Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Segue: Architecture - first models

As we were delving into the mythological and working away on our rainbow stories, we continued to read Homer’s Odyssey during our read aloud time at the end of each day.  Books about mythology in our classroom library are regularly read and perused by the children during free time, and soon some children began to realize that the Greek gods and goddesses have other names too…Roman names (we have recently started work creating our own concentration-style game to match Greek and Roman deities who differ only in name).   I happen to have a child named Roman in my class and over the past few months, he has been eager to share what he knows about ancient Rome and has brought in books about Rome for us to explore.  Inspired by what he'd been reading, J. built a "coliseum" out of magna tiles on our light table:

J's Roman coliseum - and he wanted our class pet "Paddy" the Platypus get a cameo appearance
Thinking about ancient Rome provided us with a natural seque to begin examining how ideas are shared and synthesized, religiously and aesthetically....which leads us to domes.  As an engineering exercise for the class, we would think about architecture and how to treat roofing design.  What is a dome?  Why would you create a dome?  How could you create - and support - a dome?

Greek architecture: The Parthenon in Athens
Roman architecture: The Pantheon in Rome
Project Notes:  What is Architecture?  

Record of the students' thinking - provocations to thinking about roofing
In our investigative research project launch, the children shared what they knew about architecture - that basically, it's all about "building buildings," and that architecture is intentional.  While a building is essentially shelter (a basic human need), the creation of any structure requires a plan, a design that takes into consideration the materials, tools, and labor to execute it.   Construction ideas were shared - you need to build a floor and walls, you need to think about windows and doors - and then we came to the topic of the roof - why do you need a roof and how might you design it?  Three roof designs were explored - a flat roof, a traditional slanted roof, and then...the dome.  The children thought about the benefits/rationale for each type.  A flat roof would be okay if you didn't have a lot of rain (like an adobe house), a slanted roof would allow precipitation to flow off the structure, and a dome...well, it might do the same.  A number of other students picked up the conversation from there - sharing that domes are like a hemisphere, "like half a globe," and that the inside is empty.   Some children had noted that with a slanted roof, you could have an attic, but with a dome, the space within would have to be open, and it might have a hole at the top, an oculus, like the Pantheon.

T:  Your roof might be a triangle so rain could fall off.
A.L.:  They could design a roof for light (oculus).
C:  They might have had an air hole.
T:  You don’t want an oculus if it snows.
 N.S.:  Lightning could go through the oculus.
L:  I think [the Pantheon] might be a museum.
T:  A giant statue might be in it.

Why would you choose to create a dome? What buildings have domes?  

The children thought about buildings they'd seen that have domes - churches, museums, temples...and interestingly enough, our Roman expert, Roman, offered up a reason why the ancient Romans began to incorporate domes:  empire.  This was an unexpected new word in our architecture conversation.  He shared with the class that the ancient Romans were all about showing their power.  Their physical empire was huge and stretched across the continent, and he seemed to understand that the Romans' buildings would reflect that. He also knew that the Romans were the first to develop concrete, and that this new building material made it possible to build new structures like domes.  

A.C.:  [The Greek Parthenon] looks like Abe Lincoln’s memorial.
M:  Maybe it’s where an empire was (emperor).  Someone who ruled the place.
I:  Like in Star Wars. 
R:  The Romans' mascot is Athena.  Also, Rome rules more than Italy even though it is inside Rome.
N.S.:  I heard empire is an area, but in Star Wars it is Darth Vader.
G:  Empires are greedy.  They just care about themselves.
R:  Actually the Romans gave their slaves breaks.  They are basically an army.  They took what they wanted. 
A.C.:  I think this building shows that somebody loved the empire. They might be proud of it.  Just like Abe Lincoln.  It’s massive.
R:  I think empires are places inside a country that are basically an army.  It’s probably very famous (the building).  There’s probably a dome to make it fancy.

What materials might show that it is?
R:  Usually buildings made out of stone, stone is a good support thing.  They make it super strong to show their power.

With all of this in mind, we were ready to begin making our own models, to see what engineering challenges dome building might present.  Thanks to a gift from one of our parents, we had on hand a large box of Wikki Stix, and the children used this material to create their first models.  For the uninitiated, Wikki Stix are sticks of yarn coated with non-toxic wax; they are easily manipulated into shapes and can be repositioned and reused as necessary.  Before they got to work, Stephanie encouraged them to create a plan, a blueprint.

J:  Builders need a blueprint.  A plan for the workers to follow.

Unfortunately, I was out sick the day that the children got to work on their first wave of creations, but I was astonished by the work that welcomed me when I came back to the classroom:

N.B.: thinking about the dome as a teepee design - the base is very important
T. thinking about building design from the ground up - working on the "drum" to support the dome 
M's domes - with windows and gargoyles
R's structure and W's arches
P. has the arch shape of the dome, but is also thinking about how to support its weight
with other arches (or flying buttresses?)
E.K. tries two different models - one couldn't support the weight of its "dome"
E.K. originally placed a rock at the top of her second attempt at a dome. 
J:  I told her to use the pom pom because it was lighter.
G's arches form a tunnel
J:  Mine fell over because the weight.  I don’t think the legs were very supportive.
Even flat roofs seem to need a little extra support
G:  The little sticks are like columns.
E.S.'s elegant dome design - light and airy, but also in need of supports
L. discovers a way to keep her arch steady
N.S.'s designs capture the arch shape and incorporate "stairs" to get to the base of the dome
Creating a dome was not so easy…
What was challenging about building with the Wikki Stix?

N.S.:  The stairs were the hardest part for me.
J:  I twisted too much up for the legs.  I would have twisted up less and made a floor and a ceiling complete.
A.C.:  Mine kept on falling over.
E.S.:  It was hard for me to make a square, it was bending and I had to pull it back up.
T:  It was hard to support mine too.
G:  Making the shape of it was hard.  It was hard to wrap the sticks around the sides.
L:  It was hard to stand them up.  
A.C.:  Mind kept falling down.  Also it was too detailed.
E.K.:  The sticks kept falling down.
C:  Sometimes it fell down but it went well.
E.S.:  I kept trying different ways.  
R:  I thought it was pretty hard to make the top.  It didn’t work out.
R:  I think it was pretty hard to make the design stable and have supports.
E.S.:  I kept changing materials. 
T:  [There was] too much weight from the dome.  It was too big for support.  I was making the base, then made columns, and then it fell down because the glue was too wet.

What did you learn?

I:  I learned that in architecture, it is hard to design each building.

R:  They (architects) had to plan a lot; they had to figure out how to make [a dome] stand up.  I think it takes a long time to make those plans and to build it. 

E.S.:  There are different ways to make a model.

I:  After you make your plan, you can’t just start building right away, you have to think about the materials you will use.  

R:  It might make you angry, but you shouldn’t give up.

Together, we talked about frustration as part of the process.  Thinking like an architect and thinking like an engineer is all about creative risk - taking an idea and being patient enough to persist.  The engineering goal is to help them understand the object that they’re representing, as well as the affordances of the medium with which they are working; the learning goal is coach them through the trial and error process as they work to build intersubjectivity about what they are creating (and how).  

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