Delaware Students Start a Colony
This blog post was written by Samuel Heed, Senior Historian and Director of Education, and Virgina Hanna, Assistant Director of Education, at the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. Sam is a 2013 iEducate Delaware Honoree.
Imagine it’s the Year 1638*. You’re about to embark on a wooden Tall Ship and voyage from Sweden across the Atlantic Ocean. Your sights are set on a little outcropping of rocks – not yet called “The Rocks” – on marshy ground just west of the Delaware River. There you plan to make landfall. There you plan to build a crude little fort, within which you will construct the first log cabins on American soil. There you will found a new colony, establishing the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley, on land that would become our city of Wilmington. Your purpose is international trade. Your goal is to establish a new settlement, to conduct trade with Native Americans, and to return home with a profit of 1,000 beaver pelts. If all goes well you might survive – and even get rich!
What would you bring with you on this voyage? Perhaps you’d bring soldiers to protect your valuable trade goods from pirates – or competing nations – who might view your merchant vessel, though armed, as an easy target. Perhaps you’d consider bringing pre-cut lumber to hasten your ability to build Fort Christina when you arrive on Delaware’s shores. Have you considered sauerkraut? Probably not; but this important ingredient could hold the key to keeping your crew healthy. Sauerkraut is rich in vitamin C, has a long shelf-life, will protect you and your crew from scurvy – the scourge of sailors in the Age of Sail.
You’re in the “captain’s chair,” so to speak, or maybe it’s the “Governor’s settee,” on this intrepid expedition. You and five other key decision-makers are responsible for packing your new home away from home, the Kalmar Nyckel. You must consider what you’ll need for the voyage over and back – and it’s a long, long way across the Atlantic in the 17th century. Not many way stations or pit stops, so you’d better think twice before casting off the dock. Then, you’ll need lots of things once you get there – “there” being the New World, of course, a place decidedly lacking in modern conveniences. But it’s the 17th century, and you don’t know the concept of “modern conveniences,” so you’re undaunted. You make a plan and get started. You start by negotiating with your peers – we call it teamwork. Together, the six of you must decide what supplies, trade goods, and comforts – comfort being a relative concept – you’ll bring with you to survive your mission and meet your goal. This is the situation in which Peter Minuit found himself in 1638.* And it’s the very same situation in which Delaware’s 5th graders are finding themselves, thanks to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation’s “Starting A Colony” lesson, which has entered classrooms throughout the First State.
If you’re half as smart as the typical First State 5th Grader, you’ll probably survive and make a profit, too, while also establishing friendly relations with your new commercial partners, the peoples of the Lenape and Susquehannock tribes. Imagine. It’s a whole new world, and it’s yours for the making. Imagine “Starting A Colony!”
At the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, we’ve been working with Delaware teachers and the Delaware Department of Education to develop a unique lesson that invites students to engage with Delaware’s history by taking on the role of one of its first European inhabitants. “Starting A Colony,” however, is not a just a history lesson. The story of the original Kalmar Nyckel sets the stage and context for the overarching economic themes that are taught and reinforced throughout the lesson. “Starting A Colony” is part of the Delaware Department of Education’s 5th grade Economics Curriculum, and it addresses Content Standard Four: International Trade. The “Big Ideas” of trade, interdependence, specialization, standard of living, opportunity costs, and profit are fundamental economic concepts taught in “Starting A Colony.” In this lesson, students work together as a team to make economic decisions. They must analyze the consequences of their decisions and weigh opportunity costs as they work toward their goal.
We were honored when this program was recognized by the Rodel Foundation with the iEducate Delaware award in 2013. As a recipient of the award, we have had the ability to bring “Starting A Colony” into more classrooms throughout Delaware – and even across state lines into Pennsylvania (within the original footprint of the New Sweden Colony). We were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet fellow iEducate Delaware honoree and Principal of Gallaher Elementary School, Jacqueline Lee. Together, we’ve teamed up to bring “Starting A Colony” into the elementary schools of Christina School District. Thanks to the tremendous support of Josh Cohen, Christina School District’s Elementary Social Students Education Coordinator, eight of Christina’s Elementary schools have arranged to bring “Starting A Colony” to their students. With Ginny Hanna coming aboard as Assistant Director of Education this January, we’ve been able to reach many more classrooms and students across the Delaware. With a major assist from banking volunteers at Capital One, we’ve reached 1,400 of Delaware’s students so far this Spring Semester and have an additional 1,100 scheduled through the end of the school year in June. Our goal is to improve students’ economic literacy and decision-making skills—and we are doing just that– one “Colony” at a time. Thanks in part to the Rodel Foundation, we’re “starting” little “colonies” of learners all over Delaware.
*Technically, it’s 1637 when you start planning the voyage. 1638 is when the original Kalmar Nyckel actually arrives at “The Rocks.” 1638 is the date everyone remembers, because that’s the year the colony was founded – establishing the first permanent European settlement in what would become Delaware, the future “First State” of the United States of America. Pretty cool!