Emerging from children's desire to adopt a class pet, we dove into learning about what is considered to be the most significant event in the past 15,000 years of human history, the Neolithic Revolution, or the period during which people domesticated plants and animals. Children not only investigated the domestication of guinea pigs (the animals they chose to adopt) but also learned about how humans domesticated a wide range of plants and animals, changing the course of human history. Considering what it means to live with animals today, children designed and built a multi-story home for guinea pigs, with ramps that allowed our two guinea pigs to move between levels, as well as a rooftop farm that grows the plants to feed the guinea pigs. Learning that when the humidity gets too high the home needs to be cleaned, children designed and built sensors to measure the home’s internal humidity. This included a user interface that lights up when it was time to clean the guinea pig home. Children coded their own simulations in netlogo, exploring the relationship of predators and prey. They also began experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to train a neural network to identify each of the two guinea pigs, so we could check in on them even when we weren’t at school. We delighted when one of our learners had an ah-hah moment, declaring aloud “everything we are learning is connected”. Children presented their work at a public exhibition, sharing the numerous artifacts they created as evidence of their learning and understanding, and reflecting on their journey as learners, creators, and people.
A journey through History through the lens of the animals that people domesticated
How did the domestication of animals change the course of human history? On a large world map, we affixed each animal humans domesticated in the part of the world the animal was domesticated, and noted the approximate time the animal was domesticated, thus journeying through both history and geography. We then engaged in research on dogs and cats; a wide range of farm animals especially sheep, goats, pigs, and cows; animals supporting transportation and communication including pigeons, camels, and horses, and the working insects - honey bees and silkworms. Each of our students then chose one animal to explore in greater depth, and prepared an oral explanation of why the animal was important to the development of human history. They designed sculptures to represent the animal and its impact, and collaboratively crafted a presentation on the domestication of animals.
What are the relationships between different animals that live in the same place? How do plants relate to those animals? Why do animals live in that place and not another? How do human actions impact these relationships? Children learned about ecosystems, systems, simulations of complex systems, and natural selection. Children discovered how can we use simulations to understand complex systems. They also continued developing their skills on data visualization and Math by creating their own graph-lines to represent something that changed in their lives through time. Tiana modified a predator-prey simulation, wrote about the natural evolution of the marine iguana, explained why we can't domesticate monkeys, and researched ways humans impact ecosystems.
The secret cycle of plants
During an exploration with plants, focusing on seeds and flowers, children had some hypotheses about the purpose of each part of a plant, as well as how each of the parts are vital to the life cycle of plants. They engaged in experiments testing the right conditions for seeds to germinate, as well as making discoveries about the function of pollinators and the different types of reproduction in plants. Children connected understanding of ecosystems, with understanding of the domestication of animals.
Practicing Public Speaking
Sharing our learning with an audience in an interesting and compelling way engaged children in preparing an oral presentation about the Neolithic Revolution. Each child selected one animal humans domesticated, considered what was most important about the domestication of that animal to human history, and prepared and practiced an oral presentation, honing their public speaking skills. To enhance our presentations, children worked together on the design and creation of sculptures representing the domestication of each animal. They worked together to organize the presentation, deciding to structure their presentation chronologically. They shared how the domestication of particular animals made possible the shifts from living in small groups of hunter-gatherers, to living in agricultural communities, to living in empires. Tiana chose to speak about the silkworm, essential to the development of trade and cultural exchange between the Chinese, Persian, and Roman empires. She described an ancient legend of how the silkworm was domesticated, the secrecy with which the Chinese held silk making, as well as the cultural importance of silk in connecting the Eastern and Western empires of Europe and Asia.
Cuyo Castle/Guinea Pig Mansion
Seeking to understand the cultural and economic importance of guinea pigs, one of the few animals domesticated outside of Eurasia, we researched the importance of the guinea pig to the people of the Andes who domesticated them. In the process, we decided to call the animals by their Spanish name, cuyo, as guinea pigs are not from Guinea nor are they related to pigs. An important part of applying our learning was the construction of Cuyo Castle (or Guinea Pig Mansion), a four floors structure with three connected floors and one roof top for growing cuyo's favorite vegetables. Our artist in residence Pilar Perez, guided us in design and construction. Children investigated how much space cuyos need, how well they can climb so we could design ramps for them to go between floors, how we could make the structure stable, and how we could design the castle so that it would be easy to clean. Tiana, in charge of installing the doors, mastered many design and wood working skills.
Tiana decided she could improve on the design of cuyo castle, applying knowledge and skills she had gained during a personal project creating a robotic horse that moved utilizing humidity sensors. Wanting to know when cuyo castle was dirty, she remembered how the humidity sensors worked and wanted to use them to trigger LEDs of different colors to convey the level of dirtiness in the castle. She programmed the GoGo Board, created extensions for the sensors, laser cut an interface for the LEDs, and presented her working prototype on exhibition night.
Tiana's Documentation on Cuyo-Clean-Up
Cords in two colors
Gogo wiget [ an app on the computer]
Hi, my name is Tiana. I Am going to tell you about our cuyo cage problem. Cuyos are very sensitive of sound and dirt, so we created the cuyo clean up, to solve the problem.If the house is dirty the cuyos will get really sick or they can die You will need a : gogo board and some cords you will also need some electric tape. Our first problem was that the cords were not long enuff to reach the first second or third floor. So we made extension cords to reach the floors. When the cage is dirty a yellow LED will flash. When the cage is clean a green LED will flash. We had one more problem. Guinea pigs love to chew wires and my cuyo clean up has a lot of wires. The sensors I use are soil humidity sensors and rain sensors. And to put the LEDs into I made a square and two circles to put the LEDs .