Saturday, August 01, 2009

The King's M&M's

Simply because it got the students in the middle of a situation relevant to a famous episode in history, this was by far one of my favorite lessons! This was an American History Simulation for fifth graders geared toward helping students understand why Americans were upset with the British tax laws, such as the Stamp Act, after the French and Indian War. They were also able to identify tactics colonials used to show their displeasure with the taxes.

To play the game prepare Role cards in advance: one King, two Parliament members and two Tax Collectors. The remaining role cards were Colonists. Then prepare Object cards with names of items commonly worn or possessed by students , for example jeans, sneakers, glasses, pens, jewelry etc. In the corner of each object card, write a number ranging from one to three. These numbers will become a taxable value.

Beginby giving each student a cup containing ten M&M's (and instruct the students not to touch them!)

The role cards are to be randomly passed out and ask for the students who have the 'King', "Parliament," and "Tax Collector" cards to come to the front of the room. The King is to sit in a designated "seat of honor," and Parliament members are to have a specific area from which to enact their roles.

Members of Parliament are to draw from the prepared Object Cards and announce to the Colonists what item is to be taxed,(eg., blue jeans). Anyone possessing that item has to pay out the number of M&M's equal to the number written on the Object Card. So if the card marked 'jeans is pulled, each colonist wearing blue jeans must relinquish three M&M's.

The "Tax Collectors" does all of the collecting of M&M's and all "taxes" are to be returned to Parliament. Taxes should be levied for at least 3 items but not more than six. The idea is to relieve several student of all their candy and leave many more with just two or three of their original total.

After all taxes have been levied the funds can now be dispersed. This is an arbitrary breakdown for the purpose of the simulation.... Tax Collectors get 10%, Parliament receives 50% (these fund are to be used to run the empire!) and are to be divided equally between the two students in that role. Finally, King George pockets the remaining 40% for himself.

It has happened on a few occasions that while some students had all of their M&M''s confiscated, members of Parliament have had almost as many as thirty to forty pieces to show for their efforts. Some students showed definite feelings of displeasure just as some on the receiving end of this taxing generosity gloated just a little bit too much. The objective of this lesson has to be completed during the withdrawal from the roles because understanding how the colonists reacted to the tax collectors and the various tax laws from the Stamp Act is relevant at this crucial moment. Simply asking what was so unfair about how the class was taxed and how it could be handled more fairly became great discussion topics]. Why were the tax collectors tarred and feathered became well understood! The reasons British goods being boycotted..... what methods and organizations were devised by the colonists in order to resist and how these laws led ultimately to the break from Great Britain became intrinsic.

I tried this as an anticipatory set, but found the lesson much more effective after the Stamp Act had been introduced and the text lesson presented. The sufficient background made the post-simulation review more exciting, they got so involved.

Since the colonists were upset about new taxes on paper and the lack of representation in the establishment of those taxes, this strategic activity drew the students into a similar, albeit contrived, situation where items were arbitrarily removed from their possession without their input. The students frustration with the unfairness of the way they lost their candy was easily compared to the substantial give and take on one of the central issues leading to the American Revolution -- taxation without representation.

Selected Source:

American History Simulations written by Max W. Fischer, 1993, Teacher Created Materials

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Sunday, July 26, 2009


The knowledge of the life of Josephus, Flavius ( 37-ca. 100 CE) comes directly from his own writings, four of which have survived. A history of war called The Jewish War comprised of seven books, in which he attempts to dissuade his people and other nations from courting annihilation by extending their revolts against the all powerful Roman Empire. A history of the Jews from the creation up to the war (66 CE)where he movingly describes how his people had flourished under God's law. An autobiography called Life and a defence of Judaism Against Apion where he refutes the charges made against the Jews made by the anti-Semitic Greek grammarian Apion (fl. 1st cent.) and other writers of similar opinions. Against Apion is his most invaluable contribution, because Josephus recapitulates writings on Jewish history, religious life and culture that are no longer in existence. A key to understanding the last two pre-Christian and first post-Christian centuries. So influential is his work in playing a role in the developing culture of the Radical Reformation that the Puritans who arrived in New England owned in addition to their Bibles the writings of Josephus.

Born Joseph ben Matthias his life can be separated into two parts: the controversial and dramatic years in Judea and the years he spent living in Rome as the client and some sources say as a prisoner of the Flavian emperors. Born in Jerusalem he spent his adolescence in the wilds as a member of the Essenes, a monastic brotherhood of Jews in Palestine who practiced from the 2d century B.C. to the 2d century A.D. Josephus found their devotion to scripture and ascetic way of life romantic.

As he matured he aligned himself with the Pharisees and played an important role in the revolt by the Zealots (qv). This led to the ambiguity and often conflicting accounts in the writings of Josephus. Beginning in 66 CE during the revolt against Rome by the Zealots he was appointed as general to take charge of the defence of Galilee (in what is now Israel). In one account he writes that he took charge of the forces there to lead the Galilean phase and yet in another later accounting he writes that he sought to prevent the revolt rather than play an role in leading it. The end results of his preparations were negated when Vespasian overran the Jewish forces. By Jospehus telling this defeat was because of the superior forces of the Roman army and tactical skills of their leader. But detractors declared that Jospehus had been a traitor and the Roman victory was from some form of treachery committed by Josephus himself; this suspicion of Josephus would follow him for the rest of his life. Josephus and some of companions escaped the besieged town of Jopata and formed a suicide pact to escape capture of the Romans. Somehow Jospehus managed to become the lone survivor of this scheme and them promptly surrendered to the Romans. Whichever story may be true Josephus did succeed in preparing Galilee for the coming onslaught in 67 and valorously repulsed Vespasian for a time. Having proven his military abilities with his 47 day defence of Jopata garnered him the respect and later a prized position with Vespian. He would have been sent as a prisoner to Nero had he not possessed the wit to prophecy that his captor, Vespasian would one day be an emperor. The prophecy aligned with Vespasian's ambitions and when this prophecy came true Vespasian chose to keep Josephus by his side most likely saving his life. Thus adopting the family name of Flavius from Vespasian he later found himself in the position of accompanying another future emperor Titus, the son of Vespasian. It was during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus that he came to witness and record its subjugation in 70 CE.

Spending the remainder of his years under their royal patronage he discovered the Romans had a great interest in Judaism and Jewish history. He first earned their attentions by devoting himself as a skilled historian. Producing his works under the name Josephus, Flavius he wrote about The Jewish War in seven books in order the set the scene, describing how the Jewish people and the history of their unrest beginning two hundred and fifty years in the past up to the great rebellion. His account of the war then takes two directions managing to depict the heroism and courage of the Jewish defenders of Jerusalem and at the same time magnify the deeds of the Roman generals.

The Romans whose interests were now flattered as welll as piqued about the history of the Jews, Jospehus set about writing a rather lack luster but exceedingly comprehensive accounting. In the first ten books of The Jewish Antiquities he expands and embellishes his own paraphrasing of their history and the Hebrew Bible, supplanting his narrative with Jewish lore known as Haggadah and further combines relevant Greek sources. In the second series of Antiquities, Josephus commits his writings to the rise and reign of Herod the Great using to a large extent the writings of the secretary to Herod, Nicolas of Damascus.

After his charming reply to Apion in his Against Apion where he defends the Jewish people and their religion to these ancient slanders of the Jewish people, at last, Josephus presented his autobiography. Originally a part of the Antiquities most of which relates again what was written in The Jewish War but with more information as the authors dispute with a rival historian Justus of Tiberius. Josephus enjoyed imperial patronage of his final days with the Romans under Titus and later his brother and successor Domitian until his death in Rome around 98 - 100 CE.


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Josephus, Flavius," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.


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(Hebrew meaning fortress)

A group of ancient ruins built on a desert mountaintop thirty miles (48.3 km) southeast of Jerusalem. It was the scene of the last stand made by Jewish Zealots, a group of about 1,000,including women and children in their revolt against Roman rule. The Romans responded by besieging the fortress.

Located at the top of an isolated rock on the edge of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea valley, Masada is 440 feet (434 m) above the Dead Sea and it is isolated from its surroundings by deep gorges on all sides forming a a natural fortification. Josephus describes it as a steep "Snake Path" from the east (from the Dead Sea), "the White Rock" from the west, and the two approaches from north and south, and all of them difficult to climb.

Josephus, or Josephus, Flavius (37-ca. 100 CE), the Roman name of Joseph Ben-Matityahu was a Jewish military leader that was captured by Romans during the Jewish Revolt. He later became a historian.and his works constitute the best available source for the study of Jewish life of that period. Though he is to some extent considered a traitor of Jewish people, there is no disputing the Herodian period and that of the Jewish Revolt . However, there is some controversy as to the objectivity of his works. Josephus describes all the dramatic details of the last hours of the Masada as told by the remaining two women and five children who survived a mass suicide by hiding in a cave.

Two fortified palaces were built there in the first century BCE by the Judean king Herod the Great. There he withstood a two year Roman siege by ingeniously constructing one of the the most stragically important buildings in the northern part of Masada - the highest point of the rock where it was daringly built on the very edge of the precipice.

"This Northern Palace or, more correctly, royal villa, commanded a magnificent view of the surroundings as far as Ein-Gedi. It was built in three tiers, only the upper one containing the living quarters and the lower ones designed for pleasure. The walls and ceilings were decorated with frescoes, and some of them were discovered at the lower terrace in a well-preserved state. The frescoes imitated stone and marble covering, and even Josephus believed that the walls were marble covered. "

One of Herod's initial undertakings was an intricate water supply system, a drainage system to carry rainwater from the two wadis west of Masada to a group of cisterns in the northwestern slope of the rock. This was of critical importance considering the arid climate. To foritfy defenses he constructed a casement wall, a double wall with the inner space divided into seventy rooms, thirty towers and four gates.

Fleeing from Jerusalem to Masada with his family in a moment of danger, King Herod fortified and furnished the citadel as a refuge fearing "a peril from Jewish people" and one "more serious from Cleopatra of Egypt".

By the fourth centrury BCE Masada was captured at Herod's death, and turned into a Roman garrison most likely from from 6 to 66 C.E., when, at the outbreak of the Jewish War, Menahem, son of Judah the Galilean, captured Masada at the head of a band of Zealots . Jewish rivals murdered Menahem in Jerusalem and his nephew Eleazar ben Yair escaped to Masada until its fall in 73 C.E. During their years there, Masada served as a place of refuge and remained the only point of Jewish resistance becoming the rebels' base for raiding operations. Flavius Silva a Roman governor decided to squlech this rebellion and marched against Masada. All told ten to fifteen thousand people including the Tenth Legion, its auxiliary troops, and thousands of Jewish war prisoners troops prepared for a long battle by establishing eight camps at the base of the Masada rock. and surrounding it with a high wall, leaving no escape for the rebels. Amazingly within nine months of their arrival and with thousands of slaves, many of them Jewish, the Romans cunningly constructed an assault ramp. They then attacked the fortress by moving a battering ram up the ramp crushing the casement wall. As an innovative countermeasure the rebels assembled a wall of earth and wood that was flexible enough to make it difficult for the ram to break. The Romans eventually destroyed this wall by fire and made plans to seize Masada the next day.

The Zealot's leader Eleazar Ben Yair gathered all the defenders and persuaded them to kill themselves rather than fall into the hands of Romans. Recorded by Josepus in The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus are the speeches given by Eleazar:

Since we, long ago, my generous friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans,
nor to any other than God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind,
the time is now come to make that resolution true in practice.

Perhaps the Zealots were unconvinced and as a religious tactic Elezar points out that they as a Jewish people are chosing between being Jewish or death. Leading them deeper into the idea of a mass suicide he continues:

Let our wives die before they have been abused,
and our children before they have tasted slavery,
and after we have slain them, let us bestow that
glorious benefit upon one another mutually,
and preserve ourselves in freedom.

Elazar lastly attacks the group as lacking bravery convincing them that this is a necessary act. The people of Masada had a choice, they could let the Romans win, or they could take the victory away from them and die by each others hands.

Truly, I was greatly mistaken when I thought to be assisting to brave men
who struggled hard for their liberty, and to such as were resolved
either to live with honor, or else to die;
but I find that you are such people as are no better than others,
either in virtue or in courage,
and are afraid of dying.

Their holy city had been destroyed (Jerusalem), many of those who had they same beliefs as they had been killed, and the Romans were going to take away their right to worship. The Romans would feel that they had achieved a victory if they were allowed to take the fortification, the women would be "abused", and the children would be taken into slavery. All of these were things which were probably true, and it was enough for the people of Masada to decide that their best choice would to be to die not by the hands of the Romans, but by the hands of those which were near to them.

The deaths did not come in the way which is traditionally believed. These people did not actually commit suicide. Setting fire to their personal belongings, ten people were chosen by casting lots to kill everyone else. A second lot was drawn to decide which one of the remaining ten would kill the rest and then committ suicide..... The men began by killing the women and children

cut (them) off short, and made haste to do the work,
as full of unconquerable ardour of mind, and moved with a
demonical fury.

In the morning Romans entered the fortress and found only dead bodies. They were greeted with silence. Expecting to find some resistance, they instead found two women and five children who had concealed themselves in caverns (some scholars believe they may have hidden in the cisterns (a part of the water supply system built years before by Herod), under the ground. These women told the Romans the story of what had happened, and it is from this story and the stories of the Roman army that we have the history of Masada as recorded by Josephus.

The Romans kept a garrison at the site for a period of time. Later the ruins became a retreat for monks who built a small church there. After a brief occupancy during the Crusades it was abandoned completly until archeological excavations in the 1960's. Today Masadas is an important Israeli national shrine.


Why Study Masada?



The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, Flavius Josephus, Trans. By Wm. Whiston. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1960.) P. IX

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Masada," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

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