Historic figures come to life in high school ‘Renaissance Wax Museum’
Astronomer Tycho Brahe wore a fake nose after he lost his own in a math-fueled duel. Leonardo da Vinci was a vegetarian. And, explorer Giovanni Caboto – also known as John Cabot – helped put America on the map. He’s just never gotten the credit he deserved.
These facts and many more about historic figures were shared by students during a Renaissance Wax Museum on May 18. The wax museum was the culmination of a research project on Renaissance thinkers assigned in a 9th grade integrated class by social studies teacher Brian Shaffer and English teacher Jennifer Spore.
The two are teaching the integrated class for the first time this year, and the wax museum project is an example of the sort of learning that takes place when teachers collaborate across subject areas.
“We try as much as possible to engage in authentic learning using primary sources,” said Spore. What that means is that, rather than simply reading about Renaissance thinkers in a textbook, students did their own research to learn about the person’s life and impact. “We wanted students to not only do the research but to understand the person’s influence in the world.”
The idea for the wax museum was inspired by a similar project Shaffer’s son did in his second grade class. “I thought, why can’t high school students do that?” he said.
Shaffer said that each 9th grader was required to explain the role their chosen thinker had in moving the Renaissance forward as well as the impact his or her work had beyond that time period. In addition to researching and writing a paper on their thinker, students were tasked with bringing the person to life for school staff members who visited the Renaissance Wax Museum.
While students were initially a bit apprehensive about the presentation aspect, Shaffer said they ultimately embraced the project.
“They all brought their own individuality to their Renaissance characters,” he said. “We’ve watched these students grow since they started in September. What we saw today was a group of confident and excited students who did extensive research and brought their characters to life and nailed it. We’re so proud of them.”
The students agreed that they probably learned more by embodying their characters than by simply reading about them in a book.
Gabrielle Lofstrom, who chose the artist Raphael as her thinker, said she preferred this project to reading information in a textbook. “I’m more of a hands-on learner. When you’re doing a project by being in the project, you ask more questions and you’re more involved,” she said.
Juliet Fiozzo personified astronomer Tycho Brahe. “The project was difficult at first, but I ended up getting really into it. I had to know every detail about him in order to make myself this person,” she said. Juliet said she was interested to learn Brahe had a major hand in discovering the data included in the Rudolphine Tables, a star catalog and planetary tables published by Johannes Kepler sometime after Brahe’s death.
Art lover Kailin Adams said Michelangelo was a natural choice for her. “This was a lot of fun and a little stressful, too,” she said. “It’s different than just gathering facts for a research paper. You really have to know the person to come up with a speech and to become the person.”
Zachary Gestring said the reason he chose to research Sir Isaac Newton was simple: “He’s the best scientist.”
“You start to understand the person, and it inspires you to learn more about them and their influence on today,” Zachary said.
Louis Galarza said the project taught him more about explorer Giovanni Caboto – known to the English as John Cabot – than he would have learned by reading about him in a textbook.
“I had to go in-depth about his life and what he accomplished,” said Louis. “I feel like reading a book wouldn’t have given me that.”