Aztec Parenting & Contextualization

Image: From the 16th century Florentine Codex by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún showing Aztec parenting methods.

The Class: AP World History Modern

The Content: Topic 1.4 – Developments in the Americas

I thoroughly enjoy starting my lesson on the Americas with the fantastic images that come from the Florentine Codex. Not only are they interesting and evocative, but they provide excellent opportunities to discuss the strengths and limitations of certain sources. Not to mention, this content makes for a great hook that lends itself to some great comedy that not only engages, but also humanizes and enlivens the past.

By the end of this lesson, students understand the significance and characteristics of pre-Columbian state development in the Americas, have practiced contextualization, and feel a sense of “gratitude” towards their own parents… or at least the time and place in which they live.


Since this DBQ is not seven documents I think I can technically refer to it as “mini.” I did not create this DBQ but I am unsure who did in order to provide credit. I’ve been using it for a number of years as the main resource around which I structure my lesson for Topic 1.4. I teach the topics of the first unit out of order, and this is the one I usually save for last. So, besides providing an opportunity to practice document analysis and sourcing, I have students write a thesis and introduce them to the skill of contextualization.

Students enter class having already read a section of the textbook. I also begin with some context building using a quick intro lecture that is only 10 minutes and is organized around a handful of key concepts. Students are then given time to read and annotate the documents and are provided a simple graphic organizer to help them construct their thesis statements. The categories are not exactly the same as the old way of “grouping” documents; but I find it to be a helpful scaffold for organizing evidence and constructing a thesis. Once students get a working thesis the contextualization begins.

Students often struggle with contextualization. It is easy to define and explain, but challenging for the students to do well. Either students are way too broad or awkwardly specific. I use the image below to help them conceptualize “zooming in” to their thesis. Feedback and constant models are incredibly helpful at this early stage. However, the students still need to practice, practice, practice.

The opening scenes of every Star Wars movie are of course well-trodden examples of contextualization. However, a colleague gave me a link this year to a website (see image below) where students can create their own Star Wars “style” context videos. Definitely adds a bit of excitement and engagement to the lesson.

Check out the website Kassel Labs

All that was left to do (time permitting) was review some of their examples of thesis statements with context and talk about document sourcing.

Nothing hugely creative about the lesson, just a thoughtful attempt to put skills first. The Aztecs definitely got the most screen time in the block. The Incas and other examples of pre-Columbian states got their obligatory references in the lesson introduction. I usually go into greater detail with the Americas at the point when the Europeans show up in Unit 4. After teaching this course for a number of years I feel confident in moving topics around, teaching them out of order, and in deciding what content I need to make a “courageous deletion” with (or at least push to homework reading). Class time is for skill building!

Coffee Shops in the French Concession

Over the Chinese national holidays my wife and I spent time exploring the French Concession in Shanghai. The tree lined roads, old buildings, and interesting shops make it our favorite area of the city. I originally wanted to visit a coffee shop and bookstore named 1984 about which I had heard great things. Alas, we could not find it, and by the time we realized our mistake (that it was not open yet) we had happened upon another coffee shop. We ended up near the German consulate at a place called Prologue Coffee. It had a great glass front and comfortable seats. I also appreciated the different roasts they offered. We tried a Costa Rican roast that tasted of black honey (I had to google the difference between black honey and regular honey) and a delicious tea that had a fruity fig and tamarind flavor. Although I’d love to go back there are too many other little shops to try. On Wednesday I believe I had 5 or 6 (small) coffees through the day as we kept stumbling on little shops with unique roasts or drinks. Urban exploring has become a favorite past time of ours.

Leave a Reply