Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Top Secret Sensitive Information

Julie Thompson
Bay District Schools


Students play the role of detectives and develop criteria to evaluate sites for the heart of Florida capital. To do this, they use teacher made TOP SECRET folders with information that represents diverse cultural perspectives and state maps.


The student uses a variety of reference materials to gather information, including multiple representations of information for a research project (for example, maps, charts, photos).

The student writes notes, comments, and observations that reflect comprehension of fourth grade or higher level content and experiences from a variety of media.

The student writes for a variety of occasions, audiences, and purposes (for example, journals to reflect upon ideas, reports to describe scientific observations).

The student uses electronic technology to create, revise, retrieve, and verify information (including but not limited to word-processing software, electronic encyclopedias).

The student understands ways geographic features influenced the exploration, colonization, and expansion of Florida.

The student understands some ways industrialization and urbanization have affected Florida (for example, the growth of railroads and highways, the development of large population centers, tourism).

The student knows selected economic, political, and social transformations that have taken place in Florida since World War II (for example, civil rights movement, space program).

The student understands the contributions of selected significant men and women, including African Americans and Hispanics, on the development of Florida (for example, Ponce De Leon, Henry Flagler, Mary Bethune Cookman, Chief Osceola, Governor Bob Martinez).

The student understands the unique and diverse cultural make-up of Florida (for example, Caucasian, Hispanic, Haitian-Creole, African-American).

The student knows ways various cultures contributed to the unique social, cultural, economic, and political features of Florida.

The student uses maps, globes, charts, graphs and other geographic tools to gather and interpret data and draw conclusions about physical patterns (for example, in Florida).


-Teacher-made TOP SECRET folders (see Preparation)
-Class-made survey of popular opinion
-Overhead transparency of “Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart” (see Associated File)
-Student copies of Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart (see Associated File)
-Overhead projector
-Where's the Heart of Florida? Criteria Checklist
-Reference List (located in students' Research Portfolios)
-Conference Form (located in students' Research Portfolios)

-Appropriate demographic and geographic maps of Florida showing:
-population centers
-political boundaries
-economic centers
-cultural centers
-physical features


1. Prepare teacher-made TOP SECRET folders and make copies so each group has one copy. The TOP SECRET Folders should consist of teacher-made Cultural Letters and Information from representative cultural groups in Florida to illustrate various perspectives on the locations of the past and future capital. This can be done by watching current events in the newspaper and/or Weekly Reader, etc. for the contributions of various groups to persuade students to consider perspectives beyond their own. A sample document is included in the Associated File. Download and print a copy for duplication. Place one copy of each document into folders entitled TOP SECRET Folder.

2. Download Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart, make an overhead, and student copies to place in their Research Portfolios (See Associated File). This way the students and you can modify it or improve upon it as you go.

3. Each student should have a Research Portfolio to record information and to house handouts provided by the teacher. Simply distribute a letter or legal sized file folder to each student.

4. Locate geographic and demographic maps of Florida as listed in the Materials section of this lesson. These should be used to consider different criteria.

5. Visit the Websites listed in Weblinks for more information.

6. When assigning cooperative groups for this unit, small groups should contain no more than 4 or 5 students. Roles should be assigned for students to insure involvement by all. Use your own cooperative worker tools or assign students the following roles: Recorder, Fact Finder (1 or 2 students), Materials Manager, Reporter.


Sessions 4 & 5 from the Problem-Based Learning unit Where's the Heart of Florida? (see Extensions) This lesson should continue students' investigation and inquiry into the problem so that they can define the problem in the next lesson.

1. Briefly review the history of the present-day capital as researched in the previous lesson (see Extensions). Ask the students why the capital is where it is today. Discuss. Students should now know that the current capital's location is due to the historic, geographical, and political features of the day in which it was built. Ask: Is that where the heart of Florida is today? That's what the Governor wants to know. If we used the same criteria today, would the capital still be Tallahassee? Students need not agree on this. Tell students that today they will investigate the criteria for evaluating sites for the Heart of Florida capital.

2. Refer back to the criteria which placed the capital where it is today (geographical and political features). Begin a concept web with the Heart of Florida in the center and these two words in circles connected to the center circle. This is the beginning of the web. Define the two terms, geographical and political, with words familiar to your students, using examples and nonexamples. Then extend the web with circles that contain the reasons behind the criteria.

Example: One of the reasons for the selections of Tallahassee was the geographical location. This would be the first spoke projecting from the center of the web. Why was Tallahassee a good choice geographically?
1) It was centrally located between St. Augustine and Pensacola--two very populated cities at that time. Centrally located would be a spoke off geographic location.
2) It seems to be its elevation and placement between a waterfall and a beautiful stream played a part in the location, according to John Lee Williams, one of two commissioners charged with finding an appropriate spot for the permanent seat of Florida's government. Elevation, water supply, and beautiful spot would be spokes off geographical location. (See Weblinks for more information about this.)

Ask: What else should be the criteria for the Heart of Florida capital? In small groups, allow students time to brainstorm additional possible criteria for the Heart of Florida capital and add to their concept webs. To probe students’ thinking, use the TOP SECRET Folders (see Preparation) as needed. Use the Sensitive Information as necessary to probe students to think beyond the obvious and flesh out criteria to add to the web. It is the coach’s job to know how many pieces and which ones to use according to the group of students. Students should be prepared to share their work.

3. As student groups share their findings with the whole group, look for connections between the features and clump them on the web as closely as possible to the following criteria: political, social, cultural, economic, and geographical features. Your students may use different words based upon their experiences.

Embedded instruction (see end of Procedures) may be necessary to introduce or clarify this new vocabulary.(This would be a good Working With Words activity as part of the Reading Frameworks.) Connect the words they use to the meanings of the new words and use their words for the criteria. Come to consensus on the criteria using the information on the web.

Transfer the information from the web to the Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart. This will serve as a graphic organizer for further information collected during research (see Associated File). Distribute student copies of the Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart. Allow time for students to add this to their Research Portfolios. Add the criteria, in student words, to the top of the columns as you agree on it.

4. To further the investigation, generate a class survey as a group that students conduct in their homes as homework. (Literacy Link of the Reading Frameworks) Come up with the basic outline based upon the criteria for the sites. Some possible questions would be the following:
-Where should the capital of Florida be if you consider only the geographic criteria? Why?
-Where should the capital be if you consider the major political areas in the state? Why?
-Where should the capital be if you consider only the economics of groups in the state? Why? (Etc.)
Continue with similar questions that will help students gather information about their proposed criteria in the form of a survey. After the students come to consensus on the survey questions, develop the survey using word-processing software. Proofread the survey, make copies, and send it home for homework. (NOTE: It is the coach's responsibility to be aware of and to follow the local school board's safety policy when instructing students about how to conduct a survey. It is sufficient for this investigation for students to collect this information in the safety of their homes and their school.)

5. Allow students ample time to record their entries in their Reflections Log as well as any information needed for the Reference List which should be located in their Research Portfolios, concerning this session's activities and any insights gleaned from them.

The following class session:
6. Once the information from the surveys is collected, students add it to the Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart in their Research Portfolios as Site #1, Site #2, etc. Using survey information, students list the site and the reasons under the appropriate criteria.

For example:
If a survey response said that Miami should be the Heart of Florida capital because it has the largest population, the student would then list Miami as the site and write the reason given in the political features column. (See Preparation).

Model your preference for how this should be done. There should be enough information from the surveys for students to define each of the criteria that they think is important at this time. Use questions to focus and define the criteria. For example, What criteria should be used as far as defining the geographic features’ criteria of the Heart of Florida capital? Students might respond that the criteria should be that the Heart of Florida should be centrally located in the state. This should be recorded on their copies of the Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart, which is part of their Research Portfolios as well as their reasoning for how and why they are defining the criteria as they are. Discussing this in small groups can assist students as they justify their reasoning.

7. Based upon the results of the survey, discuss the following questions:
-What are possible sites for the “Heart of Florida” capital in the twenty-first century? Why?
-Does your information support the criteria for appropriate sites?
At this point there are probably so many possibilities that proposing sites may be premature. That brings us to next lesson, What's the problem?

8. Once again, after the completion of the activities, allow students the opportunity to record their thoughts and any new information they learned in their Reflections Logs which should be located in their Research Portfolios. Students should also add any pertinent information to their Reference Lists.

Embedded instruction: Before students conduct research, teach a lesson on differentiating between political, social, cultural, economic, and geographic features of places around the state, using their language. Post this information for future reference. You may want to do some of the work in other class periods. For instance, you could group your language arts and social studies classes together for extended times so more embedded instruction can occur.

Skills necessary for this lesson:
-reading maps and texts for information
-creating a chart
-categorizing information

Concepts necessary for this lesson:
-comparing and contrasting sites
-taking a survey/date collection
-physical and human characteristics of places


The Research Portfolio is a formative product, meaning that at this point the entry will reveal both what the student knows and understands and what is confusing to them. Use this information to tell you what to teach rather than to assign a grade at this point. Assigning a grade will stifle the process of investigating and lead to premature definition of the problem. In Problem-Based Learning, what is unknown at this point is as important as what is known.

Student's Research Portfolio contains a Compare/Contrast the Sites Chart that
-compares and contrasts proposed sites according to the agreed upon criteria (political, social, cultural, economic, and geographical features of Florida)
-selects and uses a variety of reference materials
-reflects comprehension of content

The survey shows the student
-uses technology to create information

The Reflections Log entries present
-written self-assessment to determine if the information collected supports agreed upon criteria as stated in number 3 of Lesson Procedures.


This lesson is the third in a series of lessons that comprise a Problem-Based Learning unit entitled, Where's the Heart of Florida? This lesson is preceded by MEMO to the Governor and Navigating Through Capital History respectively. It is followed by What's the Problem?

a. The Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson can be viewed by clicking on the link located at the top of this page or by using the following URL: Once you select the unit’s link, scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, Associated Files. This section contains links to the Unit Plan Overview, Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, and other associated files (if any).

Web Links

Web supplement for Top Secret Sensitive Information
History of the Florida Capitol

Web supplement for Top Secret Sensitive Information
Exploring Florida, a social studies resource for students and teachers

Web supplement for Top Secret Sensitive Information
Florida: Home to a Diverse Population

Web supplement for Top Secret Sensitive Information
Florida Seminole Indians

Web supplement for Top Secret Sensitive Information
The Flagler Station Over-Sea Railway HISTOREUM

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