Understanding Christopher Columbus: A Collection of Teaching Resources

October 3rd, 2013 | by Michelle Manno
Understanding Christopher Columbus: A Collection of Teaching Resources
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Christopher Columbus Statue

If you ask anyone in the United States what they know about Christopher Columbus, you’re likely to get one response: In fourteen-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Learning about Columbus is a cornerstone of American history education, focusing on his important contributions to our nation’s history and culture (and singing songs about it.) But Christopher Columbus is important for more reasons than a catchy rhyme and giving us a day off from work and school. Columbus, an Italian explorer, is responsible for discovering the new world.

A Lesson in U.S. History

Teaching students about Columbus, especially in lower grades, provides them with a foundation of U.S. and World History and Geography, and teaches them about what it means to be an explorer. Regardless of whether or not you discuss Columbus’ controversies with your students, Columbus played a pivotal role in the history and future of nation. Here are some resources for teaching your students about Columbus’ cultural significance:

  • Columbus Day Activities – ReadWriteThink’s Columbus Day clearinghouse provides teachers with lessons, classroom activities, and resources for teaching students about the importance of October 8th. Activities include having students create their own Book of Privileges – modeled after Christopher Columbus’ Book of Privileges – to highlight accomplishes and rewards they have recently received.
  • Columbus Day Teacher Resources – BrainPOP Jr.’s Columbus Day offers background information and suggested activities to teachers teaching about Columbus for grades K-3. Activities include teaching students the importance of map making in exploration by helping them to create a map of their school, classroom, or home.
  • Columbus Day Activity Set – Scholastic provides teachers with a number of activities, lessons, and resources needed to turn Columbus Day into a day of “teachable moments.” Activities include having students participate in a Christopher Columbus Web Hunt, teaching them about exploration while exploring the web.

Controversial Columbus

Much debate surrounds the true honor of Christopher Columbus. While viewed as a great navigator and explorer, history suggests that his voyages had detrimental effects to American culture, including playing a part in the growth of the transatlantic slave trade. When teaching your students about Christopher Columbus, it is important to provide them with a well-rounded account of his travels that displays both sides of the man who “discovered America.” Below are some resources on how to teach your students about the controversies of Columbus.

  • E! True Hollywood Story: Christopher Columbus – Take a creative approach to assessment. Assign projects that allow students to display their comprehension of Columbus’ legacy.
  • “The Real Story of Columbus” – Using educational videos and documentaries in the classroom can act as an effective teaching tool, especially in lessons aimed high school and postsecondary students. History.com’s video highlights the truth behind Columbus’ voyage to what he thought was Asia.
  • Reconsider Columbus Day – This PSA is part of a national campaign that aims to create a nationally recognized holiday that shifts the focus off of Christopher Columbus and instead pays tribute to those who are indigenous to the land.
  • Investigating the Legacies of Exploration and Colonization – This NY Times Learning Network lesson plan discusses the controversies and celebration of Columbus Day, focusing on the Columbus Day Parade protests in Denver, CO.

Columbus’ voyage is a historical event with far-reaching effects and implications, even into contemporary culture. This year, use the upcoming holiday (Monday, October 14th) as a way to teach your students about the importance of Christopher Columbus, besides him giving you a three-day weekend.

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