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The Age of Exploration Unit Plan

Instructor: Anthony Cognata

Anthony has taught multiple grade levels in middle school, coached across contents, and has a master's degree in Educational Leadership.

The following unit will help guide students through learning about the Age of Exploration. Use these materials to help students gain a deeper understanding of a period that significantly altered the political and social order of half the world.

The Age of Exploration aka Age of Discovery

From the 15th century until the 18th century, European powers raced to dominate new lands they had never before realized were within their reach. Over the course of four centuries, from Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean up until the American Revolution, European monarchs and superpowers schemed and fought to control various parts of North and South America. With many indigenous peoples already firmly in place, these powers had to not only contend with each other, but with millions of Native Americans. The reverberations from these centuries of exploration can still be seen in the political landscape of much of South and Latin American countries - and within the United States, there are still discussions over the right and wrong way to view the time period.

Use the resources below to take your students through just a portion of the story of what is known within Euro-centric history as the Age of Exploration. This unit is intended for middle school students and could be adapted to fit high school as well.

The Beginnings of the Age of Exploration

Start your unit by first building off students' prior knowledge of Europe during the Middle Ages and the widely held belief that the world was flat. Discuss then that just like any opinion people hold today, there were many dissenters to this belief and many throughout Europe who wanted to see if there was a way to travel around the globe - in particular, to reach parts of Asia where traders found many desirable things such as silk and spices.

Then, begin with this Age of Exploration Lesson Plan and pair it with this Age of Discovery Lesson Plan. Both will give a larger overview to students of the time period. You can then go into the first and most famous European explorer, Christopher Columbus, his hopes and ambitions, with this Christopher Columbus Lesson Plan. Build upon that lesson by having students get more hands-on with these Christopher Columbus Activities. During these lessons, and through discussions with students, make sure that along with his accomplishments and successes you also discuss the problematic pieces of his story - his enslavement of Native peoples, his racism, and his greed and power hungry actions.

In discussing the European arrival, emphasize to students that great civilizations already existed in their own right within the new hemisphere. These two lesson plans, Aztec Lesson Plan and Mayan Civilization Lesson Plan, can demonstrate this fact to students. Then bridge the divides between Europe and the Indigenous civilizations by discussing the Columbian Exchange and the costs and benefits to both sides - this Columbian Exchange Lesson Plan will help, but also make sure to discuss the significance of diseases that Europeans brought with them, and how ultimately it was the Indigenous Peoples' lack of immunity to these that led to their downfall and exploitation.

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