Delaware Recommended Curriculum

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Delaware Recommended Curriculum
This unit has been created as an exemplary model for teachers in (re)design of course curricula. An exemplary model unit has undergone a rigorous peer review and jurying process to ensure alignment to selected Delaware Content Standards.

Unit Title: Interpreting the Past – Dueling Documents

Designed by: Fran O’Malley, Delaware Social Studies Education Project
Research Assistant: Mark Degliobizzi

Content Area: Social Studies
Grade Level: 5

Summary of Unit

This unit uses the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr as a case study in which students explore historical thinking and the question why might there be different (competing) accounts of the same event?


Summative Assessment (page 4): Students write and illustrate an “Upside Down” or “Flip Over” book that describes a single event from two different points of view.

  • Lesson 1 – Mean or Misunderstood?: Students analyze competing accounts of the Three Little Pigs to advance understanding of point of view and evidence.

  • Lesson 2 – Dueling Sounds: A bell ringing contest that simulates a duel allows students to experience an event in which point of view may impact interpretations of who won.

  • Lesson 3 – Tragedy at Weehawken: Students read a partial account of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton that sets the stage for a historical investigation (who fired first?).

  • Lesson 4 – Dueling Documents: Students unknowingly engage competing eyewitness accounts of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

  • Lesson 5 – Weighing the Evidence: Students weigh the evidence relating to the question, did Burr or Hamilton fire the first shot?

  • Lesson 6 – Dueling Images: Students use a historical thinking tool to analyze competing images of the duel, and then use the images to corroborate or refute the documentary evidence and their own interpretations.

  • Templates for creating Tiny Two Tale Flip-Over Book.

In the 4–5 cluster, History Standard Three introduces students to the concept that historical accounts of the same event may differ because of either the differences in the evidence cited to support that historian or because different historians are different people with different ways of looking at something. A historian’s point of view influences the sources used to answer questions, which in turn affects conclusions. Students at this level will quickly get the point if you ask them if parents ever get the same story from two siblings about what started an argument. Who was the last person to use the milk and why is it sitting out on the counter? Or, who left the toothpaste out? Whose turn is it to take the trash out?

The American Revolution provides many possible opportunities to illustrate this aspect of history. On numerous occasions, the British and the Americans disagreed. An account of an event that happened before or during the war would be different depending on which side of the ocean the author lived on. Or, which side the author preferred to emerge victorious, the British or the rebels. The vocabulary used in different accounts often betrays the author’s feelings and personal bias. Alert students to look for such words. Historians may try to write unbiased history, but they can never be completely free of the personal factors that influenced their lives.

This unit addresses a number of preconceptions and misconceptions that research involving elementary students suggests are common, for example:

  • History is “just a bunch of facts.”

  • There is a single truth that we can uncover about past events.

  • History textbooks contain factual, authoritative accounts of the past. They also contain the “correct” answers.

  • To know something you have to witness it.

  • If two historical sources conflict, one is wrong.

  • If a historical account contains any bias or point of view, it must be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Knowing about the author/creator of a document or image is unimportant.

  • Secondary sources are less reliable than primary sources.

  • Historical claims must be backed up by a lot of supporting evidence.

©2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be included as a resource for sale; reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission from the author.

Author grants permission for not-for-profit educational use in Delaware schools.

Stage 1 – Desired Results

What students will know, do, and understand

Delaware Social Studies Standards

    History Standard Three 4-5a: Students will explain why historical accounts of the same event sometimes differ and will relate this explanation to the evidence presented or the point-of-view of the author.

Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text

Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a
grade 5 topic or subject area.

Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

Big Ideas

  • Interpretation

  • Point of view

  • Evidence

Essential Question

  • Why are there different explanations of the same event in history?

Knowledge and Skills

Students will know…

  • How to define point of view and evidence.

  • That there are competing accounts of past events.

  • That what happened in the past and what appears in historical accounts may be different.

  • That much of what appears in history books is interpretation.

  • That what is written has much to do with who wrote it and when it was written.

Students will be able to…

  • Employ historical thinking in their analyses of historical materials.

  • Write about an event from a different point of view.

  • Draw inferences from a timeline.

  • Critically evaluate historical evidence.

  • Weigh and provide evidence in support of a historical interpretation.

  • Corroborate and refute different types of evidence.

Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Design assessments to guide instruction

Transfer Task

This summative assessment is a transfer task that requires students to use knowledge and understandings to perform a task in a new setting or context.

The assessment and scoring guide should be reviewed with students prior to any instruction. Students should do the assessment after the lessons conclude.

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