Implementation of ‘Geometry Hidden Behind the Old Walls’ (SOI-EXT-187)

The project is aimed at STEM integrated with the study of humanistic subjects (History and Art), focussed on the reconstruction of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, in Minecraft virtual world through the analysis of resources and images found in the Europeana collection.

The implementation context

The subject in which the learning scenario was implemented is the ancient history: when last March the lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic spread started, my 20 students from 1st year of  Liceo, High School (age 14-15 yrs) were studying Alexander the Great and had just seen Oliver Stone’s movie about the life of the great Macedonian leader.

The scene of Alexander’s triumphant entry into Babylon had impressed everyone with the magnificence of the roof gardens and the beauty of the city’s walls  and so we thought of recreating them using Minecraft, a video game very popular among my students, which can also be used in distance learning mode allowing all players to collaborate by sharing the gamified environment through Hamachi software.

The instructions for the working method and the results were shared on the Edmodo (an e-learning platform that we were already using before the lockdown) virtual classroom and through video lessons with Zoom (a videoconference tool).

Students were already familiar with the use of the Europeana portal to search for sources and material because we had previously used it for the implementation of other topics from History and Geography’s syllabus.

The narrative

The “Geometry Hidden Behind the Old Walls” scenario was the inspiration for a cross curricular use of Europeana within an educational module involving both humanistic (such as history and art and even ancient Greek) and scientific (such as mathematics and technical-geometrical drawing) subjects.

It was therefore important to obtain the collaboration of other teachers (Math and Geometrical Design) so that students could fully benefit from the project.

The reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is part of a larger educational project that aims at recreating with Minecraft, then in a virtual space where the game component is essential, the seven wonders of the ancient world, all destroyed except for one: the pyramid of Cheops.

The work sessions, started at the beginning of the lockdown (second week of last March), took place online using live video lessons on Zoom and the Edmodo virtual classroom’ forums and chats.

 Students, with my tutoring and guidance, shared ideas, materials and opinions in order to get the final output: the reconstruction on Minecraft of ancient Babylon. The game world in which they made the city was shared through the Hamachi software that allowed them to connect and work together.

In the original learning scenario the students had used GeoGebra to sketch/construct solids and analyse their shapes, we instead used Minecraft, a tool already known by my students: this made it easy to embed into the virtual world of Minecraft the results of the research carried out on Europeana.

The students experts of the game’s dynamics were able to guide the less skilled ones: the peer learning’s framework application allowed everyone to achieve excellent results in short time (two weeks).

Not to mention that the gamified environment and the online teamwork have certainly benefited students’ moods in this difficult period of forced social isolation.

Learning outcomes

The project is visible through this video uploaded by a student of mine on his YouTube channel:

The video reproduces the work created by the students on Minecraft.
The original learning scenario chosen for implementation had a lab approach: through the planned activities, it aimed at activating a cross-curricular learning process where the digital support provided by Europeana was used as a tool to learn the geometry solids hidden in monuments’ architectural elements.

This learning by doing approach inspired us to incorporate the gamification through Minecraft (a free educational tool): the ludic component of the scenario is an aspect to be taken into account in this period of mandatory isolation for the quarantine.
The students investigated the material found in Europeana through a careful and detailed geometric / spatial analysis of the of the drawings that reconstruct the hanging gardens of ancient Babylon. Then they reproduced the monuments in scale , on graph paper: the ziggurat building with seven terraces and the magnificent hanging gardens of Babylon, also reproducing the majestic door of Ishtar and the large avenue of Processions leading to the temple, the same they watched in the movie on life of Alexander The Great directed by Oliver Stone.
After having analysed the collected data, they identified the most suitable scale for 3D reconstruction with the Minecraft software. The study and reproduction of archaeological remains collected in Europeana (especially the glazed tiles of different colour from the Ishtar door decorated with bas-reliefs) have favoured a development of  students’ historical and artistic skills.

Teaching outcomes

The project has contributed to the students’ enhancement of spatial and logical-mathematical skills  together with improvement in mathematical reasoning and investigation abilities.

Students have learned to design and plan an architectural structure and to realize it in a digital image.

They have also developed artistic-historical skills, interactively exploring teamwork methodologies and experiential learning.

Thanks to the use of the images found on Europeana, which I will list at the end, it was possible to formulate hypotheses and project ideas, to develop problem-solving, thus favouring a creative approach to technical-scientific subjects and fostering, at the same time, creativity that is so mortified during these quarantine days.

Europeana has allowed promoting the maturation of soft skills (transversal competencies) with particular reference to analysis skills, problem-solving, design skills, teamwork, and, as a consequence, interest in STEM subjects has increased as well.

This Story of Implementation has been created by Emma Abbate, finalist of the Europeana Education Competition 2020 in the following category: ‘Teaching with digital cultural heritage in secondary schools’.

CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and provided by the Wellcome Collection.

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