Building Rome in a Day

by Lauren Railey, Head of Middle School

Rome5This fall, as part of their study of ancient Rome with Sven Miller and Matt Zahner, students investigated the impacts of the great ancient civilization on modern history: roads, sewer systems, the calendar system, central heating, and more.  This year, students had the opportunity to physically construct for themselves many of the city structures the Romans pioneered.  

In small groups, the students researched, designed, and created either a Roman shoe, an aqueduct system, an arch, or a model Roman city.  With the help of Maker Studio expert Lori Harsch and several Upper School students, the seventh graders spent a few days in the Maker Studio learning how to use tools they had never used before to recreate various aspects of Roman life.

FullSizeRenderSven Miller, one of the planners of the day, described three anecdotes of student groups applying their knowledge and solving problems in the course of their building.  One group who was working on building a model Roman city began by researching the types of structures a Roman city would have.  They quickly found many CAD files that they could print on the 3-D printer or laser cutter.  However, they encountered the issue of scale.  Some students, eager to see their city come to life, sent CAD files to the printer and saw enormous models of a coliseum being printed next to a tiny model of a library.  Realizing the problem, they had to decide as a group what a millimeter would equal in their model world and then use their math skills to scale the CAD files to print at the correct size.

An aqueduct group was given the task of crossing a culvert up on the hill by the baseball field.  They brainstormed in the classroom before they realized that they needed to go walk up the hill and look at the culvert directly to measure it in real life.  They created an inverted trapezoid and used their geometry skills to figure out the correct angles to build an aqueduct that could cross the culvert.

Finally, one of the arch groups realized that the central problem in building the arch was determining the correct angles for each piece of the arch.  They began by measuring a model of an arch and tried to copy it.  That led them to realize they would need to use geometry to figure out the supplementary and complementary angles.  Using trial and error, they determined that they needed to have an odd number of blocks with a central keystone for pressure.  They did calculations and determined that 9 blocks yielded the most workable numbers.  They then made the cuts in the blocks in the Maker Studio using the measurements they had calculated.

All in all, the students engaged in a challenging, hands-on variety of activities that engaged their minds and bodies as they “built Rome in a day.”