Nelson County, Virginia
Special to NCL
By Bonnie Holliday
“Who really discovered America?” That was the question posed to the 5th and 6th grade classes at North Branch School on Wednesday, September 22, by the North Branch 7th and 8th graders. The middle school students, dressed in period costumes represented a variety of explorers, all claiming to be the person who really discovered America. While listening to the claims of Hoei Shin of China, Brendan the Bold of Ireland, a Norse trader named Bjarni Herjulfsson, Viking explorer Leif Ericson, Prince Madoc of Wales, Christopher Columbus who sailed on behalf of Spain, and Chief Howling Wind of the Cree Nation, the 5th and 6th graders took notes and asked questions.
Much of the discussion surrounded the definition of “discover,” as the students portraying explorers each defined the word in terms that strengthened their cases. It was up to the younger students to decide if Herjulfsson’s claim of having seen but not come ashore upon the new land trumped the claim of Leif Ericson who used Herjulfsson’s map to reach Newfoundland and the area that is now Cape Cod. Hoei Shin’s student attorney, who helped to make his case, claimed that the Native Americans had not discovered America when they migrated across the Bering Strait because they had not realized that what they were seeing was new nor did they tell anyone about it.
When the cases were closed and the 5th and 6th graders’ many questions answered, the polling took place. While Hoei Shin and Leif Ericson garnered several votes and Bjarni Herjulfsson and Prince Madoc had a few supporters, the majority of students sided with Chief Howling Wind’s claim that the Native Americans really discovered America.
“This unit is one of my favorites,” said 7th and 8th grade Humanities teacher, Katrien Vance, who portrayed Bjarni Herjulfsson. “Each student has to research the topic in depth in order to make a strong case on behalf of the explorer. They also have to be able to field the tough questions asked by the 5th and 6th graders. It gives them a chance to use resources, assimilate and organize information, and think on their feet.”
North Branch School in Afton was founded in1983 and enrolls students in preschool-8th grade.
North Branch School on the web: http://northbranchschool.wordpress.com/