Earlier this spring, Chinese teacher Wenyan Witkowsky introduced a new unit to her 2nd graders about the Great Wall of China.
They began with an overview of China (where to find it on the map, the meaning of its flag) and read a picture book called Ming's Adventure: China's Great Wall. They proceeded to learn all about the history, length and cultural significance of the wall—one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history. They talked about the Chinese Emperor who began the wall, Qín Shǐ Huáng, and the terracotta army he built.
Then one of her students said matter-of-factly: "Let's build the Great Wall."
"Honestly, it had not occurred to me to build it," Wenyan recalls.
But sensing an opportunity for a student-directed, hands-on project—and with a genuine sense of adventure— Wenyan decided that her students should build a Great Wall...in miniature.
She ordered some project bricks from Amazon and rounded up all the hot glue guns she could find. And with help from 2nd grade teachers Kim Yap, Hilary Pearson and Eleanor Evins, the 2nd graders got to work.
Over five class periods the students designed a base layout, built a foundation level, added a second level and constructed a watch tower. Students had the option to embellish their creations with stairs, warriors and other elements. Along the way, the students learned the Chinese words for the building materials, gaining vocabulary.
After completing all the individual Great Wall sections, the students lined them on the upper athletic field in the rough shape of the real Great Wall. Communications specialist Joe Charles flew a drone overhead to take an aerial photo and then superimposed the outline of China over the photo to give a sense of the wall's scale. As an added bonus, students were arranged on the field to spell the Chinese characters for "China."