The excerpt above was taken from a speech given by Barack Obama to NASA in 2009 regarding space exploration in the 21st century. Whether you like the idea of expanding NASA's budget or not, the President got to some deep understandings of explorations of any kind. That is, he makes it clear that exploration can lead to growth in size and power. And, while exploration may not result in positive outcomes all of the time, the fact that exploration can lead to progress is certainly true.
Now, let's step back for a minute.
One thing that teachers always try to do is make content relevant to students today. It's important as a history teacher, that I help students make connections between the past and the present. So, when introducing my European Exploration unit, I wanted students to walk away understanding what exploration might mean for a nation today.
NOTE: While I want them to understand that exploration on a large-scale can lead to greater progress, I also want them to understand that when they explore (or try new things), they too can grow and learn. So, I infuse this concept into my lesson as well.
Another thing that good teachers do is try to "hook" their students in some way so that they become interested in the content being taught.
Furthermore, a major historical thinking skill is to be able to analyze primary sources to understand historical events. And, while this can sometimes be a painstaking task for students, it's actually possible to make it somewhat engaging!
So, with those things in mind, I set out to create a lesson using President Obama's speech to set up the important lessons from the Age of European Exploration.
I changed a few words/phrases from Obama's speech to come up with this excerpt:
Then, I gave the students a copy of this adjusted speech and had them analyze it using the ACAPS method. ACAPS is a way to analyze a source by figuring out its Author, Context, Audience, Purpose, and Significance. Students can usually come up with something like, "a Spanish king wrote this a long time ago to sailors to encourage them to explore new lands in the hopes of expanding their empire."
Then, once we thoroughly discuss this document, and the students think they've "figured it out", I hand them Obama's actual words. It's at this point when most of the students realize that they've been tricked. When they figure it out, they "can't believe" I would do that to them! Some of them say that they "knew all along", and still others need to be told straightforward that the first source was a fake.
Lastly, I ask them to analyze the real primary source. While the author, context, audience, and purpose have changed, what they notice is that the significance is largely the same: Exploration can lead to expansion and power. They see the connection. It's more relevant to them. They're hooked. And they did it while working on analyzing primary sources.
To see the full excerpt I used and to purchase this lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers, click here.