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The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is all about exploration and discovery. Stories and experiences associated with the trail provide great opportunities for engaging students in learning history, geography, social studies, environmental studies, and many other interdisciplinary subjects.

The trail was created to advance education in three core areas: 

  • Captain John Smith’s exploratory voyages on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1607–1609
  • Native American societies and cultures of the 17th century
  • The natural history of the Bay (both historic and contemporary)

A large selection of curricula, lesson plans, and educational resources have already been developed to help educators use the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail as a platform for exploring these topics. More will come as education partners work with the National Park Service to meet the trail’s interpretive and educational goals.

Lesson Plans

Check out these examples of lesson plans tailor-made for using the multi-faceted John Smith Trail with your students:

  • We Have a Story to Tell (grades 9–12): Lesson plans from the National Museum of the American Indian explore how colonial settlement and the establishment of the United States affected the Native Americans of the Chesapeake region, especially the Powhatan, Nanticoke, and Piscataway peoples. Students participate in small group projects to understand issues of critical importance to Chesapeake native communities today.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Past, Present and Future (grades K–12): This Chesapeake unit in the National Geographic Xpeditions series uses the Chesapeake Bay from the time of Captain John Smith’s explorations of Native American settlements to the present to examine interrelationships between people and places. Explore connections between present interactions with the Bay environment and its future.

More Educator Resources

Captain John Smith’s Explorations

  • Jamestown Fort: Finding History: K–12 lessons from the University of Virginia about archeological explorations of the Jamestown Fort location.
  • John Smith Curriculum (for grades 4–5 from Sultana Projects, Inc.): Units on John Smith’s Shallop, John Smith’s Map, Using John Smith’s Map in the Classroom, John Smith’s First Voyage, and John Smith’s Second Voyage focus on interpreting primary sources.

Native American Societies and Cultures of the 17th Century

  • Native Americans and Natural Resources: for grades 4–5 from Sultana Projects, Inc. Uses primary sources to identify Indian tribes/chiefdoms that lived in the Chesapeake region in the early 1600s and the natural resources they used for food, clothing, and shelter.
  • We Have a Story to Tell: For grades 9–12 from the National Museum of the American Indian. Explores how colonial settlement and the establishment of the United States affected the Native Americans of the Chesapeake region, especially the Powhatan, Nanticoke, and Piscataway peoples. Students participate in small group projects to understand issues of critical importance to Chesapeake native communities today.

The Natural History of the Bay—Then and Now

  • Aquatic Invaders: Lessons or grades 6–8 in the National Geographic Xpeditions series explore ways that native species interact in a healthy Chesapeake Bay. Students discover how various elements of the Bay ecosystem are interconnected and investigate issues associated with invasive species.
  • Bay and Pond Food Webs: Lessons from the Virginia Department of Education on water habitats and how pollution, loss of underwater grasses, and over fishing impact the Bay’s animal resources.
  • Captain John Smith’s Chesapeake Bay: Lessons from the Virginia Department of Education for grades 3–6 to compare the Chesapeake Bay of today with the Bay of John Smith’s day.
  • Chesapeake Bay: A Time for Change: National Geographic lessons for grades 9–12 explore the Bay from the time of Captain John Smith’s explorations. Students make connections between the present interaction with place and its future and ways they can help shape the future course of both the Chesapeake Bay watershed and their own community.
  • Chesapeake Bay in Captain John Smith’s Time: for grades 4–6. Uses primary sources to assess the presence of various animals and the quality of Chesapeake Bay habitats at the time of Smith. Students compare the Chesapeake Bay of the 1600s with today.
  • Exploring Estuaries: A website about estuarine environments and efforts to restore and protect estuaries through the National Estuary Program.
  • Eyes on the Bay: Resources and lesson plans from the Maryland Department of Education integrate science concepts with the use of technology and current scientific data. Encourages field studies to involve students and teachers in authentic science and environmental investigations.
  • Lessons from the Bay: Virginia Department of Education resources for grades 3–6 on protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  • Making the Grade: Health Indicators in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Lessons from National Geographic for grades 9–12 focus on how the sciences identify clues about the health of the environment and how geography can help make connections between human actions and environmental conditions. Students learn about efforts to preserve and restore the Bay’s health, such as the Chesapeake Bay Program, and how to develop a local action plan for preserving or restoring a resource in their own communities.
  • Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Landscape Long Ago and Today: Lessons for grades 4–5 on using geographic tools to locate places and describe their human and physical characteristics.

For more resources for educators

  • Bay Backpack: the BEST site for resources to help provide meaningful watershed educational experiences for your students.

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