Rob Cuddi teaches fifth-grade social studies at Winthrop Middle School in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Located four miles north of Boston, on a peninsula that extends into Boston Bay, Winthrop is one of the oldest towns in the United States and one of the first areas to be settled. Its proximity to the ocean, downtown Boston, and Logan Airport make Winthrop the third most densely populated city in America, with a population of 20,000 living within one square mile.
Winthrop was originally an island, and this contributes to the city's small-town feel. Winthrop Middle School reflects the surrounding tight-knit community. Most students come from white, middle-class families; many of their parents and grandparents went to the school. There is a small but growing minority population.
Mr. Cuddi began the year with a unit on the Native Americans, comparing the still-undeveloped landscape of the "New World" with the relatively sophisticated societies of the "Old." Students kept a learning log -- a working portfolio -- in which they recorded essential questions. The essential questions guided the study of each lesson. They were tied to the standards and focused on economics, government, discrimination, religion, and the origins of personal rights and individual freedoms. The learning logs provided a means of documenting students' predictions and answers to those essential questions and helped students make connections among units throughout the year.
The lesson "Explorers in North America" fell within a unit on the early explorers. By the time they started this lesson, Mr. Cuddi expected his students to be familiar with the political and economic climate of pre-colonial Europe. He wanted students to be able to distinguish the different forms of government in existence at the time, to recognize the economic incentives that drove explorers to seek new routes to Asia, and to understand the fierce competition that existed between countries. A unifying theme throughout the year was comparative governments and the relationship between a system of government and the economic motivations that guide its actions.
Mr. Cuddi also integrated science with his social studies curriculum by conducting an ongoing study of the impact of humans on the environment in the New World. He integrated language arts with social studies by incorporating the use of learning logs and literary devices, such as haikus and couplets. He worked with his class to develop rubrics for all activities, connecting performance expectations to the essential questions that introduced each lesson.
After the unit on the early explorers, the class went on to study the early settlers, once again using essential questions to focus on issues of government, economics, religion, and the environment, and on the relationship between the explorers and first people to settle the New World.
Lesson Background >>