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Chronological Reasoning and Causation

What is a Primary Source? Focus on Artifacts Found at John Brown's Farm

  1. Load 19th Century Ceramics in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Porcelain Dish Find in Main Image Viewer
  3. Load Sewing Scissors in Main Image Viewer
  4. Load Medicine Bottle in Main Image Viewer
  5. Load Utensil Handle and Whetstone in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Title:  Geography of the Adirondacks:  Using objects and artifacts to learn about the life in North Elba in the mid to late 1800’s 

Overview: Students will learn about the early farming community in North Elba in the mid 1800’s and use Primary Source Documents to draw conclusions about their life there. 

Goal:  Students will be able to identify Primary Sources  and explain why they’re important.  They will take a close look at objects and artifacts relating to Timbuctoo.   


Students will be able to:

  • Understand that primary source documents can help us understand people, places, and events from the past. 

  • Use evidence to interpret objects and make predictions.

Investigative (Compelling) Question:

              How can primary sources help us to understand what life was like for the early farmers in North Elba in the 1870’s? 

Time Required

  • 1- 40 minute session or 2- 20 minute sessions

  • You can choose to do the complete lesson plan or select parts with your students based on your schedule and objectives.

Recommended Grade Range

  • Grades 3-5 

  • ​​​​Subject: Social Studies 


Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence:

Recognize and use different forms of evidence to make meaning in social studies (including primary and secondary sources, such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).

Chronological Reasoning and Causation

Employ mathematical skills to measure time in years and centuries.

Credits: Patricia McCormick 


Materials Used: 

            Projector to show different types of primary source documents 

           Worksheet to help analyze artifacts

           Student materials- pencils, colored pencils, paper for illustrations        

           Objects brought in by students assigned in a prior lesson 

Resources Used: 

                    (2 min. Introduction for Primary Sources)

Objects/Artifacts found at John Brown Farm


Description of Procedure: 

(It is great if the teacher is able to bring in artifacts to the classroom)

On the day prior to this lesson, the teacher will have shown students the video,  and have demonstrated how to examine an object/artifact with his/her own personal object.  

Students have learned to :

-comment about the object’s physical appearance- object’s size, shape, color, texture, or design.   

-determine what is familiar or unfamiliar about the object

-come up with possible uses for it 

Next students will work in pairs or small groups to pass and show their objects as classmates observe and predict its importance.  The owner of the object can explain how this object tells their story. 

Teacher introduces the lesson: 

We will be examining objects found on or near the John Brown Farm to search for clues about a special place called Timbuctoo the 1870’s.

Teacher provides background information:

How do historians find objects at historical sites? 

Show items found at the site  ( or project photos of items) (Dr. Hadley        Kruczek- Aaron)  

Teacher can introduce Dr. Hadley Kruczek- Aaron using the PBS video

1:05-3:00,      39:15- 40,  52- 53:10

Students could work in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class  

The teacher will select one artifact at a time and have students observe and

infer or make educated guesses about the item.  They will use the artifact 

analysis to help guide their observations.  Teacher will point out indications of when this item was used and any additional information that is known about the artifact.


Repeat the procedure above using other objects found at John Brown Farm/ or project images of them. (glass bottle, chips of china, bullet casing, photograph)

Facilitate a wrap‐up discussion about the experience of using objects and artifacts can help historians understand life for the settlers of Timbuctoo.

Extensions:   Compare the artifacts to objects used today.  How are they alike and different?  Create a Venn Diagram to show your conclusions. 

Evaluation:  − Have students independently explore another object from the Museum’s collection using the artifact analysis