Sticks, Rocks, Housing, and Fun

We are currently studying Ancient Civilizations in our Unit of Inquiry.  To delve into this topic, we are creating our own civilization, and jumping around the history of past civilizations to better understand the imaginative one we are building.  I am trying to keep the learning as Emergent as possible, and letting the kids take their world in any direction they want.  One of the inquiries they raised was that of ancient housing;  How did people live back then?  What did their houses look like?  Why did they look that way?  To help the kids get a close up, hands on perspective into this topic, we undertook the following series of lessons.

Step One - Research Jigsaw

I set up four stations around the room and put the students into teams.  I told them that they were construction engineers and they were doing research.  At each of the four stations were pictures of housing in the ancient world.  The students then travelled from station to station, and made notes about the characteristics of each house.  I asked they to consider why it was built the way it was.  They talked about the geography and climate of each place.  They looked at the materials used, and the features of each house.  We analyzed why and how they were different, and similar.  We made a Venn Diagram with four circles in their groups, and then had a big debrief after, where they filled in the knowledge gaps for each other (or I contributed where I could).  Our findings were simple and clear; Each civilization designed their homes to fit with their natural environment.  Simple, yet a powerful big idea.

Step Two - Nature Walk

The next day we went for a walk in the nearby forest.  I asked the students to make note of the materials that exist in our natural environment (Northern Japan). If they were to build a house, what resources would they be likely to use, and what was in abundance?  They made notes on their clipboards, started to sketch diagrams, and had debates about what would make for a solid structure.  Sitting on a large rock near a slow moving brook, I told them that they were going to build their own house, and that they needed to design it.  I gave them a template and asked them to work as a team to gather the materials, draw a diagram, and write about why they made the design choices they did.  We came back to the school with giant garbage bags full of stones, sticks, and leaves.

Step Three - What are we learning?

We took a brief pause from the excitement and I asked them to consider why we were doing this.  What hidden curriculum was I trying to teach?  What skills would we need?  What attitudes and knowledge would be important in guiding us?  As a large group, we filled out the WAWL (What Are We Learning) template with the important elements.

Step Four - Construction

Each team was given a piece of wood for their base, a glue gun (we imagined that in ancient civilizations they would have had rope or mud to fasten their wood, and so we would substitute that bond with glue!) and a hefty pat on the back from me.  They were off!

(A little piece of advice, if you are going to let children use saws and sharp knives, go over safety rules beforehand!)

Some of the phrases I overheard while they were working, and I announced to them as I heard it (when they are doing group work I try not to help with the details, but rather as a narrator, helping them to see how they are using our key skills and attitudes).  It was music to my ears:

What would happen if......?
Could we try......?
It might work if......?
Is it possible to......?

They weren't using their plans, but they were adapting to the environment in front of them.  It was problem solving and critical thinking.  It was, in our Blooms Taxonomy, creating.  The room was an absolute disaster, but we loved every minute of it.

Step Five - Reflection

After the house was finished, we sat back and enjoyed our work.  We also took time to reflect on the process in two ways.  First, we group wrote a descriptive paragraph about the skills, attitudes and knowledge we needed to complete the task; what we did well, what we did poorly, what we learned, etc.  Once this was complete, we printed it off and posted it up next to our house in the hallway in front of the class, so everybody walking by would see it, and hopefully ask us questions about it.  Second, we sat down individually and filled out a personal reflection. This was a bingo card, and in each square there was a different question about the project; some of them related to the knowledge, but most focusing on the meta-learning we settled on before the project began (see WAWL above).  The reflection was then added to our portfolio, along with a picture, for future reference.

If we have a similar unit coming up, or you just like to do hands on stuff with your class, give this a try and share your story.  We would love to compare with other classes!


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