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Phragmites in Time and Space

Grade Level: 6-8

 Time Frame: 1-2 Class Periods

Lesson Overview:  In this lesson, students will explore the history and geography of recent human civilization by following the evidence for use of Phragmites in a variety of different human cultures around the world since the end of the last ice age.  Students will discuss the importance of history and why we learn important past events and people. The teacher will then review the different ways to express the age of an event (B.C., A.D., B.C.E., B.P.).  Students will then be placed in pairs and will be assigned a specific event relating to the use of Phragmites in human culture.  The students will be asked to calculate where their specific event belongs on a rope representing the timeline of post-glacial human cultures. They will also be responsible for placing their assigned culture on a map.  The teacher will then engage students in a discussion of the patterns that emerge in terms of the spread of human uses of plants such as Phragmites and other technologies from the Fertile Crescent out into the far reaches of the world.

New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

·          Analyze how events are related over time.

·          Analyze data in order to see persons and events in context.


STANDARD 6.3 (World History) All students will demonstrate knowledge of world history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and the future.

A. The Birth of Civilization to 1000 BCE

·          Describe the physical and cultural changes that shaped the earliest human communities as revealed through scientific methods, including:

o        Early hominid development, including the development of language and writing

o        Migration and adaptation to new environments

o        Differences between wild and domestic plants and animals

o        Locations of agricultural settlements

o        Differences between hunter/gatherer, fishing, and agrarian communities

·          Describe how environmental conditions impacted the development of different human communities (e.g., population centers, impact of the last Ice Age).

·          Compare and contrast the economic, political, and environmental factors (e.g., climate, trade, geography) that led to the development of major ancient civilizations including Mesopotamia (e.g., Hammurabi's Code), Egypt, the Indus Valley, the Yellow River, and Kush (Nubia).

STANDARD 6.6 (Geography) All students will apply knowledge of spatial relationships and other geographic skills to understand human behavior in relation to the physical and cultural environment.

A. The World in Spatial Terms

·          Use geographic tools and technologies to pose and answer questions about spatial distributions and patterns on Earth.

·          Explain the distribution of major human and physical features at country and global scales.

D. Human Systems

·          Discuss how technology affects the ways in which people perceive and use places and regions.

·          Analyze the patterns of settlement in different urban regions of the world.

·          Compare the patterns and processes of past and present human migration

STANDARD 4.1 (Number and numerical operations) All students will develop number sense and will perform standard numerical operations and estimations on all types of numbers in a variety of ways.

A. Number Sense

·          Use real-life experiences, physical materials, and technology to construct meanings for numbers

B. Numerical Operations

·          Recognize the appropriate use of each arithmetic operation in problem situations.

·          Construct, use, and explain procedures for performing calculations with fractions and decimals

·          Select pencil-and-paper, mental math, or a calculator as the appropriate computational method in a given situation depending on the context and numbers.

C. Estimation

·          Use a variety of strategies for estimating both quantities and the results of computations.

·          Recognize when an estimate is appropriate, and understand the usefulness of an estimate as distinct from an exact answer.

STANDARD 4.2 (Geometry and measurement) All students will develop spatial sense and the ability to use geometric properties, relationships, and measurement to model, describe and analyze phenomena.


D. Units of Measurement

·          Select and use appropriate units to measure angles, area, surface area, and volume.

·          Use a scale to find a distance on a map or a length on a scale drawing.

·          Convert measurement units within a system (e.g., 3 feet = ___ inches).

STANDARD 4.5 (Mathematical processes) All students will use mathematical processes of problem solving, communication, connections, reasoning, representations, and technology to solve problems and communicate mathematical ideas.

·          Learn mathematics through problem solving, inquiry, and discovery.

·          Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts 

STANDARD 9.2 (Consumer, Family, and Life Skills) All students will demonstrate critical life skills in order to be functional members of society.

C. Interpersonal Communication

·          Demonstrate respect and flexibility in interpersonal and group situations.

·          Organize thoughts to reflect logical thinking and speaking.

·          Work cooperatively with others to solve a problem.

·          Demonstrate appropriate social skills within group activities.

·          Practice the skills necessary to avoid physical and verbal confrontation in individual and group settings.

·          Participate as a member of a team and contribute to group effort.

Materials Required:


Timeline Rope  (any string, wool or rope 75 feet long, marked off in 1 foot increments using a marker or similar mechanism)


Index cards to use to illustrate timeline events  and coloring / craft materials for that activity


String, paperclip or similar to attach index cards to timeline


Stick-it pads


Measuring tape


Wall map


Student Worksheets including timeline data (pdf format;  word format)




Answer Sheet




·        Discuss the linear nature of history


·        Interpret relationships between events shown on multiple-tier timelines.


·         Arrange dates in order on a timeline using the conventions of B.C. and A.D. or B.C.E. and C.E. as well as B.P.


·        Relate patterns in Phragmites’  use in history around the world to the changes in human culture and geography


·        Relate the relationship between distances on a timeline rope and the length of time between the events they represent


Suggested Procedure


Teacher will begin lesson by talking with his/her class about important milestones in their lives. To keep the class interested list two occurrences that happened close in age and one that is out of order or very distant in reference to the two previous events in contrast to what would be anticipated.

For example: "Three important things that occurred in my life so far are: I graduated from college, I have a job teaching, and I learned how to say 'mama'."

Or "I learned how to read, I learned how to drive a car then I learned how to walk."

Students should pick up on your list of occurrences and how silly they seem when they are placed out of order.   Each of these events represents part of the history of your life and those events happen in a specific order. 

Students should be led to discuss the importance of a timeline to keep track of which events happened before or after another.  Again, the teacher should emphasize the linearity of these events.  Essentially, time unfolds one event at a time (linearly) and history allows us to keep track of that timeline.

Teacher will ask students why they think learning about history of any type is so important:


What do we gain from knowing about history?


How would we know who our family was, what our heritage or ethnic background might be?


How do you know your age?

Students will be prompted to discuss the importance of learning about history and how it affects us every day, such as this year’s election that have their root in our historical break away from Europe and creation of our republic.  Students’ discussion can be guided by the teacher to point out how history can help us understand other countries’ points of view possibly seeing why they are in disagreement.  Students can be shown a calendar and guided to the realization that people celebrate holidays dedicated in memory of wonderful people from our history, such as Martin Luther King, President’s Day, and important dates like Fourth of July, “Our day of what?”, and Veteran’s Day “To remember whom?”.  

Abbreviation Discussion

Most students will be familiar with the mnemonic "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue."   What does the 1492 mean here?  1492 years relative to what event?  (The birth of Christ).   Events before this are often designated as being “x years B.C.  What might B.C. mean in this context?  (Before Christ).  What two letter abbreviation is used to designate dates more recent than the birth of Christ?  There are two possible and equally correct answers here and if the students do not generate these from their combined general knowledge the teacher will need to prompt them with the answers:  A.D. and C.E.  Once provided with these, some students may be able to say what each stands for, but again the teacher may need to prompt them that A.D. stands for Anno Domini, which means “In the Year of the Lord” in Latin (a language that was derived from the Roman Empire and was much used by scholars well into the middle ages) and C.E. stands for “In the Common (or Current) Era.  Basically, B.C.E. and B.C. mean the same thing, with B.C.E. essentially being a secularized version of B.C. (removes the reference to a specific religious belief system from the date).  Similarly A.D. and C.E. mean the same thing, with CE being the secularized version of A.D.  Another alternative is simply to measure all events in terms of how long ago they occurred from today.  In this system all dates are referred to as being X years B.P.  with B.P. standing for “Before Present”.

Thus we have 5 different abbreviations that refer to the time scale of historical events:

B.C.     Before Christ                                       

A.D.     Anno Domini, “In the Year of the Lord”

B.C.E   Before the Common Era

C.E.     In the Common Era

B.P.     Before present


To reinforce these ideas the teacher may choose have students complete a brief worksheet , in which they write the meaning for each abbreviation on the worksheet provided (pdf format;  word format)


Phragmites in Time and Space Activity


1)      Students will be presented with a pile of rope on the desk. 

2)      The rope is 75 feet long and that represents a timeline of 15,000 years.  The teacher will ask the students “What distance along the rope represents 100 years? (Teacher may wish to have students work in groups to solve this).

3)      On the student worksheet  (pdf format;  word format) is a list of events related to the history of Phragmites and the date that each event occurred.  The events have been randomized in order to increase the challenge for the students.  Working in pairs (teacher should assign these so that stronger students can help weaker ones), have the students fill in the worksheet grid provided for each event.  When completed all events should have an entry in the B.P. column.  Events that occurred more than 2000 Years B.P.  should also have an entry in the B.C. / B.C.E. column.  Events that occurred more recently than 2000 years ago should  have an entry in the A.D. / C.E. Column



B.C. / B.C.E.

A.D.  / C.E.

B.P. (often rounded)

Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue



517  (or about 500)

Birth of Tutankhamun Emperor of Egypt



3348 (or about 3300)


Teacher may then want to quiz students to ensure that they understand the concept using the following examples (Table without answers is included on student worksheet provided):


B.C. / B.C.E.

A.D.  / C.E.

B.P. (often rounded)

First Known Fortified City (Jericho)




The first “henge” is built in Stonehenge (England)




First Olympic Games in Greece.




The Great Colosseum ("Coliseum") is built in Rome




Mohammed began to dictate the Koran




Humphry Davy, an English chemist, invented the first electric light.




Answers A:  10,000 B.P.

            B 3000 B.C.E.

C  2785 or about 2800 B.P.

D.  1927 or about 2000 B.P.

E.  625 A.D. (or C.E.)

F. 200 B.P.

4)      Students should be prompted to notice that dates with big numbers BC occurred a long time ago, while dates with big numbers A.D. happened most recently, with the biggest number A.D. on the human time being today.   Dates near 0 (small numbers B.C. or A.D.) occurred in the area of 2000 years ago.

5)      Teacher should assign one or two of the events on the timeline to each of the student pairs (depending on class size) until all events have a "champion."  The students should then be asked to calculate how far along the rope “timeline” these events should be placed given the distance in time each increment represents that they calculated earlier in this assignment.  Student pairs should also check the map to ensure that they they can find physical location of their assigned events on that map.  Warn the students that they will be asked to both place their event onto the timeline and to locate it on a map in front of their peers, so that they are well prepared when their turn comes.

6)      Student pairs will make index cards and “stick it” notes to represent their assigned events.  Creativity such as drawings illustrating the events as well as simple writing of the event descriptions should be encouraged here. 

7)      The teacher will ask the students which group thinks that they may have the oldest event (closest to 15,000 years ago).  The students will discuss which person really does have the oldest event and that student pair will read the description of their assigned event.  One partner will use a string, paper clip or similar device to attach the index card describing their event onto the appropriate place on the timeline (this should be done using measuring tape to ensure that the card is placed in the correct position on the timeline).  The other partner will place the stick-it onto a wall map in the classroom in the location where that event occurred.   

8)      The teacher will ask the same question again, and again the students will determine who now has the oldest remaining event. Again, each pair will read their event description as their turn comes, place that event onto the timeline and show the location of their event on the wall map until all events have been described.

9)      Teacher will then review patterns that should have emerged with students:

a.       First events are far apart.  Technological innovations came slowly when populations were low and much scattered and when there was little extra time for thinking / innovating.  More recently, higher population densities and the leisure time that came with agriculture and other innovations “catalyzed” or sped up the discovery process, resulting in more rapid development of different technologies

b.      First events tend to be located in a fairly narrow area around the Mediterranean in the area often referred to as the “Fertile Crescent.”  This isn’t where the first humans lived, but it is where the first farms occurred and, as a result, was the center of much of the earliest human innovation / technology use

c.      The earliest records of Phragmites use by humans come from places with dry climates (Israel, Syria, Iraq, the high mountains of Peru).  This doesn't necessarily mean Phragmites wasn't used elsewhere in the same period.  However, in damp climates organic materials tend to rot, and relatively soft tissues like reeds just disappear, leaving no record of their being present.  This is a common problem for archeologists, since they depend on the items that they study being preserved over long periods of time, and the conditions that are needed for preservation of artifacts (dry or cold, ideally combined with swift burial) are not as common as historians and scientists would wish.

d.  Phragmites use was common around the world.  In many cases cultures that had had no contact with one another used it in the same way (weaving, arrow shafts, etc.) suggesting that to some extent, when faced with the same challenges in different spots around the world, humans recognized and implemented similar solutions.  Since Phragmites is so widespread, it was widely available as one of the materials with which humans could solve the various challenges needed to stay alive.

Extension Activity

Depending on time, teacher may have students calculate how many balls of yarn would be needed to represent pivotal events in the earth’s history on the same scale or the teacher can simply have the students “guess” until they get close to the correct answers.


First dinosaurs


First living organisms


First Homo sapiens.


First living bacteria-like organisms.    



(A list of such events and their “ball of string equivalents” is provided on the student worksheet for the teacher to choose from if desired)


Ask Students:

·        What timeline fact did you find most interesting?

·        What event did you know about?  Which did you not know previously?

·        What does B.C. mean?  What’s another abbreviation that means the same thing?

·        What does A.D. mean?  What’s another abbreviation that means the same thing?

·        What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are of using the BP scale versus the B.C. / A.D. (B.C.E. / C.E.) scale?

o       B.P. is a single scale with increasing numbers meaning increased antiquity (advantage)

o       B.P. is measured backward from a moving target.  An event that was 1241 B.P. this year is 1242 B.P. next year which can be confusing  (disadvantage)

o       B.C. (B.C.E.) / A.D. (C.E.) system has a semi-arbitrary 0 point at about 2000 years B.P. with numbers increasing in both directions (forward and back from there) which can be confusing, and means an additional calculation is needed to put that event onto a timeline relative to the current day (disadvantage)

o       Because the B.C. (B.C.E.) / A.D. (C.E.) system has a fixed 0 point, any date (e.g. 1241 A.D.) is set in time and will not change from year to year  (advantage) 

Accommodations and Modifications: 

Pairings between students should be assigned as much as possible to build on each students’ strengths while minimizing the overall weaknesses within the group.  If students have disabilities that make movement difficult, a partner or proxy should be assigned as needed for putting the events on the timeline and wall map.



Have students find out one interesting fact about their own family history to share the following day to continue the appreciation of history. 


Ask the students to do their own research and bring in one event that occurred in the era B.C.E. (but within the range of the timeline used in class - so no more than 15,000 years B.P.) and one that occurred within the C.E.   Remind them to bring a brief description of the event along with its date. (These events do not need to be related to Phragmites.  They should just be things that are of interest to the students)


Have the students calculate the location on the timeline rope for each of their event. 


The following day if desired the students can share the events they chose and place them onto the timeline rope. 


Related Links:


TEACHER FEEDBACK REQUEST:  We are always to working to improve these lesson plans. If you use this lesson plan, we'd love to hear from you with your thoughts, comments and suggestions for future improvements.  Please take the time to fill in our survey at .  Thanks!


© 2009.  Amanda Traina (Author), Louise Wootton and Claire Gallagher (Editors)

 Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement NE97262206  to Georgian Court   University, it has not gone through the Agency's publications review process and, therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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