( The Castillo at Chichén Itzá)
Can You
Unravel the Mystery of the Mayans?

(The Upper Temple of the Jaguars 
                   at  Chichén Itzá)

This is a fourth grade thematic unit created by Connie Taylor that explores some of the complexities of the Mayan Indians.

Table of Contents
Unit Outcomes
Annotated List of Related Children's Books
Annotated List of Related Web sites
Teacher Resources
Pre/Post Test
Lesson Plans


Unit Outcomes

In this unit students will learn more about the culture and various aspects of how the Mayans lived. The students will discover the many advancements the Mayan made in the areas of astronomy and mathematics. They will also learn about their complex calendar and  well developed hieroglyphic system of writing.

Introduction and Overview of Unit

  The ancient Mayans were some of the most advanced of all ancient cultures. What happened to them is one of the great mysteries of today. They originated around 2600 B.C. in the area of Mexico known as the Yucatan and began its decline around A.D. 900 for reasons that are still unknown. . Their civilization extended into Guatemala. They were farmers and architect who built magnificent temples, extravagant pyramids, and wondrous observatories, all without metal tools, beasts of burden, or even the wheel. They were able to construct vast cities with an amazingly accurate architectural precision.  How they accomplished these feats are a mystery to historians and scholars alike. Some scholars have called them "the Greeks of the New World." All these wonderful things happened while Europe struggled through the Dark Ages. They were also fine artists, goldsmiths, and coppersmiths. They are believed to be some of the earliest astronomers. They understood mathematics and were the first to recognize the need for "zero" in figuring large numbers. The Mayans also had a complex calendar and a well developed hieroglyphic system of writing. One question that puzzles many is the fact that the descendants of the Mayan represent a seven million plus population in the Yucatan of Mexico -- how can the Mayan civilization be dead? The culture of these ancient peoples has vanished, leaving us with yet another mystery.


The Mayan Ruins
(From the Science Museum of Minnesota web site: http://www.sci.mus.mn.us/sln/ma/index.html)

Chichén Itzá was known as "The Great City." The first picture is an overview and the second is a view a ball court. The city had a total of seven ball courts. The small ball was hard  made of rubber from native trees. The players could not touch the ball with their hands and had to put the ball through two small hoops attached high on the walls. The playing field was 450 feet in length by 120 feet wide. 

This is a photo of the Cenote of Sacrifice at the ancient Maya city of Chichén Itzá in Yucatan, Mexico. The priest would throw precious items into the water as a sacrifice to the gods. The items were found when the site was dredged by Edward Thompson in 1904.
These are the temples at Tikal. On of the temples at this site bears the date of October 19, 445 A.D. Archeologist believe Tikal was inhabited from 1500 B.C. to about 900 A.D. It was abandoned at that time for reasons that are still unknown.
These are from the Governor's Palace, Great Pyramid, and House of the Turtles at Uxmal. 
This is the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal.
This is  a  five terraced Pyramid in Tula.

My Mayan Adventure

This is a picture of the ruins at Isle Mujures. The name means "Isle of Women."
I am standing in front of the ruins. This was a temple & sacrificial site that honored   Ixchel, Goddess of the moon. 
This is the view looking down from the ruins. Women still come to the site to pray to the Moon Goddess to help them have a child. 
The ruins are now maintained and protected by the Mexican Government. 

Lesson Plans

Lesson One
"Could You Meet the Challenge"
This lesson is an introduction to the book Rain Player  by David Wisniewski.
Lesson Two
"Prying Into the Past"
This is an inquiry lesson for students to investigate the culture of the Mayans.
Lesson Three
"Let's Travel to a Mayan Pyramid"
This is a virtual field trip lesson that takes you to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Quebec to visit a reconstructed Mayan settlement.
Lesson Four
"Where Would I Find the Mayans?
This is a geography lesson where students will use their atlases to find out where the ancient Mayans were located.
Lesson Five
"Journey to Mayan Country"
Students will use various web sites to research information about the Mysterious Mayas. 

Annotated List of Related Children's Books

This is a Newberry Honor book about a young Mayan boy who must take over and plant the corn after his father is injured in an accident while clearing the bush. Can twelve-year-old Tigre take on a man's job and harvest enough for his family to survive the winter? (Suited for ages 9-12)

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book that comes from a Guatemalan legend of a king who is protected by a quetzal or hummingbird. What happens to the young prince when his father dies? What will  his jealous uncle do to become king? (Suited for ages 9-12)

This informational book is loaded with pictures and facts about the Mayan culture. The book has information about the families and their way of life. It has activities and a legend about how the deer and rabbit lost their tails. This is a wonderful book to interest students about these mysterious people. (Suited for ages 9-12)

This is the story of Mario and his imaginary adventure to the sacred city of  Chichén Itzá. Read this beautifully illustrated book to find out if Mario really gets to make the trip or if he dreams of the magical site. (Suited for ages 4-8)

The high priest has declared a terrible year of drought for the Mayan people. How will they survive if there is no corn? A young ballplayer named Pik challenges the Rain God, Chac to a game of poc-a-tok to get rain for the crops. No one in the village is willing to play on his team. Who will he get to help him and will he win? Read the book and find out if young Pik can make it rain. (Suited for ages 4-10)

This is a story about a Juan who lives in Guatemala with his grandmother. He desperately wants to go to school but he has to work shining shoes to earn money to help his family. Juan teaches himself to read and finally gets up the courage to ask his grandmother about school. Will she allow him to go? Read the book and find out what happens to Juan. (Suited for ages 7-9)

Annotated List of Related Web sites

    Visit this site at The Science Museum of Minnesota Maya Adventure, a World-Wide Web site that highlights science activities and information related to ancient and modern Maya culture.
     Visit this web site at Civilization.ca for information about the IMAX film, Mystery of the Maya and much more. There are numerous links to other sites pertaining to the Maya civilization.
     Visit this web site for information about the Mayan Gods and religion. This site can answer all your questions. Find pictures and legends about the various gods. 
     Visit this web site to take a tour of all the major Mayan ruins at the Mayan Majix site.  The web site has a slide show with great pictures. It also has a great map to help you locate the various temples.
    Visit the Nova web site called "Lost King of the Maya" for a streaming video of one of the great temples at Copan with host David Stuart. The video picture has sound and you can also link to tour the hieroglyphic system of writing.
    Visit the Mayan Kids web site to learn about the people and culture of the Mayans. The site has links to other great places to visit. There are also games to play and an impressionist painting program too. It is a great place for kids to learn about this ancient civilization.
     Visit the Rabbit in the Moon web site to discover facts about the Mayan gods, culture, and other oddities. This site will show you how to find your birth date on the Mayan calendar.
Visit the Mayan Astronomy Page to discover facts about the Mayan calendar, astronomy, and mathematics. 
Visit the World Atlas page to discover where the Ancient Mayans lived. See maps of current day Central America and other important facts about these countries.
Visit the National Geographic web site to find our even more about the countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Yucatan, Mexico. These countries were home to the ancient Mayan people.


Teacher Resources

This is a great book to use to research information on the Mayan civilization. It is loaded with information. It has details and pictures of the first excavations of the ruins. This would be a valuable resource for teachers to learn more about the Mayan civilization.
Explore the world of the Maya in this comprehensive documentary video which tells the story of an ancient civilization once cloaked in mystery. Recent breakthroughs in deciphering glyphs has shed light upon the Maya. This video brings to life a culture long held in the shadows. Approximate time: 53 minutes.
The mystery of the Mayans comes to life on this video from Time Life called "Maya--The Blood of Kings." The video begins by a reenactment of a poc-a-tok game being played on one of ball courts. The video takes you deep into the jungles of Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala on a search to solve one of the world's greatest mysteries.
The Goode's World Atlas is a handy teaching tool that is loaded with over 75 maps. It has various information about population, climate, health care, farming, and more.
The Encarta Encyclopedia is a great resource for teachers who are just beginning to explore the Mysterious Mayans.

Pre-Post Test

1. How did the character from the book end up with the name "Rainplayer?"
     a.  He liked to play in the rain.
     b.  It was raining on the day he was born.
     c.  He was given the name because he won a bet with Chac and helped end the drought.
     d. He was named by Chac.

2. From the book Rain Player,  what is your  impression of Chac, the rain god. 

3. Describe the  type of agriculture the Mayans practiced. 

4. What drink is referred to as the "Drink of the Gods" and what is made from? 

5. What did the Mayan pyramids represent? 
           a.  They represented the fact that their civilization was superior. 
           b.  They represented mountains and the temples were caves. 
           c.   They represented the fact that Mayans were closer to the Gods. 

6. Compare and contrast the differences between the houses of the common people and
     the temples and pyramids. 

7. Identify two of the Mayan gods and describe them briefly. 

8. True or False : The Mayans did not recognize zero as a number. 

9. Identify the four countries in which the ancient Mayans were located. 

10. What do you think happened to the Mayans? 

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