Students watch two video segments about the theory that the Chinese built a fleet, circumnavigated the globe and discovered the Americas before Columbus. Students then evaluate each segment to determine whether the evidence presented is valid.
Why is this an important concept?
As students encounter new ideas, themes, opinions, information, and experiences throughout their lives, especially ones that are contrary to what they already know, they will be asked to use skills to both critically analyze and validate the accuracy of the new material presented. In these instances, it is useful for students to be able to develop and/or apply criteria to evaluate new information. When students are able to make evaluations, they can then determine whether new information should be incorporated into on-going ideas, behaviors or practices.
Part I: Learning Activity
Note: The video segments used in this lesson are taken from the first part of a two-hour documentary.If you would like to have more source material to use with this lesson, visit the 1421 Web site.
1. Begin by asking students what they know about world exploration in the 15th century. Next, ask students what they know about about the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, and discuss.
2. Share with students the following idea presented in the segments from the documentary: Author, researcher and former submarine commander Gavin Menzies asserts that beginning in 1421, the Chinese Admiral Zheng He commanded 300 vessels in seven voyages that traveled around the world and discovered the Americas prior to the voyage of Columbus in 1492. Ask students if they have ever heard this idea. Does it seem plausible? Why or why not? How does this idea conflict with what they already know?
3. Ask students how they can tell if new ideas are based in truth. Tell students that when we encounter new ideas or information, we need to find ways to evaluate their validity. Explain that in order to evaluate new information, we need to create criteria or a standard for evaluation.Sometimes this is done by applying a set of questions to the claim. Distribute the 1421 Criteria Handout , and discuss the set of questions.
4. Tell students they are going to watch two video segments that present evidence to support specific aspects of Menzies’s theory:
- that the Chinese had the naval capabilities to create a large fleet of vessels
- that the ships were built in a way that would allow for a global voyage
- that the fleet was used in the seven voyages that eventually lead them to discover the Americas before Columbus
5. While watching the video segments, ask students to look at the ideas presented and to determine whether in their opinion the evidence presented is plausible or valid. Play “The Voyage of Zheng He - Part I."
6. Discuss the segment and review the Criteria handout. Next, play “The Voyage of Zheng He - Part II” and again, discuss the segment using the Criteria handout.
7. In class, ask students to evaluate the evidence listed on the 1421 Criteria Worksheet using the 1421 Criteria handout.
Note: The first two boxes on the 1421 Criteria Worksheet pertain to the “The Voyage of Zheng He - Part I,” and the last four boxes on the 1421 Criteria Worksheet pertain to “The Voyage of Zheng He - Part II."For students who need additional guidance:
- Guide students in a small group.
- Discuss the definition of criteria. For example, how tall must someone be to go on a ride at an amusement park?
- Play video segments as many times as necessary for understanding.
- Using the example of the rudder in the video, ask students to consider if the age and size of the rudder supports the idea that the Chinese built big ships several centuries ago. Ask students to think about what letter in the criteria is being applied to the example of the rudder.
Part II: Assessment
2. Using both the 1421 Criteria handout and the 1421 Criteria Worksheet, ask students to summarize the results of their evaluations in a short essay. Guide students to state their opinion about Menzies’s idea, describing which parts of his claim that are valid and which are not.
3. Review the essay portion of the 1421 Criteria Rubric so students know how they will be evaluated.
4. Student essays and handouts can be placed in their portfolios to show skill acquisition.