Notes to the Teacher


Students will investigate the background and motivation of the Spanish conquest of the New World and its ramifications. They will apply modern research techniques to reach into the past and explore the major method of diffusion during the Renaissance of sea trade and the technology of global exploration.


Draft H/SS Standards Grade 7:

Languge Arts Standards Grade 7:

Reading: Students read grade appropriate material. They describe and connect the essential ideas, arguments, and perspectives of the text, and they relate text structure, organization, and purpose.

Writing: Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. Writing exhibits awareness of audience and purpose. Essays contain formal introductions, bodies of supporting evidence and conclusions. Students successfully use the stages of writing process. Students write narrative, expository and persuasive text ...[which] demonstrates a command of standard English and...research, organizational and drafting strategies.

Listening and Speaking: Students deliver focused, coherent presentations that convey ideas clearly and relate to the background and interests of the audience.

Information Literacy Skills:

Interpreting history-social science data
Relating historical events, people and eras
Using multiple perspectives
Searching/Researching using a variety of sources and media


The project should take between two-three weeks depending on Internet access and experience. This unit would be best after studying the early civilizations of the Americas. Team sizes can be enlarged to either fit the number of students in a class or shorten the project time.

Background Notes:

In the middle of the 15th century a magnetic needle was combined with the wind-rose. This invention was essential to the great voyages of discovery by the Spanish and the Portuguese. Prince Henry the Navigator was interested in exploring Africa for new markets and goods. His instrument-makers adapted an astrolabe for determining their latitude. By measuring the angle between the horizon and either the North Star or the sun, the two pointers gave the sailors the figures (degrees) that they then used to calculate how far north or south they were. At this point, they still did not have accurate means of determining longitude. Sailors used a sand glass (hour glass) and log line to figure out their speed and approximate time at sea.

Prince Henry also improved ocean travel by redesigning the ship. He modeled his caravel sails on the lateen sail of the Arab dhows. These Portuguese advancements in navigation, ship design and sailing aided Christopher Columbus, who was to begin Spain's exploration of the Americas. In order to prevent the Portuguese from claiming some of the territory of this new discovery, the Spanish asked the Pope to grant all of the lands found by Columbus to the Spanish. The pope issued a "bull" to keep these two countries at peace, which became known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. An imaginary line was drawn 370 leagues west of Cape Verdes. He gave all the lands east of this line in the Atlantic to Portugal and all of the land west to Spain.

After Columbus, the Spanish explorers inhabited Mexico, Central America, part of South America and the Caribbean. The Spanish government set up the encomienda system. This system entrusted land to the Europeans who would oversee it, and the indigenous people who would live there. It virtually made slaves out of the natives populations, who had to pan for gold, work in the mines and farm the land. The landowner was required to provide the people with access to the Catholic faith. Therefore, many Church representatives found their way to the Americas to tend to the souls of the people of the Americas. Although the encomienda system was officially abolished in 1542, partially through the efforts of Father Bartolome de Las Casas, this economic system reemerged as the repartimientos and, later on the hacienda, both of which utilized native labor.

In order to continue the supply of gold and silver, the Spaniards forced the indigenous people to work as slaves in mines in Guanajuato and Zacatecas in Mexico. Mining was also done in Peru and Boliva. Potosi, Bolivia, was a center of mining activity. By the end of the 1500s, 350,000 people lived in Potosi. However, the native populations had been devastated both through the dismantling of their cultures, as well as their lack of resistance to the diseases introduced by the Europeans.


Students will need poster board and other art materials. It would be helpful to make copies from some of the suggested resource books for students to use.

Resources for the Teacher:

National Geographic Magazine

February 1982, Vol.161, No.2.
December 1987, Vol.172, No.6.
September 1990, Vol.178, No.3.

Brotherson, Gordon. Image of the New World. London. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979.

This book contains Meso Americans responses to the conquest in the form
of poems and illustrations.
Burkholder, Mark and Lyman Johnson. Colonial Latin America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Fuentes, Carlos. Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

McCauley, David. Ships. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Additional Student Resources:

Copeland, Peter F. Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasures: Coloring Book. New York: Dover Publications, 1992.

Pickford, Nigel. The Atlas of Ship Wrecks and Treasure. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

Nautical Maps:

Nautical maps of the Florida keys can be obtained at a reasonable cost from either NOAA or dealers in Florida. Check out these sites.

Interdisciplinary Connections:

Students can figure out the time it took the Spanish Galleons to sail from one port to another. The science connections are a strong component as students explore the importance of the coral reef ecosystem. Math can also be explored when students either explore navigational techniques or design grids for the archaeological excavation.