February 9, 2010

The amazing arch

We're still feverish, but more bored than sick at this point, so we're moving on with some crafts and light reading of the Aeneid. Browsing the web to find new fun factoids about ancient Roman civilization, we came across this video on the arch, among other things. This is just the part on the arch, but you can watch all 7 parts on YouTube. I highly recommend the whole thing if you're doing an ancient Rome unit. I was pleased to see that they also have a similar show on ancient China, India, Egypt, and Greece. Can't wait to watch them. This series, by Discovery channel I think, is super cool!


Short and to the point, it got us thinking about the arch. The man did say that without the arch, there would be no Rome! So the arch must be pretty important, right? And since it was so long ago, it goes without saying that the arch must be a completely easy thing to come up with. Right?(please catch the sarcasm here)

The theme of the week around here, off the books of course, has been how much people diminish the ancient peoples as completely stumbling upon things that we now know, with our superior intellect (not), to be completely complex in their inner workings. Kind of like the people who get mad when I call our neighbor's house igloo shaped instead of calling it a geodesic dome as if there is no way that the Inuits could have understood the principals of thermodynamics, and to associate this modern house with the first people to use it would be belittling what we now know about the intricacy of the structure. Make me crazy! We should be impressed by them, not diminishing their accomplishments. Okay, off topic a bit, but I needed to vent that.

So, to illustrate just how difficult an arch is to construct, we made our own. Not that using Hunter's wooden blocks to make the point isn't a little belittling (yes, I get the irony here) but it's what we have and this is first grade, after all.

The problem in making the arch with square-ish blocks is the lack of a trapezoidal keystone. I wondered as I watched the kiddos struggle with this one, if the Romans grappled with the same problem. I knew that we needed and lacked a trapezoidal keystone because I just watched the video, and we're not reinventing the wheel here, but did the Romans automatically get that? I'm sure someone knows the answer (probably Kaitlin) but I do not. I don't want to devalue their intellect, but I also don't want to assume that they were all ancient geniuses either. I think it would be wildly fascinating to know how much trial and error it took to wheedle down this fine science of arch building. Okay...wandering again. Sorry. Here's what we did.


I didn't photograph the first, kid-only attempts because there was not much to report. It's not so easy to build somethings roundish with objects that are squareish. They got that. So I stepped in and tried to help them. Turning two squares on their points was a big step. A harder step that I would like to admit. But there it is. Our first sort of arch. But could we make it archier (don't you just love making up new words?)?

Not without mortar and three sets of steady sets of hands, we couldn't! Yeah, we had to wad up some tissue paper for mortar to prop the blocks up while we built. Sad, I know, but the Romans used mortar too, so I'm not feeling all that bad. Now we had an arch, but could it bear weight?

A little. How about more?
Hooray!!! I held the rest of the bag of blocks!!!! But man! Can you imaging doing that on the scale of an actual Colosseum? Yeah...with my natural grace we all would have died in a collapse! The kids got the point and were amazed at the thought of doing all of this with no gasoline powered cranes (there is a segment in the video collection on their amazing manual crane. You won't believe it!) and other technology. They seemed to be more impressed by the Roman arch than the Egyptian pyramids because their little pyramids were far easier to make than their little arch. It gives me a little giggle to think of how their minds work and how they probably closely associate their paper mache pyramids with being the kind of work the Egyptians did.

Well, the arch was crazy hard, which was the point. And we had a little fun along the way! Could this cont as math, science and social studies all in one? On a sick day, I say yes!

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