The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

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Who Fired First?

Fifth graders have been analyzing and debating one of history's great questions this spring: Did the British or the Colonists start the Revolutionary War by firing the "shot heard round the world" in 1775?

Fifth graders learned about the initial battle in Lexington, Massachusetts, with social studies teacher Ward Russell, and then they took a deep dive into first-hand accounts from the Lexington Green. Students read two opposing accounts of the first shots, one from Paul Revere and another from Major Pitcairn, who led the British troops to Lexington and Concord. Both men gave written reports of the encounter between the militia and the British forces on the Green, the firing of the first shots, and the subsequent skirmish. Ward divided the class into two groups, a Pitcairn team and a Revere team, each side charged with presenting evidence that the other side fired the first shot or that their side did not. Referring to the first-person accounts and a diagram of Lexington Green, the landmarks, location, and direction of troop movement on the board, each student took turns standing up and presenting evidence to bolster their side's argument. For example, noting that the colonial militia was composed of untrained farmers and likely to be nervous and wanting to flee as British troops surrounded them, one student argued that the first shot was most likely from a scared colonist. In rebuttal, the Revere side pointed out the difficulty of firing a musket behind you while fleeing to make the point that the shot most likely came from an advancing redcoat. Students took turns trading impassioned arguments with points about the line of sight on the Green, the difficulty of determining the origin point of the smoke that Revere saw, and the state of mind of the colonists as they arrived to defend John Hancock and Sam Adams.

The debate was a culminating activity in the fifth grade social studies curriculum, which began in September with lessons on analyzing primary sources. The students have learned to interpret historical documents, analyze their meanings, consider the context and perspective of the time, and be mindful of bias. They synthesized their understanding through debate, demonstrating their ability to think like historians. Ward highlighted the value of this exercise, noting, "When you're looking at history, you have nothing to go on but the sources that you have. That's why history is so cool -  because you can keep analyzing it and analyzing it some more, and you might see a different perspective or a different angle."  

In late May, students will use their analytical skills again with an immersive exploration of the perspectives of colonists and British troops. They will spend a day touring Lexington Green,  North Bridge, and biking the Battle Road trail that connects the historic sites of Lexington and Concord.
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