August 19, 2013

Activities for Ancient Mesopotamia

We've moved on from ancient Mesopotamia to a more focused study of the Jewish faith, so of course it's time to share the activities I came up with for that region's history, but most specifically Sumeria, Babylon, and a very small amount on the Akkadian Empire.

Anyhoo...there were so many activities on the web and in our curriculum for Ancient Egypt, and so very little for ancient Mesopotamia other than simply sitting and reading about it that I had to get creative.  The worksheets I made to accentuate our learning for this unit are available for download here.  Apparently TPT doesn't want me adding too much free content, which I guess I understand, and so it's just a buck.  A buck for a week's worth of printables.  Not too terrible considering that there's virtually nothing available for this unit of history in terms of printables.

But before I get into the paper based activities that we did, let's peek at the 2 hands-on activities.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to roll croissant dough off center and make little Sumerian temples.  Their temples were so interesting shaped, spiraling up to heaven, that a croissant version seemed like an obvious choice.  That said, as soon as they started baking and fluffing up, they all fell over.  To salvage the spirit of the breakfast, we called them smited towers of Babel and just rolled with it.  Maybe you'd have better luck with stiff, pre-frozen cookie dough.

Next we looked at cylinder seals, and carved our own into oven bake clay.  After we baked them, we rolled them out on some modeling clay to see how our very own signatures look.  Mostly, they looked like slop. Haha!  Sumerian signiture seals were famous for having insane amounts of detail in a tiny little bead.  Each on was unique, though, and ours are certainly one of a kind.

The top was Haven's and it was supposed to be a goat being sacrificed (we just read about God sparing Abraham's song with the ram), then mine, which was supposed to be a man begging for mercy from the king, then Hunter's which was fish swimming up and down, and then Hannah Jane's, which was a leaf pattern. get the idea.  Now, back to the packet!

That worksheet packet includes an activity where the students design their own Empire, drawing a map and coming up with a code of laws.  The kids were really funny with this.  Hannah Jane's empire was all cutesy and called the Empire of Lily Pad, Haven's was all about him - the Empire of Safe Haven - and most of his laws included a phrase about whatever Haven decides goes and you'll be fine if you just obey him, and Hunter's empire was called the Empire of Life Not Death.  Ha!

After making laws for their empire, we had a mock court where I would pose different disputes among the people of the land, and they would have to rule on what was to be done, based on their laws.  This was a really good exercise because it really drew their attention to how much just laws have to cover and how easily they can be misinterpreted if not carefully worded.  They each had a log where they would record the dispute and the judgement, which often included adding a law to avoid future confusion.

The point of all of the empire building and law making was to prepare them to appreciate how complex and thought out Hammurabi's Code was.  Once we had done all of that, we used this website to see how Hammurabi would have ruled.  The kids would say what they thought was a just solution to a problem from Hammurabi's kingdom, and then we'd click to see how he would have had it handled.  Some of them sounded straight from a Monty Python sketch!

We read three books that comprised a kid's version of the entire Gilgamesh epic, called Gilgamesh the King, Ishtar's Revenge, and the Last Quest of Gilgamesh all by Ludmila Zeman.  They had beautiful illustrations and really captured the kids' interest.  After we read those, I made a worksheet (included in the packet) with a Venn diagram for comparing and contrasting the characters of Gilgamesh and Enkidu at the opening of the epic.  Yes, I love Venn diagrams!

Next we reread the Noah flood story, the portion of Gilgamesh with the great flood, and then listened to a kid version of Atrahasis.  I made a sheet with bubbles for comparing each of these flood stories.  The kids really enjoyed this and it kicked up a pretty serious discussion about what we can and cannot know about Noah.  This led us to watching this really cool BBC production on the Noah story in which scientists and archaeologists look at evidence for and against a literal interpretation of the Noah story, and in the end, paint what they believe to be a close to accurate picture of him, which is vastly different from the immediate biblical imagery.  It was entertaining and thought provoking.  That even bled over to my late night chats with Joe, as we discussed how the Baha'i image of Noah may or may not fit with the biblical and BBC interpretations.  So, if you're looking to stir up conversation, don't miss that BBC show.  If, however, you'd like to teach a very strict interpretation of Noah and avoid controversy and questions, you might wish to skip it.

In the final sheet in the activity kit, I subdivided the different registers in the Standard of Ur and had the kids write their own analysis of the front, happier, peace time side of the artifact.  Before we completed this, though, we watched this lecture on the Standard of Ur on smART history.  This was our first time using the smART history website as a reference tool and I'm quite impressed with all of the information there.

That's how we spent our Ancient Mesopotamia week.  It was a lot of fun, and Hannah Jane even remembered some of the stuff from last time we studied it, 5 years ago!  I felt pretty reassured by that.  It's good to know that what we're doing is memorable!


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