Making, makerspaces, and ancient buildings

Awhile ago, I let my students choose the topic of one of our lessons, and their votes chose Roman Engineering. When that day arrived, I proceeded to give a boring lecture about how a few major Roman buildings, like the Colosseum, were constructed. This was a day that should have been interesting and appealing to my students, but I have always felt like my lecture failed to keep their interest.

So, this weekend, I was reading about the Maker movement and thought of a way that this lesson could have been more interesting. The Maker movement encourages people to play, tinker, and reflect on their trials and errors to make something that they want to make. When this concept is applied to education, it is about having students find a fun way to solve their problem, develop metacognition about what is and what isn’t working, and create the thing that they wanted (or were assigned) to create. These could be a song, a website, a blanket, a computer program, a table, a paper mache model, a 3D printed object, a digital 3D model of an object, anything. The benefits of all of this is that students learn how to improvise, work in teams, use metacognition, solve problems, and use machines or tools or programs that they may need to be familiar with outside of school. It is a very diverse and wide-ranging movement.

As I was reading about using the Maker movement in the classroom, I realized that instead of telling my students about how the Colosseum was built, I should have let them figure some of it out for themselves. I should have given them objects that could be good substitutes for wood planks, concrete, ashlar masonry, bricks, etc. In groups, the students could then use their Popsicle sticks, clay or play dough, children’s blocks, and sugar cubes, etc., respectively, (and maybe cardboard) to build something–an aqueduct, amphitheater, bridge, road, etc.–of their choice. While they worked on it, I could circulate and talk with each group about how they making their “Roman” building (i.e. encourage metacognition). I could also have some images of Roman construction projects that I could show in order to teach students how the Romans solved similar problems to the ones that they are facing.

Of course, all this would require acquiring the materials to make the model buildings, and the cost may not be insignificant depending on what building types and what size models you will offer for your students. It may not necessarily teach students about technology or tools they will need in the future, but it would teach them metacognition, about solving problems, and about Roman engineering. And it would be fun.

This idea did remind me of a project from my high school Latin class for which a classmate made a model of a Roman aqueduct from sugar cubes. It strikes me now that she learned more about Roman engineering than the students in my lecture because she did Roman engineering.  To make the model, she had to try things out and experiment and make it work.

Other ideas for applying Maker education to the Classics classroom

  • Make and decorate pottery. What is it used for? What decorations go on it? What cultural elements do the decorations reflect?
  • Make digital 3D models of objects in the local museum and talk about the ethics and uses of this process.
  • Print 3D models of ancient objects or buildings and talk about the benefits and uses of this technology for archeology.
  • Find Homeric formulae in the epics and write a similar scene using them. Then perform it. Reflect on the process.
  • Declamation.
  • Design your own deity and its myths. Then analyze the myths following the interpretive strategies taught in a mythology class.
  • YouTube videos about ancient buildings or aspects of ancient culture.

Additional resources about the Maker Movement

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