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Social and Cultural Evolution of the People of Eastern Europe

Produced by Janette Lopez, Lawrence Middle School, 1997

Five Day Lesson Plan

Unit Objective

To trace the social and cultural evolution of the people of the Eastern European and Russian geographic area, from ancient paganistic times, to the ethnic and religious conflicts of the modem era.

* Music from the different regions of the East European and Russian areas can be played before class and during periods of group work on artistic projects.

Day 1:

  • Objective: To explore and analyze the burial customs of the ancient steppe culture of Siberia; to know the social structure, dress, and religious practices and apply them by identifying modem derivations in their descendants; to understand the part they play in the history of this civilization and their similarity with all civilizations.
  • Materials: A video of the "Siberian Ice Princess."
  • Vocabulary: Archeological dig, Shaman, Mongols, steppe, clans, Anda, yurts.
  • Guided Instruction: Show students on the world map where the Siberian tundra is located and describe the climate conditions of the area. Explain that the film is about the burial sites there and how the contents have been frozen, perfectly preserving a woman and all the objects buried with her. This allows us to better understand how the nomadic herders of the steppe plains lived in prehistoric times. These are the people written about by Herodotus, the Greek historian. Students should understand the time frame and religious paganism of these people.
  • Guided Group Practice: Groups of four students will draft lists of the things archeologists learned about the Ice Princess's people. They should place them under four headings: Dress/Lodging, Social Class, Religion, Work/Living. Each group must report to the class, one or two items on their list while other groups compare their lists. Lists are put on the wall for future use.

Day 2:

  • Objective: To read and organize information into retrievable notes; to use understanding of the geography and social structure of the steppe people as discussed the day before and relate it to the reading material of the class text; to describe the expansion of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan and his successors; to assess the accomplishments and impact of the Mongols.
  • Material: Text, Across the Centuries, p. 162-167.
  • Guided Instruction: Mongols are herders; Mongols begin making conquests; Mongols establish empire; Empire breaks down. Explain that the sections in the assigned reading correspond with the subjects of the graphic overview. This overview is put on the board and the students copy it in their notebooks. Groups of four are to read the assigned pages and take ordered notes on the reading material. Teacher circulates and keeps groups on task with suggested ways to organize the information. Students then share their notes while the teacher puts a suggestions on the board.

Day 3:

  • Objective: To compare the material that was read in the previous assignment with the visual images of the video; to construct a list of the notable aspects of the film and include a picture of the Mongols from their visual understanding of the culture; to draw a picture that stands out in the students memory about the Mongols.
  • Materials: A video, "Mongols: Storm From the East".
  • Guided Instruction: This video is ten hours long. Edited segments are shown to gain an understanding of the Mongol culture. Yurts, horse herding and butchering, family relationships, fighting skill on horseback, and the geographic setting of the culture are shown. Students should note the things they learn and compare their notes in groups. They should draw a picture in their notebooks of the part that stands out in their minds.

Day 4:

  • Objective: To examine the video of a Slavic folk tale and construe the moral message being conveyed; to read and interpret a Siberian folk tale and retell the tale using stick puppets produced by the student group.
  • Materials: Video, "The Frog Princess," a staged play recreation of a Siberian folk tale by Occidental College. Folk tales from the book, The Master of the Winds, by Mirra Ginsburg. Paper, scissors, glue, pop-cycle sticks, and odd materials for the stick puppets.
  • Guided instruction: Conduct a brief discussion of how all cultures express their customs, social class, morals and beliefs in their fables and folk tales. After viewing selected portions of the play "The Frog Princess", students read as a group their own short folk tale. Groups will then make stick puppets of the tales characters and perform their folk tale for the class.

Day 5:

  • Objective: To assess the cause and effect relationship between the history of the Balkan area and the current Bosnian conflict; to empathize with the beliefs and the hardships caused by conflict that has been passed down for so many centuries; to deduce the evolutionary nature of the history of culture and the outcome of cultural contact.
  • Materials: Video of Frontline's "Bosnia's Romeo and Juliet."
  • Guided Instruction: After viewing the video, conduct a discussion and debate on the conflict in Bosnia and the personal situation of the characters. Be sure to pose all sides of the issue by playing devil's advocate and point out the historical roots of the present day conflict. Examples from all the previous lessons should be used to show that the Bosnians are a product of cultures that migrated, blended by force and by inter-marriage and were exploited for political and economic power.
  • Assessment: Assessment can be daily or at the completion of the unit by using rubrics that the students fill out as a group, evaluating other groups. The teacher can use the same rubric and average the responses.

The activities included in this unit may take more time than the traditional fifty minute class period. I would use this in a collaboration with an English teacher. Math could be involved by researching the methods used to count and keep records, calculation of the speed of the Mongol warrior on horseback and the skill it takes to hit their target at a full gallop. Science can explore the scientific contributions of these cultures over the ages. Their adaptation of the scientific advances taken from conquests, and the part the steppe people played in spreading those advances to other geographic locations and societies.

Center for European and Eurasian Studies