One of the reasons Christopher Columbus sought the aid of the king and queen of Spain was to help fund his exploration west looking for a new route to the spice islands. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and brought the Byzantine Empire to its knees. Constantinople was part of the important spice trade route. When the Ottoman Turks took over Constantinople, it made it virtually impossible for Europe to access the spice route. In 1492, Columbus set sail looking for an alternate route to the spice islands and thus he was part of the race to explore a western route to the east.
Most of us remember learning about Christopher Columbus in elementary school. We learned he discovered America and three ships accompanied him on the voyage - the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. As I researched and brushed up on my knowledge of Christopher Columbus before teaching a lesson about him to my kids, I realized there was a lot I didn't understand about the significance of his voyage until now. For example, I had never put together the fall of the Byzantine Empire with the rush for western exploration for a new route to the east. Light bulb moment. I never realized that Columbus landed in the area of the Bahamas and not actually North America. (It's still disputed all the places he made land fall but most agree it was various islands around the Bahamas.)
Niki and I watched "Christopher Columbus : Explorer of the New World" as well as "Conquest of America " last week. Both documentaries talk about how Christopher Columbus was not the only person to discover America. It is believed that the Vikings discovered America long before his famous voyage and many other explorers also landed on the new world's shores as well. One of the reasons I enjoy watching documentaries with Niki (and she actually enjoys them too) is they help give us a visual of the actual time/event. It is such a critical learning tool for visual learners. Unfortunately, after elementary school many students are not provided with enough visuals to supplement their learning. It places a large handicap on individuals who thrive off of seeing a picture and associating it with a concept. I struggled with history throughout school. I was never able to memorize names, places, and dates and do well on a test nor did I particularly enjoy history class ever. It wasn't until my 30's that I realized that putting a picture with the name and place enabled me to file it away and place it in context with the rest of the knowledge I knew about history. Now I can make connections that I never made before and permanently remember the event and people. I find history fascinating and it is not uncommon to find me researching more about history just for the fun of it. Moral of this post - visual aids are not just for elementary students!!! Visual learners don't stop needing visual aids once they reach a certain age. It's our learning style!
I did a fun little activity with the kids. We have a puzzle of a world map with large pieces that the boys enjoy putting together. The kids assembled it again and placed it on the kitchen table.
Then we gathered all the spices out of my kitchen cupboard. We pulled up a spice encyclopedia on the Internet and researched the origin of each of the spices in my cupboard and placed the jar on the country of origin.
We quickly learned the general area that most spices originated. (Many of my spices were placed around the country of origin because we ran out of space.)
Finally, in order to deepen my kids' appreciation for spices and the desire to find a new route to the spice islands, they helped me make chicken curry for dinner and a homemade apple pie for desert.