A short history of Columbus Day for teachers

The name Christopher Columbus always brings the sense of discovery and adventure. After all, he discovered America in 1492. Or did he?

Who was Christopher Columbus?

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer. He is most well known for completing four voyages across the Atlantic, which led to permanent European colonization of this "New World." 

The voyages came at a time when European kingdoms were competing for discovering new trade routes and colonies all over the world. Although Italian, Columbus used the support of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain to try to reach the East Indies by sailing west. Spain was motivated to do this because of the lucrative spice trade with Asia.

Columbus took his first voyage in 1492. Instead of Japan, he arrived at the island of Bahamas archipelago that he named San Salvador. On subsequent voyages, he visited Greater and the Lesser Antilles, the Caribbean coasts of Central America and Venezuela, and claimed them for the Crown of Castile.

Columbus - the Myth and the Facts

Contrary to popular belief, Christopher Columbus didn't discover America - the continent was already populated for centuries, and even reached by other European explorers such as  Leif Erikson in the 11th century.

Also, it wasn't Columbus who resolved the myth that the Earth was flat - most educated Europeans in Columbus' day already understood that the world was round, but didn't know about the existence of the Pacific Ocean.

Columbus Day in the United States

Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792, when New York’s Columbian Order, or Tammany Hall, wanted to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Columbus' first landing on the American soil. After the initial holiday, Catholic communities in various parts of the country began organising annual ceremonies and parades, taking pride in the Italian and Catholic heritage these communities shared with Columbus.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage with patriotic festivities, calling Christopher Columbus legacy "great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”

Finally, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday. Sources say that this happened primarily as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal.

Columbus Day Controversy

Columbus Day has sparked controversy from the 19th century up to this date. It is now known for a fact that Columbus was given a national holiday and such a prominent place in the US history because of the influence of Italian and Catholic communities, so opposition to the holiday existed has a long tradition which stems from historical, ethical and philosophical reasons.

In the 19th century, anti-immigrant groups in the United States rejected Columbus Day because of its association with Catholicism. In recent decades, Native Americans and some other groups have protested the holiday, claiming it symbolically marks (and celebrates) the colonization of the Americas, the slave trade, and the deaths of millions of indigenous people from murder and disease.

Talk to your students about different perspectives and narratives that surround Christopher Columbus, his legacy and his national holiday.


Six fun and different ice-breakers to use this back to school season

Even if you all love your school and your class – new beginnings make people naturally nervous, and especially if the "new"-s multiply: if there are new students in the class, if you're a new teacher, or if the entire class is new.

That's where ice-breakers come in. These simple, usually verbal games, will facilitate some much-needed communication and bonding in your classroom. 

Here are six ideas for some cool and easy ice-breakers.

Associations game

Association word game is always a catchy and simple way to break the silence in the class. One student says a word, and the student next to him or her says the word it reminds them of.

If you want to make it more challenging, make it a rule that the associated word should begin with the same letter the first word ends with. For example, if Student #1 says Flower, Student #2 could say Rose.

Telephone Chinese Whispers

The telephone Chinese whispers game is always hilarious and can be used as an ice-breaker in both novel and already bonded class communities.

Get students to sit in a line (more than 10 to 12 might not be practical, if this is the case make two or three lines). The first student in a chain should whisper their statement to the student next to them, and so the sentence’s journey to the end of the line begins. By the time it gets to the last student, it will be amusingly distorted. When the last student gets the message, the first student should proclaim what they said, and the last one what they actually heard. The difference will cause bursts of laughter.

If you're afraid the rest of the students waiting on their turn will get bored, they can make up the first sentence that you will whisper to the first student in line, and the game can begin.

Name chain game

This is a great game if you have a new class and want them to remember each other's names.

Put four or five chairs in front of the class facing others, and tell the first group of four or five students to sit down. The first student will say his or her name, favorite English word, and another fun fact about him or herself. The second student will do the same but will have to repeat the name and one piece of information about the first student. As you go down the line, the amount of information the students need to remember increases. So be kind to the last student in line, who will have to repeat four names and four facts. But the challenge is where the fun lies.

Pass the note

Note passing is a favorite old-school pastime for students. Although it is not traditionally appreciated by teachers, you can make the practice work in your favor by using it as an ice-breaker.

The students need to be divided into pairs. They should then write notes to each other, writing down interesting facts about themselves for their partner to read and remember. The only rule is that there is no talking. Continue to do this for about 10 minutes. In the end, each student should tell a story about their partner based on what he or she received in the notes.

Toss and Tell

Get a soft ball that is easy to catch. Get your class to sit in a circle. You will start the game - ask a question about the summer holiday or any other light and vivid topic and throw the ball to a random student. The one who catches the ball answers the question, and then asks a question and randomly throws the ball to another student. The random tossing act will keep them focused, and since they will naturally avoid throwing the ball to the same people, everyone will get to tell their story.

Good graffiti

Grafitti – the practice of writing on walls – has been a human expression medium from the dawn of civilization, starting with cave drawings. Here is a way that you can offer your students to set their feelings free in a classroom setting using graffiti that does not include writing directly on walls. 

Before your students enter the classroom for the first time in a year, take big sheets of construction paper and put them on the biggest classroom wall you have. Make sure the wall itself is protected, either by tape or another, darker paper beneath the one that you will be drawing on. Write a positive, upbeat message such as "Welcome," "Happy," or "Woohoo!" in bubbly letters.

When your students come in, explain to them how graffiti has been used for millennia. Although we all know about profanities and destructive attitudes of modern graffiti, explain to them that your classroom messages should be positive and uplifting, because you want your school year to be just like that. Other than that – there are no limitations. Just draw and write, and celebrate the new beginning.

If you are looking for a low prep back to school options why not check out my Back To School Resources Available HERE.