Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mesoamerican Artifacts and Gallery Walk

We recently wrapped up our unit on ancient Mesoamerican civilizations--Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas.  This is typically one of the kids' favorite units of the year in social studies because who doesn't love learning about human sacrifices, sun gods, and pok-a-tok (an ancient game similar to modern-day basketball and soccer combined, except that if you lost the game in ancient times you were likely sacrificed).  The culminating project (assessment, if we must use that language) is to create an artifact portraying some learning about a particular aspect from one group.  Students first pick one of the three civilizations on which to focus.  Then, they decide if they're going to dig deeper into government, religion, daily life, art, technology, or agriculture.  Next, we spend some time in the computer lab conducting research (nothing too in-depth, as we are always pressed for time).  A fantastic website that helped lots of kids is Ducksters.    I also supply Kids Discover magazines on each of the three civilizations, and I've built their background knowledge through videos and some articles we've read together about each group.

After researching in the lab and talking with fellow classmates, students brainstorm artifact ideas.  They get to mull this over for a few days to figure out exactly what they want to create.  In the meantime, I show them this video clip about the Smithsonian museums in DC.  We watch it through the lens of noticing how exhibits are displayed and what information is included in an exhibit.

We notice that most exhibits have plaques next to them explaining the artifact and providing some history.  Of course, this is the next layer of the project.  In addition to creating an exhibit, students must also write about the significance of the artifact and explain how they made it.  I provide examples class and students work on this during class time.  I set aside one day in which students bring in materials for artifact creation.  They can work on making the artifact and writing the exhibit notes on an index card.  Here are some in-action photos of the great work that occurred in our classroom.

A quipu, a pyramid, and a mask

Calendar creation

More calendar magic

An ancient battle sword

The base-20 number system

The next week we set aside about 30 minutes to hold our gallery walk.  Students display their artifacts and index cards and we walk around admiring (and some of us grading...) projects.  It's always so much fun to see what kids create and why they chose a particular item.  Here are some final product shots:

Alexis was her own artifact (displaying ancient dress).

Abby showing off her ancient mask.

Timur and Abagail sharing their artifacts.

Andrew and his ancient Aztec mask.

Madi Jo is an architect!  So is Chloe!

Jenna shares her pyramid.

Miya shows off her display of the differences between peasant and noble lifestyles (BIG difference!).

As you can see, a lot of thought and work went into these projects.  I love this one because the kids do the bulk of the work at school and I get to watch them create their masterpieces.  Another successful gallery walk is in the books!


  1. Wonderful!! Great learning and great fun are evident. :-)

  2. It is neat to see the variety of projects that came out of this lesson! You can tell the kids are genuinely into their work.

  3. Super smart totally borrowing several ideas for next year. Thanks for sharing photos super mentor ideas.