For six weeks starting in December, 6th-grade students surrounded themselves with pyramids, tombs, and robots. Time machine? Nope, it’s Sun Valley Community School’s Middle School Egypt Unit, an interdisciplinary and thematic unit that brings Ancient Egypt to life in a hands-on way for students. Students read and reflect on the novel, The Golden Goblet, dive into ancient Egyptian culture, and create interactive maps of Egypt. They learn about the simple machines used to build the pyramids and use these same tools to construct model amusement park rides. Says 6th-grade team teacher Tom Downey, “Many students' favorite part of the unit is to program robots to explore a small replica of an Egyptian pyramid.” We sat down with Tom to learn more about this fun and often favorite Middle School unit.
Q: What are the steps/processes that the kids go through?
TD: Students initially read a history text to learn about ancient Egypt. They then create an online interactive map of Egypt, highlighting the cities, landforms, and archeological sites. This work prepares them for further study of this foundational civilization.
Q: What are the materials used to create the tombs and pyramids? Who builds the structures?
TD: Students can build their ancient amusement park rides out of any materials available but must justify the use historically. The students then present their creations to the class as part of a panel discussion on ancient structures and construction techniques. The tomb used for robotic exploration is part of the antiquity of the middle school and gets refurbished every year.
Q: Anything different this year than in year's past?
TD: Understanding how an ancient civilization built the pyramids without modern equipment led to the study of simple machines. This understanding led the students to consider how to construct amusement park rides using only the materials that were available to the ancient Egyptians and using only simple machines and available energy sources.
Q: Why do you like this unit (assuming you do), or why do you think it's good for students?
TD: I enjoy watching the students program the Mindstorm EV3 robots. It's a hands-on science experiment where they get instantaneous feedback on a hypothesis. For example, when students are programming a robot for a right turn, and the activated robot turns left, they get immediate feedback on their programming's success without a teacher's intervention.