Recent research into the Mayan civilization of the Classical Period and a new look at earlier records have caused interpretations of Mayan civilization to change. In this unit, students work in research groups to examine different aspects of Mayan society of the Classical Period. By analyzing the effects of social unrest, increasing environmental pressures, and commercial expansion, students try to determine how the society reacted to threats to their culture. By studying factors that brought about the decline of the ancient Mayas, and through extrapolation to other civilizations and eras, students gain insights into their own cultural experiences.
What brings about the rise and fall of great civilizations?
What factors in Mayan society may have contributed to its demise?
What factors in present-day Mayan society contribute to its continued survival?
What factors do you think may have led the Mayas to abandon their cities before 900 AD?
What are the basic cultural institutions of a society?
What are the research methods of archeology?
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the El Misterio de los Mayas Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Tapping Prior Knowledge and Providing Background
Write the Essential Question on the board, What brings about the rise and fall of great civilizations? and have students reflect on it. Hold a conversation about civilizations that includes the Content Question, What are the basic cultural institutions of a society?
Ask the gauging student needs questions to begin a discussion about what students already know about the Mayas. Introduce students to Mayan civilization, including a brief account of history, location, languages spoken, and cultural facts based on any gaps in prior knowledge. Include a discussion about the accepted historical viewpoint of the Mayas as well as recent research, which brings new theories to light. Introduce research methods used in archeology and focus on why reflection is an important part of an archeologist’s work.
Introducing the Project
Introduce the project using the Maya instrucciones handout. Explain that students will conduct inquiries into the factors that led to the demise of Mayan society of the Classical Period. In doing so, students will examine social classes, religious institutions, economic structures, environmental practices, and warfare. Continue to explain that they will share their findings in group discussions and synthesize the information they have gathered individually. Tell students that they will work in small groups to form hypotheses explaining the collapse of the society. Inform students that they will also share their insights on the value of archeological study as a model for understanding their own cultural experiences.
Emphasize the requirement of using Spanish throughout the project, including the research of various print and Internet sources, group discussions, and the presentation of their multimedia project. Distribute the English project rubric and the Spanish project rubric. Review the rubrics with the class and discuss expectations for the projects. Ask students to use the rubrics to guide their project work. Review the sample Spanish multimedia presentation or English multimedia presentation as an example of exemplary student work.
Starting the Research
Explain to students that for most of this project they will work in groups and will be assessed on their collaborative efforts. Hand out the group process rubric. Review expectations for working collaboratively and ask students to refer to the rubric as they conduct their group work.
Next, assign students to cooperative groups and ask them to choose their topic of individual research. Each student in the group researches a different topic and individual research findings will be interwoven into one group multimedia presentation.
Lead a discussion about the scientific method. Model how a hypothesis is developed and revised as additional information is gathered. Have students develop thesis statements related to their topics that explain what they expect to find. Tell students to design plans that enable them to prove or disprove their thesis statements. Lastly, explain that they need to test and quantify their thesis statements and come to conclusions.
Allow students ample time to conduct their research. As they conduct their research on the assigned topics, direct them to look for factors that may have led to the demise of Mayan society of the Classical Period. Also ask students to examine present-day Mayan culture and look for factors that contribute to its continued survival. Meet with individuals to assess progress.
Have students share their findings in group discussions. Ask students to synthesize individual findings and as a group form a hypothesis explaining the collapse of Mayan society. Meet with collaborative groups to assess their progress and monitor collaborative work using the collaboration observation sheet.
Presenting Their Work
Guide students as they develop, organize, and prepare their comprehensive slideshow presentations.
Assign groups times to present their findings through slideshow presentations. Allow students to offer feedback and ask questions to other groups after their presentations. Allow time for students to rate themselves and the group on their collaborative effort using the group process rubric. Collect these as an additional viewpoint to consider in your assessment.
Wrapping Up the Unit
After all groups have presented, lead a discussion to summarize the societal factors that may lead to the demise of any given culture. Also summarize the societal factors that may contribute to a culture’s continued survival. You may want to ask questions such as, In what ways are Mayan culture and our society alike and different? and the Unit Questions:
Discuss the value of archeological study as a model for understanding cultural experience and finally revisit the Essential Question, What brings about the rise and fall of great civilizations?
Have students write a concluding essay that analyzes our society today. Ask them to examine factors that may lead to our demise as a society as well as factors that contribute to our continued survival and success. Have students refer to the 6+1 Trait® Writing Scoring Continuum* as a guide for expected writing standards.
Special Needs Student
Vanessa Del Giudice participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Grade Level: 9–12
Subjects: Spanish Language, Ancient Cultures
Topics: Mayan Civilization, Culture
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Analysis, Synthesis, Investigation
Key Learnings: History of the Mayas, Spanish Vocabulary, Comparisons of Ancient and Modern Cultures
Time Needed: 3 to 4 weeks, 45-minute lessons, 5 days a week
Background: From the Classroom in Rhode Island, United States