Renaissance Unit Plan

Our first unit study this Fall is a dive into the Renaissance. We’re coming at the Renaissance from the angle of the knowledge learnt and the Renaissance scientists. I know that when the topic comes around again the focus will be on the role of the church, government, and the make-up of society, so we can dive into a different aspect right now – although we’ll still read about all that other stuff! I have a general outline here, and a list of books/videos we used – but below are the details on what we actually got up to!

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Week 1

In order to start the year off with a bang (and to introduce the need for precise, detailed scientific writing) the very first task of our year was a quickwrite. I asked the girls to list all the equipment and steps needed to make a PB&J. I then followed their directions exactly. My oldest must have seen or read about something like this before because her directions were very detailed. We had some fun with my little one’s directions through. I got to put the jam jar on top of the peanut butter jar…and I had to to spread peanut butter with my fingers!

The next day I set up a STEM challenge for the girls – nothing fancy – some rubber stamps, boxes, tape, clay, and a few other things. I read “Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press,” and then asked the girls to play with the stamps to make some moveable type. We only have two stamp alphabets, so they could only do short phrases, but they made it work. I want to incorporate a lot of The Writing Revolution activities this year for my little one’s writing, so we started with a sentence expansion activity. I gave the girls a kernel sentence: “The printing press was invented”. Together, we answered the WWWWWH questions, then they wrote an expanded sentence with more details.

With our homeschool buddies we dived into Leonardo da Vinci. From previous art lessons we reviewed the chiaroscuro technique and took photos using shadow. I then read aloud, “Leonardo and the Flying Boy.” The book talks about many of Leonardo’s sketches – for our purposes we looked extra carefully at his parachute design. I asked the kids to work in pairs and draw a diagram of a parachute, then build it. Supplies provided included popsicle sticks, fabric, paper, straws, pipe cleaners, tape, glue gun, toothpicks, and yarn. Each child also got a peg doll to hang from their parachute! Once their parachutes were made we tested them! They dropped them from the top of a bunk bed. We slow-mo videoed and also dropped a peg doll without a parachute as a control. They all worked! I asked the kids to go back, write one sentence detailing what worked and one sentence detailing what could be improved. They they adjusted their design and tested it again. Finally, my friend talked about Leonardo’s apprenticeship and led the kids through creating their own paints from natural materials and they painted with those paints.

My oldest also did the first two Amplify/CKLA 5th Grade Renaissance lessons, which set the scene for the Renaissance and covered the early Renaissance, including the printing press. Through these lessons, the focus was on paraphrasing the text.

Week 2

Our second week focused on Leonardo da Vinci. I’d asked the girls to look through, “Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself” and choose a project. My little chose the perspectograph so I precut some cardboard and we tried them out. They kids liked drawing and painting their toys. We also did another sentence expansion activity based on the kernel sentence, “He invented.”

My oldest picked an activity building open-faced geometric solids from toothpicks and marshmallows. This was a really fortuitous pick, because I want to work with the Platonic solids when we get to Kepler and I also want to work with her on surface area. We did this activity with our homeschool buddies, so I began by defining the vocabulary for a solid. We built the tetrahedron, octahedron, and cube, and counted the faces, edges, and vertices. I had paper models of the icosahedron and dodecahedron so the kids marked those up to count the properties. Then, of course, they got to eat the gummies we used instead of marshmallows. My friend talked about Leonardo’s sfumato painting technique and the kids got to create their own version of the Mona Lisa. They also looked through some images from Leonardo’s notebooks which led to some spontaneous verification of the measurements of Vetruvian man! Using the sketches as inspiration, they made a red chalk sketch.

This week my oldest’s CKLA lessons also focused on Leonardo da Vinci with note-taking, paragraph planning, and paragraph writing. The girls also began each reading a Renaissance novel – Monday with a Mad Genius from The Magic Treehouse series for my little and Alchemy and Meggy Swann for my oldest. We paired the Meggy Swann book with this novel study.

Week 3

During Week 2 I also gave the Montessori First Great Lesson which tells the story of the formation of the universe. This flowed nicely into our Renaissance topic for the week – Copernicus and the heliocentric solar system. I read Nicolaus Copernicus: the Earth Is a Planet to the girls, then they used compasses to draw two sets of nested circles. They labeled one with the Earth in the center, and the other with the sun at the center. We also did another sentence expansion from the kernel, “He revolutionized astronomy.”

In order to introduce the scientific method, which began to come along later in the Renaissance, and to introduce alchemy, we did a chromatography experiment. The alchemists believed that one type of matter could be converted into another type. They hoped to take a “base” metal, like lead and, through chemical processes and experiments, transmute it into gold. We looked at black marker ink to see if black ink is truly black. The experiments is simple, but we focused on writing for all the steps of the scientific method: question, hypothesis, materials, procedure, results, and conclusion.

My oldest and I spent some time looking at the Platonic solids and calculating their surface area. To help, we used my Montessori iron material. This is a much cheaper DIY option of the classes material. See the SVG and printable versions in my store, and read about them here.

This week her CKLA work discussed Michelangelo and Raphael. She took notes and wrote about humanism in the Renaissance.

Week 4

We continued with the solar system theme this week, introducing Johannes Kepler. Try as I might I could not find a picture book about him. I read a short biography and we tried a different Writing Revolution activity: because, but, so. This activity takes a base sentence (Kepler’s model of the solar system was different from Copernicus’ model) three times and adds “because” to one, “but” to the second, and “so” to the third. We then used two pin and varying length loops of string to draw ellipses to show Kepler’s universe.

With our homeschool buddies we looked at Renaissance hat styles and the kids made up their own hats for a visit to the Renaissance Faire! The kids had a lot of fun using some recycled materials along with fun fabrics and ribbon. We used two lessons from Mystery Science to do a little alchemy too! We used salt and vinegar to clean pennies, then put steel nails into the solution to see what would happen…

My oldest’s CKLA work focused on the Medici family, patronage, and customs of the time. We contrasted advice given to different classes of society and began taking notes for a biography project.

Over the weekend we went to the Renaissance Fair with our friends. The kids had a great time seeing jousting, storytelling, and a parade featuring Queen Elizabeth I herself! We cheered for the knights and they were brave enough to go and get flowers from the knights! Perhaps not very realistic, but lots of fun!

Week 5

I formally introduced Galileo to the girls in week 5. We read I, Galileo, then I pulled out a simple telescope kit I bought in a teacher supply store when my 10 year old was 6 months old! We investigated the lenses, comparing the differences between the doubly concave and convex lenses. We then put the telescope together and had some fun looking through it. We also completed some sentence starters and drew some diagrams.

With our friends, I read a biography of William Gilbert. He was a pioneer of experimental science and made some great discoveries in the field of magnetism. We played with magnets, using some of the experiments from RSO’s Physics curriculum.

Continuing our work with the Platonic solids, and Leonardo’s drawings of them, I brought out our Tiling Game box and we created nets of each of the solids. Some we drew, cut, and assembled. Some we taped the Tiling Game pieces together to create the nets.

The girls continued their independent reading of their Renaissance novels, and in her CKLA work, my oldest read about Women in the Renaissance, the Northern European Renaissance, and did more work on her Leonardo da Vinci biography piece.

Week 6

We continued to talk about Galileo this week, starting out by recreating his experiment dropping two items of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The kids knew the result of this experiment before we began, but they did enjoy climbing up on our front porch and watching the drop in slo-mo!

The girls finished their Renaissance novels. My little one chose to paint a scene from the book, and we also read Who Was Galileo Galilei? aloud. My oldest worked on a narrative opening for her biography and was introduced to some other Renaissance artists such as Shakespeare.

Week 7

In our final week of Renaissance study, we looked at Issac Newton and his light experiments. We played with our prism and created a spinner to demonstrate that light is made up of all the colors in the visible spectrum. We watched some videos about the laws of motion, but we didn’t do any experiments – those are next up to do with our friends! I read Katheen Krull’s biography of Isaac Newton aloud to the girls too.

Of course, this week was also about finishing up projects. My oldest finished her Leonardo da Vinci biography and typed it up. I gave her the rubric to self correct. She looked at the scope, decided she’d misunderstood the requirements for her final paragraph, did some more research and rewrote the section. This feels like a huge accomplishment to me as she did this unprompted and quite unemotionally!

The girls also put finishing touches on their Renaissance notebooks, adding titles, page numbers, contents, etc and did a little brainstorming about what they remembered from our unit. We finished the week with a quickwrite about what they considered the most interesting part of our Renaissance study.

And that’s it! I hope our outline gives you some ideas for a slightly unconventional Renaissance Study. Be sure to check out the list of books and videos we used to support our unit. Our next unit will be on the Earliest Americans – check back to see what we get up to!