My students are absolutely obsessed with the American Revolution and they ESPECIALLY love learning about Colonial and British spies. During the Revolution, spies sometimes used the clothing they hung on their clotheslines to pass secret messages. This was a way to pass messages out in the open, under the watchful eye of the British. In cooperative groups, I asked my students to build sturdy clotheslines using only the materials provided to them. Then, they created clothesline codes that could have been used to pass secret messages between spies and spy networks.
Whenever possible, I like to combine subjects together to make interdisciplinary projects. This helps with the usual time crunch because if I’m teaching STEM, social studies, and reading together, I can justify combining the time I’d usually spend on those subjects separately and allow students to complete a longer, more involved activity. Also, it is beneficial for students to think beyond their textbooks/worksheets and actually create something.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could integrate a STEM activity into the American Revolution. Then, I came across an amazing read-aloud book (The Scarlet Stockings Spy by Trinka Hakes Noble) that gave me a fabulous idea. So, I recommend reading this book to your students as a starting place for this activity:
After reading the book, I provided some limited materials (listed below) and asked students to create clotheslines that would hold the paper pieces of clothing provided to them. I do not allow students to have extra materials!
Materials provided to each cooperative group of students:
2 foam cups (8.5 oz)
36 inches of fishing Wire
2 wooden popsicle sticks (jumbo size)
36 inches of masking tape
6 standard paperclips
6 pieces of paper clothing (included in this packet)
I asked students to consider the “message” they would be sending through their clotheslines. In the book, Maddie Rose used different configurations of clothing to pass her messages. Students colored and cut out the pieces of clothing and then planned/created their clotheslines. I was truly amazed with their creations!
Here are a few of my favorite clotheslines:
My students used a “STEM Activity Sheet” to help them keep track of their planning, changes, and final product. This sheet also provided space for a reflection.
To integrate writing into this activity, I included a writing assignment where I asked students to draw their clothesline code and write about the “secret message” they sent through their clothesline.
This was a fun, educational experience for my students! From reading the book to finishing the project, this took two fifty minute class periods. This interdisciplinary activity was well worth my time because students were able to combine their love for history into nearly every other subject area and they had a blast creating their clotheslines!
View this activity on my Teachers pay Teachers store by clicking the image below:
If your students are obsessed with Revolution-era spies, like my students, you may enjoy this activity pack: