S. History that students can use as a frame of reference and provide some continuity throughout the year, we have selected the History Channel's 12-part mini-series America: The Story of Us as a companion resource that will be used throughout the social studies units.

For this activity, your child will watch "Rebels," the first episode of America: The Story of Us. You may want to watch the episode in advance of your child's viewing or watch each episode together with your child or as a family. Remember that viewing a documentary doesn't have to be a passive experience — your child will get a lot more out of each episode if he is thinking about what he already knows about each topic and viewing each segment with a critical eye and lively curiosity. Throughout the units, your child will be encouraged to take notes and think about questions while watching each segment of the mini-series. In this first episode, he is invited to keep a running list of new information that he is learning from the video. If you are watching with your child, be prepared to pause your viewing to answer any questions your child may have or to look up additional information in the other books used in the curriculum, on the Internet, or in reference books that you may have at home. You may also want to pause the video occasionally and ask your child to summarize the segment you just viewed or to predict what might happen next. This kind of active viewing experience can help your child learn as much as possible from the documentary.
After viewing this first episode, discuss some or all of the following questions with your child:
  • Why did the early colonists at Jamestown experience such early difficulties? (Settlers brought more technology for testing for gold than for growing food, and they made enemies of the native people quickly.)
  • What turned Jamestown from a disaster to a financial success? (Tobacco)
  • How were the settlers at Plymouth different from those at Jamestown? (They sought religious freedom instead of profit.)
  • What did the feast that became known as Thanksgiving celebrate? (A time of peace between native people and the colonists of Plymouth, after the colonists had supported a local tribe in their fight against a rival group.)
  • How do you think you would have felt about the British stationing troops in Boston if you lived there at the time? (Answers will vary.)
  • Why were trees important to the colonial and global economy? (Wood was a valuable commodity -- it could be used for building ships to support the British navy and shipping industry. As the video makes clear, wood drove the global economy the way that oil drives it today.)
  • How did Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre figure into the move toward revolution? (Soldiers firing into the unarmed crowd made for a powerful image, and as the image and the news of what had happened spread around the colonies, people were outraged.)
  • At Lexington, how did the two sides match up against each other? (The colonists were a small group of poorly trained, poorly equipped militiamen while the British army was the best trained force in the world. They outnumbered the colonists, had better equipment, had more training, and were more highly organized and experienced.)

Activity 2: Mapping the 13 Colonies

Materials: colored pencils or markers
In this activity, you'll label a map of the original thirteen colonies, highlighting their date of founding or the date when they became a royal colony and showing their locations in relation to the French and Spanish areas in North America. You'll find information about each colony and its founding in the timeline on pages vi to ix in Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself! The maps on pages 12 and 18 may also be useful in completing the "Mapping the 13 Colonies" page.
Student Activity Page
In this activity, your child will label a map of the original thirteen colonies, highlighting their date of founding and showing their locations in relation to the French and Spanish areas in North America. An answer key has been provided. Please note that in the cases of North Carolina and Georgia, the founding dates are somewhat ambiguous since North Carolina had earlier failed attempts at colonization and, in Georgia, there were scattered Spanish settlements before British settlements appeared. In the case of Pennsylvania, the founding date and royal colony date are the same, but the book doesn't make this crystal clear, so be prepared to clarify for your child as needed. You can find the locations of British, French, and Spanish territories on the map on page 12 of Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself!
Answer Key - Mapping the 13 Colonies