LESSON

Pre-Columbian Native Peoples and Technology

The purpose of this lesson is for students to grapple with three separate definitions: primitive, civilized (civilization), and technology.  Students examine or re-examine their own definitions of these words and how these words define what they understand about Pre-Columbian native culture. The objective is to help students determine their own point of view.
Grade Level

Objectives

“Pre-Columbian Native Peoples and Technology” is designed to help students:

  • reflect on the definitions of primitive, civilized, and technology and use these definitions as vehicles to examine misconceptions or biases about Pre-Columbian Native Peoples;
  • explore what technologies Pre-Columbian Native Peoples were using prior to “discovery” by European explorers, and
  • use new knowledge to determine whether you now consider Pre-Columbian Native peoples to be primitive or civilized.
Essential Questions
  • What does it mean to be civilized?
  • What is civilization?
  • What do you need to be civilized?
  • What are the elements of civilization? 
Materials

Framework

As the story goes, in 1492 Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailor on hire for the Spanish, landed on the island of Hispanola and the world was never the same.  While it is generally accepted that Columbus did not “discover America” (since there were already people living in the land that would become known as the Americas) it is generally accepted that his contact with the Native People of Hispanola and the later European movement brought technology and civilization to the Americas. 

 

Procedures

1. Notice the word, primitive, is written on the board. Individually, list the first four words you think of when you hear this word. Then, in pairs, share your words. Talk about why those words came to mind. Any surprises? As a class, share a few of your words and why those words pop up. 

2. Next, place the word civilized on the board next to primitive. Individually, again list the first four words that you think of when you hear the word, civilized. Then, with your same partner, share your words. Talk about why those words came to mind. Any surprises? As a class, share a few of your words and why those words pop up. 

3. Next, place the word technology on the board beside civilized and primitive. Again, individually, list the first four words that you think of when you hear the word technology. Then, with your same partner, share your words. Talk about why those words came to mind. Any surprises? As a class, share a few of your words and why those words pop up. 

4. Think about which word of the three do you associate with most: technology or primitive or civilized?Individually, complete Handout 1: Primitive or Civilized? It is recommended that you complete the handout alone first and then discuss your results in small teams, testing your hypotheses against the hypotheses of others. As a class, discuss the results of the handout.  (Note: All 12 questions could have the same answer: civilized.)  

5. As a jigsaw activity, divide the accomplishments listed on Handout 2: “The Truth About Native Americas” into sets of three (e.g., 1-4 = Set A, 5-7 = Set B & 8-11 = Set C) and then divide the class into three large expert teams (A, B, C). Each team is assigned one of the three sets (e.g., Set A). Depending on the class size, consider creating smaller groups for the expert teams. Each expert team then works together to understand and discuss the accomplishments in its specified set. Remember each member will need to “retell” what you learned to your peers. Respond to these questions:

  • Does this seem like the actions and accomplishments of primitive or civilized societies?  Why do you think so? 
  • Would technology have to be used to create many of the inventions and accomplishments?  Does that make them more or less civilized? 
  • From what you know of European culture and customs of the 1492 time period would you guess that native cultures were as civilized, less than, or more than their European counterparts?  Why?

When finished, the expert teams regroup to form a new team of three, which has one member from Set A, Set B and Set C. In the new team, each peer has different information to share. Now, take turns sharing what you learned about the accomplishments you discussed. Finally, based on what you learned, revisit the question: What does it mean to be civilized?

 

Assessment

Your goal is to make a case that Pre-Columbian Native peoples were in fact civilized. You are to assume the role of a historian. You need to convince other historians who believe that Pre-Columbian Native people were primitive. The challenge involves dealing with long-held misconceptions. You need to develop a PowerPoint presentation so that your case is understood visually and orally. A successful result will include making a clear, cogent and convincing argument and a visually engaging PowerPoint presentation.

 

Extension Activity

Investigate a local native nation to discover what tools and technology they used. Some possible starting points for your exploration might be: How were native children were raised? How were they educated? How did natives in a specific area control the environment? How did they use technology?