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Native American Living Then and Now

School: Mary O. Pottenger School

City/State: Springfield, MA

Grade(s): 3

Format(s): Book: Nonfiction/Informational

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Visual Arts

Project Overview

This book was created by 3rd graders at the Mary O. Pottenger Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts as part of a three-month Learning expedition on Native Americans in New England.

Students explored stereotypes of Native Americans; the daily lives of pre-colonial Northeastern woodland tribes; and the lives of contemporary Native Americans. Throughout the duration of the expedition, Native American culture was woven into all subject areas, and students were supported to produce quality artistic products using a variety of traditional crafts used by local Native Americans. 

The Learning expedition also addressed issues of stereotypes in history and in the present – including stereotypes that affected the lives of the students in this multi-ethnic classroom. Because the teacher herself was Native American, issues of past and present stereotypes of Native Americans could be addressed with personal investment and connection, creating a forum for students to consider and address how ethnic stereotypes affect their vision, their lives, their families, and the school community.

In particular, stereotypes in the U.S. about Native Americans, particularly among young students, is that they are an historic race, either extinct or living an old-fashioned traditional life somewhere – there is not much awareness of modern Indian culture. This book documents pre-colonial native life in the Northeast U.S., but adds a section on each page about how those features of life look for today’s Indian peoples.

Students studied content about pre-colonial Native peoples through traditional historical research and through fieldwork, working with local experts and examination of artifacts. Fieldwork included a trip to the living history museum, Mashantucket Pequot, in Connecticut. This fieldwork was essential to Native American Living because it provided powerful and memorable imagery that students could then use to create and critique their own representations of Native American life.

The final product captures student representations of many important aspects of Wampanoag culture. Each student created his or her own illustration page for the magazine and described the artwork with a well-written caption.  

Students used peer critique and multiple drafts for their writing and art projects. 

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • The drawings are very well done – instructional and compelling for kids
  • Student writing is carefully done and corresponds well to the drawing
  • Demonstrates how careful illustration can be an effective way to demonstrate understanding of content
  • The format of a magazine works well and is engaging
  • The simple layout is engaging to look at. Highlights the power of fieldwork and working with outside experts

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write an informative/explanatory text.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use the writing process to plan, revise and edit my writing.
  • I can sort evidence into provided categories.
  • I can use grammar conventions to send a clear message to a reader or listener.
  • I can use conventions to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I can compare how people use language when they write versus when they talk.
  • I can accurately use 3rd grade academic vocabulary to express my ideas.
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