Ben and Me

By Robert Lawson

This unit is appropriate for the 5th grade.

Note from the author of this unit: The author of this unit assumes that the students are familiar with small group work.  That is, students should be familiar with their individual responsibilities within the group setting.  If we understand and follow the normal stages of development, students engaging in this exercise

will be working from within Piaget's Concrete Operational stage of development with the possibility of a few outliers beginning the Formal Operational stage.  However, it is more likely that students will be at various stages of development  and therefore it is also advised that Vygotsky's prescription for small groups be followed.  Groups should contain higher level functioning students, lower level functioning students, and students that are overlapping in their developmental growth.  Furthermore, it is also advised that the activities mentioned within this unit be changed to meet the specific needs of the classroom. Students will participate in small group work throughout the unit, but will have independent projects to complete at various points as the unit progresses.

As young children we have been taught that history is an important component of our educational experience.  This author completely agrees with this premise. History allows us to learn how others' failures, trials, mistakes, and successes have influenced our values and way of life. In particular, history provides us with the opportunity to examine how the human experience has evolved and shaped the world in which we live.  History, therefore, becomes the study of how others have made our lives better or worse, depending on an individual's point of view.

However, this author believes that the importance of history, as mentioned above, is often lost in the manner in which it is presented to students.  This author can remember spending what seemed like countless hours listening to lectures on what this person did and what that person did for this or that country.  Thereafter, book reports were assigned that yielded plagiarism, as students are unable to make a personal connection with the topic. Students are often not given the opportunity to make a personal connection with the subject matter because they spend majority of the time being lectured to without any need to think critically.  In addition, adults often forget that students, especially the younger students, feast on fictional characters, action, and drama.  For the reasons listed above and an acknowledgement of the importance of history, this author has selected the book Ben and Me by Robert Lawson as a focus unit on the life of Benjamin Franklin with particular attention to the inventions that have influenced our lives. This book, told from the point of view of a mouse, allows students to learn about history and its influences on our current ways of life in a fictional manner that also allows of hands-on experience. This unit strives to allow students to explore history and make a personal connection with the material being studied.

The lessons and activities that are listed within this unit are based upon classrooms where the students have access to computers with Internet access, multi-media software, and are no larger than 25 students in capacity.  For many teachers these traits resemble a fictional classroom; this author expects that these lessons serve only as guides.  In fact, this author encourages readers to change the enclosed lessons to meet their specific needs and the needs of their students.  This author hopes to have provided readers with some ideas on how to engage students on a study of Benjamin Franklin, without having to start a unit from scratch and re-invent the wheel (pun intended).

OK, now that I have justified this whole thing we can get on with the unit.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.  By the way, I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of this book.  I have conveniently placed a link to in the resources section just for your use. J

The text that follows is my attempt at justifying the importance of using fiction to teach history.  Notice that I have cleverly mentioned several educational theories and threw in some famous names.  That's just to show that I did read my homework assignments. J

Unit Overview

Ben and Me