Greensburg Junior High School students last week immersed themselves in the Renaissance, studying Shakespeare, Copernicus and Galileo, and building models of catapults, crossbows and anemometers (wind-measuring devices).
The science and social studies projects required students to conduct research about the period’s masters, build a model of something invented during that period and give a presentation to fellow students.
Teachers said the hands-on-learning projects elicited excitement among the students, and the students said they preferred making models to listening to lectures.
As sixth grade science and social studies teacher Sonja Linville walked from table to table Thursday afternoon to listen to the students explain their projects in small groups, the students presented some biographical information about the Renaissance masters they had chosen before explaining the purpose of their models and how they built them.
Curtis Bausback, 12, had built a life-size wooden crossbow with the help of his father, Jeff.
Curtis said he researched the life and works of Leonardo Da Vinci, before using saws and drills to create a fear-inducing wooden crossbow, complete with draw string.
“I figured a crossbow would be pretty cool to build,” Curtis said.
He enjoyed the project immensely, he said.
“A lot more fun than reading books,” Curtis said.
Da Vinci seems to have many admirers at Greensburg Junior High School. Most of the students interviewed by the Daily News based their project on inventions by the Florentine painter/sculptor/philosopher/engineer/architect.
Takisha Lee, 11, built a model of Da Vinci’s anemometer, a device that measures wind speed.
She, too, said she enjoyed the break from typical classroom instruction.
“I think it’s cooler because we’re not just sitting around listening to a teacher talk,” she said.
Linville said that the students had just studied the Middle Ages and the Black Plague, a rather dark period, and that the Renaissance was a good era to inspire students through all of its philosophies, discoveries and inventions.
She said the students enjoy learning about Nicolaus Copernicus, who promulgated the heliocentric model of the solar system; Galileo Galilei, sometimes called the father of modern science; and English author Williams Shakespeare — but the students enjoy learning even more when it involves some type of activity, such as building models or staging a play.
Linville said that some of the students in a class Thursday morning dressed up in costumes and performed some of Shakespeare’s verses.
“It’s just a great way to learn,” Linville said.
Walker Taylor, 12, used wood and popsicle sticks to craft a couple of miniature buildings based on Da Vinci’s ideal city design, which included canals and stables that allowed people to quickly get in and out of the city.
Walker found the project inspiring.
“One day I’d actually like to invent something,” he said.
Zavier Harrison, 12, and Alexis Byrd, 11, combined their efforts to create small models of a movable bridge and a triple-barrel cannon, made out of popsicle sticks and even incorporating wood flooring that Zavier’s family had left over.
Zyan Sweet, 12, a student in social studies teacher Justin Tucker’s class, built a wooden catapult that reaches nearly five feet high — taller than Zyan.
He worked with his father, D.J. Sweet, using circular saws, drills and screws to build a sturdy catapult with which he launches paper balls.
Putting the catapult’s pieces together took only about an hour, Zyan said, but designing the apparatus took much longer.
Lane Wilson, 11, got help from his uncle to build a model of Da Vinci’s triple-barrel cannon, made with a wooden base that holds three barrels made of aluminum.
He saw a photo of the cannon online and thought it would be interesting and challenging to try to build a model.
Tucker, the teacher, said he came up with the project-based learning unit after seeing a television program a few years ago in which students built models based on Da Vinci’s inventions.
Project-based learning keeps kids excited about learning, Tucker said.
Some kids struggle in a traditional learning environment, Tucker said, and project-based learning motivates kids to learn in whichever way they learn best.
Tucker said he has seen the Renaissance project inspire kids who normally dislike school. Kids who usually hang their heads and drag their feet when they shuffle into class at 8 a.m. work very hard on these kinds of projects, and they run to teachers before classes start to show them the progress they have made on their models.
“It really is exciting,” Tucker said.
Local schools try to incorporate at least one PBL unit per semester. In the fall, the unit was based on Ancient Rome.
Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; email@example.com