Why I Love Teaching World History Through Architecture

I must confess, this is a course I have wanted to teach for quite some time! For those of you familiar with the approach of California Out of the Box, this class employs a similar technique. Students will read History Quest Ancient Times and Middle Times by Pandia Press, and then explore life in that time period, building technology, and design by way of hands-on activities. Like California Out of the Box, the course aims for a first person encounter with the material, putting students right in that particular time. This article will explore some reasons why parents should consider this course for their middle school student.

Photo from the Open-air museum in Cappadocia, Turkey, 2012

This course covers a lot of ground!

Don’t you hate it when a curriculum or a class gets stuck and you never seem to move on? That will not happen in this class! In a year of study we will hit both ancient and middle times, highlighting invigorating moments of each period. Over two–fourteen week semesters, many parts of history that are widely known are explored: Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Crusades. But, there are other moments that may be new — like Catal Huyuk in Turkey, the Ziggurat of Ur, and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley. We also explore the Crusades perhaps a bit differently — exploring the amazing buildings in Jerusalem which are no longer there, but were present for much turmoil in history. The buildings indeed, reveal a telling story.

Catal Huyuk, Turkey

It’s an ideal way for visual learners to absorb a study of world history that could be difficult and dry

Do you have a visual learner? This class is a perfect way to allow your student to see imagery of different monuments and recall the history through that process. As we begin the course, we will decode what buildings are: a variety of shapes and forms combined together for function and beauty. As we develop this vocabulary, students will begin to notice buildings and structures around them, sensitizing them to the beautiful world we live in.

This approach encourages and develops spatial thinking

“Spatial thinking is integral to everyday life. People, natural objects, human-made objects, and human-made structures exist somewhere in space, and the interactions of people and things must be understood in terms of locations, distances, directions, shapes, and patterns.”

National Research Council, 2006, p. 5

Spatial thinking is a skill that allows and invites unique solutions to difficult problems, and is becoming vital in our complex world. Math does not only exist in the perfect world of math textbooks, but rather is found all around us! Roads that are perfectly sloped, space shuttles that depend on intertwined calculations that allow them to leave the earth’s gravity, elite sport trainers squeezing the extra amount of performance out of a ball in motion. So many aspects of our daily lives depend on interactions of shapes, forms, and forces. Understanding one aspect will not solve the problem; joint interactions must be considered. A study of architecture will invite young students to think about human-made structures created in space and time in a hands-on way.

Relevant application to the present

A question asked often in this course is: How did other cultures build their amazing monuments? What unique materials did they use, what techniques were developed that allowed them to build tall, or deep? Or triangular? For example, how were those huge rocks at Stonehenge arranged that they have stayed up for so long? Instead of an intellectual group conversation, during class we might hold some rocks up (in the comfort of our own homes), and think about what could be added to two rocks to begin to build vertically. For example, could we dig them down and cover the area around them with dirt so they are implanted in the land? Or maybe make grooves at the tops of the rocks to fit together (like rock legos)? Having materials that are readily available in the home during class, helps to make for a vivid discussion. Though the class is virtual, we will work with real 3D materials.

This course allows students to unleash their creativity

Finally, students will get to create and design buildings. This is my favorite part! Sometimes it might be that they will combine several elements we have explored from Egyptian and Greek architecture to make a new composite building. Another project might be making a model of their favorite historical building. Sometimes we’ll be drawing, sometimes we’ll be building in dimensions with Legos and blocks. Additionally, we will consider interior elements of structures as well. Here is a link to a UK blog Metro.co showing ways students made models using edible materials. We will have at least one edible build during the year!

If you have a middle school student, and you are looking for world history, sign your learner up for this class! It’ll be creative, dimensional, hands-on, complete, and never dull!

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