For the first half of the school year, I have been working with my 2nd-4th grade gifted students on an Egypt unit. The students have loved it from the beginning, and I have been able to incorporate a lot of different projects and activities.
This is my third year working with this group, so they know me well enough to understand that there is always background building in any unit, and they’re fine with that. They understand that we need a foundation on which to build other things, and sometimes that involves some rather mundane tasks like listening and reading.
We spent the first two sessions just talking about what we thought we knew about Egypt, what we wanted to know more about, and how we could group those things to make learning easier. It was great to listen to the conversations and questions just fly around the room. We finally agreed on a two categories: ancient Egypt and modern Egypt. Within those categories we decided to learn about language, architecture, religion, geography, government, and art.
We spent the next few weeks just reading and discussing the different topics, especially about ancient Egypt. There are some absolutely amazing websites available that made this easy to do. One of my favorites is http://www.childrensuniversity.manchester.ac.uk/interactives/history/egypt/
Hieroglyphs were a high interest topic, so we spent a large chunk of time learning about them. This included a study of the Rosetta Stone as well as an art project to create individual cartouches.
In early December we visited the Cleopatra Exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. (It is amazing, and I highly recommend it if comes to a city near you.) I loved listening to the students talk about the exhibit and connecting it to what we had already learned.
It’s hard to top a great field trip, but the week before Christmas break, I managed to do just that. Using information found at http://www.neferchichi.com/fruity.html, my students and I became the royal embalmers for an unfortunate pharaoh and his sons who had been killed in battle.
The students had to remove the organs from the bodies and save them to be preserved for the afterlife. There were lots of squeals and giggles, and the best comment of all from a 4th grade girl, “This is gross yet awesome at the same time!” Now, while they removed organs, we talked about the mummification process.
They knew that organs had to be saved and preserved. One asked if we would be making canopic jars for the organs (yes, if we have time). They understood that the body cavity had to be filled with something to keep the shape and they also knew that spices and oils were used to anoint the body. We used cinnamon and nutmeg and substituted rubbing alcohol for wine. The first picture is right after we embalmed and covered in natron to preserve them. The second picture is after two days of drying.
Before I left for the holidays on December 22, I dumped the old natron and put fresh stuff in the boxes.
Now, I’m a little concerned about what my office may smell like when I get there in a few hours; these things have been mummifying for ten days. I have a can of Lysol in my bag just in case. But I can’t wait to see how they’re drying. I’ll need to change out the natron again (baking soda and salt, in case anyone is wondering), and I think they’ll need a few more days to completely mummify. That’s okay. I can give the students an update, and we can work on making the sarecophagi. I’m looking forward to seeing my groups this week. I know they will come in ready to go and have more questions and information to share.
This project wasn’t the easiest to pull off. I travel between three elementary schools so there was a lot of loading and unloading. Plus, it wasn’t the neatest of projects, so I had to figure in extra clean up time, although I have to commend all of my groups for pitching in and helping with this. Then there was the cost; the mummy project has put a hefty dent in my yearly budget. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Learning is messy and loud, and sometimes smelly, but when you see students engaged and excited about learning, it makes it all worth it.