Students in grade 6 begin their annual renaissance project, a part of the curriculum aimed at developing students’ creativity, problem solving, and critical-thinking skills, in mid-September.
In the beginning of the project, every student is given a brown paper bag filled with miscellaneous items such as a piece of string; construction paper; a small, plastic cup; craft sticks, a film canister; a binder clip; and paper clips. The students are instructed to create a prototype of an invention out of the items in the bag. They are allowed to use glue, tape, scissors, and other items to assemble their creation, but are limited to only using the pieces in the bag, as well as the bag itself. Students have created everything from sleds and swings to water-powered rocket boosters with their very limited materials. The students also discuss what the inspiration behind their creation is, and learn that sometimes even if an invention starts out as one thing and doesn’t work out, it can be the start of the next invention. ”We start with this because creativity is such a big part of renaissance thinking and problem solving,” said Ms. Leslie Smith, Lower School social studies teacher.
The students are then divided into three groups that rotate to work on a different part of the project at a time. This rotation takes place at each of the three trimesters, such that each student spends one trimester on each of the Renaissance focus areas. Individually, the first group of students identify and research an invention of their choosing and how that invention solved a problem in the world. The students work through the research process, included appropriate research techniques, note-taking and outlining, resulting in a quality research paper.
The second group studies the architecture of the Renaissance period. Students will discover the primary themes of architecture in the Renaissance time. They will also discover the idea behind the Golden Ratio and how it applies to architecture and art during the Renaissance and today. Finally, as a culminating project, the students will choose a problem in today’s world (worldwide, national or local) and then create a piece of architecture (building or structure) that will help alleviate this problem. They will use the Internet for research on the problem, Google SketchUp to create a computer 3-D model of the structure and then create a physical model to present to the class.
The last group kicks off their segment on the culture of the Renaissance by addressing the cultural, social and historical background of the Italian Renaissance period. Discussion topics include the impact of the invention of the printing press, the role of city-states, and the effects of trade during this time period. This group then delves into the impact of a true renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci. Students are involved in coming up with “out-of-the-box” ideas for solving current day problems where they live, similar to Da Vinci's ideal city. Students also design their own prototype of parachutes, based on da Vinci's designs. This segment of the project culminates with the creation of a living history dramatization, reflecting the culture of Renaissance.
For the final segment of the project, students identify a problem in their lives and design a prototype of an invention that would solve this problem. The students then have the opportunity to present their results to the school community, as well as their families through a Renaissance Fair presentation.