4th Grade Geography Inquiry

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Supporting Question

For the second supporting question, students continue their investigations of New York State’s geography and their development of map-reading knowledge and skills by examining the settlement locations of two major groups of Native Americans, the Haudenosaunee and the Algonquian-speaking nations. Haudenosaunee and Algonquians are umbrella terms used to identify communities that spoke similar languages. Within the Haudenosaunee were several smaller, distinctly named groups, and the same was true for the Algonquians.

The focus of the supporting question is less on the cultural distinctions between the two groups of Native American nations and more on the relationship between the groups and their physical environments. Key to that relationship is understanding the perceptions of opportunities and constraints afforded by the local geographies. A physical environment may provide opportunities for human activities (e.g., characteristics that attract people to places, support economic needs, or provide recreation activities), but it can also impose constraints on human activities (i.e., landforms and climates that are not conducive to farming, trade, or transportation). It is important to note that physical features are not inherently opportunities or constraints—for the same feature could represent both. Instead, it is how humans perceive the possibilities and/or challenges of a physical feature that matters.

An example of the importance of geography can be seen in the names some Native groups gave to themselves. The Mohawks refer to themselves as the Keepers of the Eastern Door, which refers to their location at the eastern limit of early Haudenosaunee lands, and as People of the Flint, which refers to the plentiful supplies of chert, a form of mineral quartz that was useful in making arrowheads and other tools. Similarly, the Senecas refer to themselves as the Keepers of the Western Door and the Great Hill People, names that indicate both the geographic location and a characteristic of the local lands. (For additional examples of Native American names reflecting their physical environments, see Appendix A.)

Formative Performance Task

The formative performance task calls on students to (1) identify physical features from maps (Geographic Reasoning), (2) categorize the opportunities and constraints associated with them (Comparison and Contextualization), and (3) offer a rationale for their conclusions (Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence). To support the students in this task, teachers might provide them with an analysis chart focusing on summarizing the visual evidence they see in the maps and making inferences about how certain physical features affected the survival of early Native American groups. Note that the Impact Chart provided here is only one possibility among many for approaching the task. The results of this task will contribute to Formative Performance Task 3 by providing students with examples of features that could be perceived of as opportunities and/or constraints. Students may then reference these examples as they make evidence-based claims about the interaction between Native American nations and their environments.

Opportunities and Constraints Chart

Physical features I learned about from the Haudenosaunee maps

Could this feature be an opportunity and/or a constraint?

Rationale for choice

Example: Rivers


Rivers can be used for transportation

Physical features I learned about from the Algonquian maps

Could this feature an opportunity
and/or a constraint?

Rationale for choice

Example: Mountains

Opportunity and constraint

Opportunity—wildlife for food; Constraint—difficult to grow crops

Featured Sources

Featured Source A presents basic information on the locations of early Native American settlements in New York State. The Haudenosaunee, who were called Iroquois by Europeans, lived in northern and central parts of New York State. The Haudenosaunee included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations. The Algonquian peoples lived in southern and eastern New York State, in what are now called Long Island and the Hudson River Valley. The Algonquian groups included Mahicans, Munsees, Poosepatucks, Shinnecocks, and Montauks. Bodies of water were natural resources crucial to the successful settlement of Native American groups as they affected diets, shelters, trade, and mobility. 

Students will note that more than the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee are represented on the map. The Erie and Susquehannock groups were not part of what became known as the Iroquois Confederacy. They did, however, speak languages associated with the Iroquoian language family.

NOTE: Students should notice that Haudenosaunee and Algonquian lands extended beyond what is now New York State.

Featured Source B offers more specific topographic information about New York State, including elevation, lakes, and rivers. Although teachers may have students complete the formative performance task as individuals, there should be opportunities for students to work in pairs and small groups to analyze the complete set of maps, paying particular attention to the similarities and differences between the two Native groups. Students should also be able to make inferences as they look across the maps. For example, although the Mohawk nation occupied a large part of eastern New York State, much of that land was mountainous and offered potential challenges to the Mohawk people. Providing students with opportunities to verbalize their emerging understandings with a partner beforehand will help them think about and respond to the written task.

Additional Resources

The sources described earlier are featured because they offer an opportunity to talk about the kinds of sources that teachers may use to teach the inquiry and how to use them. They are not meant to be a final or exhaustive list. Additional/alternative sources include

  • Eric W. Sanderson, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2009. (See pages 8, 18, 37–38).

  • Bruce G. Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15, Northeast. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978.

Teachers and students are also likely to find engaging resources regarding Native life in their local libraries and museums.

Supporting Question 2

Featured Source

Source A: Haudenosaunee and Algonquian settlement map

Early Native American nations of New York State.

Created for the New York State K–12 Social Studies Toolkit by Binghamton University, 2015.

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