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Grade 5: Analyzing a Primary Source

In history class with Mike Willis, fifth graders learned the value of primary sources as they analyzed excerpts from the Hammurabi Code circa 1754 BC. A primary source is a first-hand account of an event or time period and is considered authoritative.
The Code was a set of laws enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi. Fifth-grade historians applied critical thinking skills to an excerpt from these written laws that governed ancient Babylonia. The lesson allowed students to derive information about the Mesopotamian society and its ruler as they read, examined and discussed the text. 
Right away, Addison Petty noted a large number of unfamiliar names cited in the excerpt. Through guided discussion, students learned these were the names of gods invoked by King Hammurabi to establish his authority over the people, correctly labeling Babylonia a polytheistic society. They also recognized the possibility of author bias -- in writing about himself, Hammurabi perhaps exaggerated his own piousness. Portions of the text presented an opportunity to learn new vocabulary such as exalted, sublime and decreed. 
By breaking down the excerpt and word choices, students were able to infer credible details about the values, societal structure, and religion of this ancient civilization. For example, Berkeley Williams suggested the Hammurabi laws were necessary to address a power imbalance between social classes.

“They’ve been learning about early civilizations and how organizing and managing large cities and empires required the development of a written language and laws,” explained Mr. Willis. “Already, we’ve covered the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Neo-Babylonians. Next, we move on to Egypt!”

Mr. Mike Willis, history teacher, joined the Grade 5 team in 2019 with a master’s degree in secondary education (Loyola Marymount University) and a bachelor’s in sociology and crime, law and justice (Pennsylvania State University). He grew up traveling the country as a Navy kid and also lived in Iceland. Before moving to Denver, he worked as a middle school history teacher in New York City.

Mr. Willis says he initially wanted to work at Graland because he had heard so many good things about the school: “People in the area described Graland as the best independent school in the Denver area. Once I interviewed, I was really drawn to the warmth and experience of the administration, the teachers, and the students.” At Graland, he finds a friendly community that still challenges students to become their best selves. 

In his free time, Mr. Willis enjoys Colorado hobbies like skiing, hiking, and camping. His other interests are traveling, reading history books, and meeting new people. He is especially curious about people's backgrounds and feels knowing this unlocks a better understanding of who they are. 

“You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good [human] and a useful citizen.”  ~ John Adams

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.