Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lesson Plan: Build Your Own Stonehenge

In our World Religions class, we are spending the Spring studying Earth-based Religions, and currently covering Paganism.  Of course, Paganism is the generic term for naturalistic religious beliefs that have probably been around since paleolithic days, so that's 10,000 years or so of history to cover of people all over the world.  Short version:  it's kind of hard to teach in an hour and a half.

Nonetheless, we did our best.

This past week, we looked at the link between Pagan religion and the movements and meanings of the heavenly bodies.  Almost all Pagan religions from antiquity on (as far as know) have based their calendars and celebrations on the movement of the sun and/or the moon.  Many have focused much attention on the stars and other planets as well; sometimes simply following them, but often using them for divination purposes.  Some societies, such as the MesoAmericans and Egyptians, even build their temples and pyramids to align with the star's movements, often creating dramatic effects on special days such as the solstice or the equinox.  And, of course, one of the oldest such structures, which seems to have been built over 500-1,000 years, is the stone constructions at Stonehenge in England.  While we still don't understand the significance of Stonehenge, since it was created by a non-literate (truly pre-historic) society, the predominant thought is that sun kind of solar worship was done at the site, given the careful alignment of the massive rocks with the track of the sun.

So we looked at pictures of many of these sites, and watched videos of their possible linkages with both astronomy and astrology.  We discussed the Zodiac and horoscopes and Chinese birth years and even the Mayan predictions regarding 2012.   It was an interesting and far-ranging discussion.

So it was a pretty cool lesson.  However, regular followers of my blog know that I think there is one thingthat can take any subject for this age group and really push it over the top.  My secret ingredient for a favorite lesson plan?  FOOD.  And so I added a food component to this topic.  We had each student build an astronomical/astrological temple or structure out of graham crackers and icing!

As always, the students were amazingly creative and different in their constructions, even with limited materials.  We had the more Stonehenge-like creations:

Some like a house:

Others like a hut:

Double-decker construction:

A few students made structures that looked amazingly like temples or even churches, given the fact that they were only working with graham crackers and frosting:

It was a fun conclusion to a fascinating discussion.

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