The topics we cover in ancient history may seem a bit irrelevant to some (foolish) kids, but when we use hands-on, project-based learning, we give our students a tangible, memorable connection to the material they are learning. Conveniently, most ancient technology is so simple, kids can reconstruct it themselves. Here are just a couple of our recent adventures in Mesopotamia:
Sumerian cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, is fun and easy to recreate. You can either use clay or kinetic sand and some type of stick. We use classic Popsicle sticks because I’m a teacher and magically have an endless supply of these. We also use kinetic sand because it is easier to re-use than air-dry clay. If you want your students to have a memento from this project, go with clay. Rather than explore characters at random, I stick with numbers. After experimenting and practicing for a little while, my students have to perform some simple math problems in cuneiform. They eat it up every year.
The earliest sundials were developed in Mesopotamia by the Chaldeans (also called the New Babylonian Empire). Most of my students have never seen a sundial, so I give them the opportunity to create their own. First, they must research methods and materials. I do not prescribe any particular way of doing this project, but there are several different options available on YouTube. They choose what they would like to try and gather the necessary materials. Then they construct their own sundial. After setting them up outside, we check on them a handful of times throughout the day to see how successful we’ve been.
We also love building catapults, shadoofs, magnetic compasses, and longboats, among others. What are you making in history class these days?