The kids and I have been having fun learning about medieval history this year in The Story of the World Vol. 2. My biggest complaint regarding this curriculum, however, is that most of the stories focus on war, and there is not much attention given to the art, music, literature, and inventions of the Renaissance. So wherever I can, I try to fill in the gaps by taking some time to explore influential figures of the time (who were not monarchs or military leaders). Last week, the kids and I learned about Leonardo Da Vinci, and participated in a number of activities around the theme of "Inventions"...
We started out by reading some library books about Leonardo Da Vinci's life, with a focus on his inventions:
Of course, we had to try out some of his ideas. Since full-sized flying machines, tanks, and submarines were not practical for 2nd graders to build, we decided to try two models - one of Da Vinci's bridge design, and another of a catapult.
We based the bridge design on images we found online. The kids were amazed that a bridge could be built out of craft sticks without any glue or tape to hold it together.
Of course, the catapults (made out of craft sticks and rubber bands), were a huge hit. All three kids (little brother, 4.5, included), had fun launching various objects at a target they set up. I invited the kids to experiment with their catapults to see if they could be improved to shoot further or more accurately. They also tried launching objects of different shapes and weights and reported on the results of their experiments.
I integrated our study of Da Vinci with some additional activities on inventing and engineering. I took some of the challenges from the free Engineering Adventures units from Engineering is Elementary (www.eie.org).
One of the challenges was to design a pedestal for a statue using only index cards. H did a great job with this, as did the twins, who worked as a team:
Another challenge (we spread these out throughout the week), was to improve an existing technology:
E especially took an interest in reading about various technologies in the encyclopedia:
This is what she's reading:
The kids were inspired to create their own inventions:
E designed a rotating pencil holder / dispenser out of kitchen utensils.
L designed a "ball bouncer", which is her own version of a catapult for launching balloons.
H worked on a pulley system for lifting heavy objects in his bucket.
Our little unit on Leonardo Da Vinci and inventions was a great launching point for getting the kids to think creatively and work through the engineering process with their ideas. They are still coming up with new inventions on a daily basis.