Students explore the reasons for Spanish dominance of the Aztecs by determining the relative significance of five factors that led to a final outcome. Students also create pie charts as a visual representation of the relative significance of each factor.
Consider factors leading to the Aztec conquest
Invite students to speculate about what might happen when Aztec and Spanish conquistador societies meet. You may wish to refer to When Worldviews Meet (Critical Challenge). Explain to students that they will explore why things turned out as they did.
Suggest to the class that when historians consider questions such as "How did the Spanish achieve domination over theAztecs?" they could begin by asking "What were the various factors that led to the Aztecs’ submission?" Indicate that students are going to try to identify these factors and then determine to what extent each factor plays a role in the eventual outcome of this intercultural clash.
Use a jigsaw strategy to explore the general causes of empire decline
Divide the class into groups of five for a simple jigsaw activity (see References). Each home group needs at least five members. Ask students to number off.
Ask home groups to answer this initial question: What factors lead to the fall of an empire? Give home groups time to discuss their answers before sharing them with the class.
If students do not raise the issues, indicate that there are often multiple and sometimes underlying or indirect factors, such as:
- military inferiority
- internal weaknesses in the economy or social welfare
- attack/invasion by outsiders
- poor leadership.
Create a master list of the factors that might explain why one empire may decline or be overrun. Then direct the focus to the Aztec–Spanish conflict and cluster the causes into a list of approximately five broad factors:
- Spain’s military technology
- other (nonmilitary) technological differences
- rapid spread of disease
- Spanish worldview
- Aztec worldview.
Use expert groups to research reasons for Aztecs' decline
Direct one student from each home group into expert groups organized according to one of the causes for decline; e.g., all #1’s meet to discuss Spain’s military technology; all #2’s meet to discuss other (nonmilitary) technological differences. Expert groups may use print and electronic sources to research their assigned cause for the fall of the Aztecs (see References).
Expert groups prepare to teach home groups
After expert groups have completed their research, encourage them to discuss how they might best explain their findings to their home groups; e.g., use diagrams, re-enactment, narrative, acronyms, symbols.
Generate criteria for an effective presentation strategy such as:
- identifies only important points
- is easily understood
- is interesting or engaging.
Experts teach home groups about factors leading to decline
Arrange for students to return to their original home groups and present the various factors that led to the Aztecs’ defeat. Each expert teaches the rest of the group about his or her assigned topic using the planned presentation strategy; e.g., Student 1 shares information about Spain’s military technology; Student 2 shares information about technological differences.
Determine relative significance of each factor
Ask each home group to discuss the relative importance of each factor in the Spanish domination of the Aztecs.
To determine the significance of each factor, students may consider the following criteria:
- how necessary or crucial the factor was to the outcome (e.g., Could the Spanish have succeeded if disease had not reduced the Aztec population?)
- its role in overcoming the biggest hurdles (e.g., If superior number of Aztec fighters was a key obstacle to the Spanish plan, which factor(s) most assisted in overcoming this hurdle?)
- whether the factor influenced other factors (e.g., Did depletion of the population by disease affect Aztec military strength as well as their will to resist?).
You may wish to adapt the Rating Each Effect chart in Rating Options (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.
Invite each group to weigh the relative contribution of each factor to the decline of the Aztec empire by allocating a percentage of influence to each; e.g., factor X was 50% responsible, factor Y was 20% responsible and the other three factors were each 10% responsible. Ensure that each group’s total for the five causes equals 100%.
Demonstrate use of pie charts
Invite students to share their conclusions about the relative significance of each factor in the form of a pie chart. Show several samples of pie charts. Explain how pie charts can explain complex issues in a visual way—in this case, the degree of influence each factor had in the Aztecs' domination.
Use an example to show how a pie chart can display the factors that contribute to the success of the school’s junior girls’ volleyball team; e.g., great coaching; the star player’s skills and the general skill level of all the players. Discuss what approximate percentage to assign to each factor. Invite students to provide evidence for their decisions. Remind students that the percentage of all factors must equal 100 and that a circle has 360˚ so factors must also be converted to degrees.
Show students how to convert the percentages into degrees:
- star player’s skill = 25% (0.25 x 360˚ = 90˚)
- general skill level of all the players = 40% (0.40 x 360˚ = 146˚)
- great coaching = 35% (0.25 x 360˚ = 124˚).
Demonstrate how to create a pie chart with a compass and a protractor or using a Web-based program or spreadsheet software. The example below was created on
Make pie charts
Recommend that groups or individuals use the following steps to make pie charts:
- Identify all the factors leading to the decline of the Aztec Empire.
- Allocate the percentage each factor contributed (ensure the total equals 100%).
- Convert all percentages to degrees.
- Create the pie chart.
Share and explain pie charts
Invite students to share and explain their pie charts. Discuss the different conclusions reached by each group. Focus the discussion on the importance of worldview as an influence on the eventual outcome.