Cross-curricular projects encourage students to analyze a challenge, considering it in a critical manner while at the same time being creative in how to approach a solution. This philosophy was highlighted this summer at Randolph-Macon Academy when computer science instructor Stephanie Wagner approached World Religions teacher Michael Williams with the idea of doing an engineering project for his class.
After going through several sketches of how they might create a visual representation of each major religion and how they connect together, senior Alan Williams created an engineering sample built out of small cogs used in the robotics program. Each student was then responsible for designing a cog for two major religions, as well as a third cog that represented a commonality between the two. Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, are joined by a cog representing peace, while Christianity and Judaism are joined by one that tells of Moses. Smaller religions, such as Wicca, are presented by decorative pieces.
The students used a combination of Adobe Illustrator and hand-drawn artwork for the design work. The cog pieces, as well as decorative pieces were created with a laser cutter and then screwed onto a wooden backboard. In the center of it all is a larger cog that lists the names of the four students, and also holds an iris and a crank. Upon turning the crank, all the cogs on the board move in unity.
“We spend so much time talking about what we don’t have in common,” said Michael, “that part of the goal we had this summer is to find out what we do have in common.”
The students were fully engaged in the project and often voluntarily stayed late in the evenings to work on it. R-MA senior Grace Wagner estimated that the cogs each took two hours to cut out, while her mother, Stephanie Wagner, said that from concept to completion, each cog represented about twelve hours of work. Because the work included everything from art and graphic design to engineering and math, the students assisted each other and ended up learning about the religions as they were doing so.
“When students are doing and creating, they learn more,” said Stephanie. “This entire creation didn’t exist two weeks ago. These students will always remember making it, and they are much more likely to remember what they learned in doing so--not just about the different religions, but about the mathematics and engineering and the computer design work as well. This is what the world requires of our students. When you go to work, you don’t only use one skill. You need many, and you need to understand how to use them all at the same time when you’re approaching a challenge. The way we teach our students needs to reflect that.”
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA's 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and have the opportunity to learn to fly through a unique flight program. The Academy also offers several summer programs. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.
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