Monday, February 7, 2011

The da Vinci Code

Scientist. Inventor. Painter. Sculptor. Architect. Cartographer. Mathematician. Maverick.

The list of attributes goes on and on. If I wasn’t referring to Leonardo da Vinci, this type of person surely seems too good to be true. Mythical, in fact. Really, who can excel in all of these subjects, and more?

Leonardo da Vinci is often referred to as the quintessential example of a Renaissance Man, or someone who excels spectacularly in a range of disparate subject areas. Far from being a dilettante, da Vinci is widely considered to have been a genius, and has left lasting significant contributions in fields such as medicine, art, mathematics, and engineering. Nearly 500 years after his death, da Vinci’s creativity, brilliance, and the sheer audacity of his ideas mark him as one of the greatest minds ever known. Contemporary scientists, inventors, and artists regularly cite him as an inspiration, and his relevance still reverberates today. In 1994, Microsoft founder Bill Gates bought one of da Vinci’s notebooks for about $30 million. This particular codex – one of 30 – contains da Vinci’s theories and observations on scientific matters such as fossils, air, the properties of water and rocks, astronomy, and celestial light. His relentless curiosity in various subjects is something that many students actively respond to.

Recently, I read of a new trend among some colleges and universities to shorten their degree programs to three years instead of the usual four. Electives and other classes not directly pertinent to students’ majors are dropped, thus enabling students to graduate a full year earlier. The reason, of course, is economic. College tuitions are staggering, and increasingly out of the financial reach for many families. I understand the motivation behind such a restructuring, yet what is lost to these students? For years, higher education has followed a classical model of education, with students taking classes in a variety of subject areas, with the goal of being well-rounded and, well, educated. Will we lose potential da Vincis – Renaissance men and women – as a result? What if da Vinci had only focused on painting, or only on medicine – would his legacy still loom as large as it does today? Or has the notion of a Renaissance education in the 21st century become antiquated?

Whatever the case, one of the beauties of learning about da Vinci (and there are many) is that he’s a perfect subject for cross-curricular studies. While he’s widely studied in art classes, his ideas in engineering, mathematics, and medicine in particular lend themselves to fertile exploration in a variety of subject areas. My picks this week focus on different aspects of Leonardo’s many legacies, which will hopefully spark some students to develop and nurture their own nascent ideas. We’ll also be featuring many more resources on da Vinci and his ideas on The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check in. Lastly, if some students have difficulty identifying with da Vinci’s dizzying array of attributes, you can always let them know that he, too, had his lesser moments: he was apparently a chronic procrastinator.

Breaking the Codex
Subjects: World history, Science, Language Arts
Grade: 4-6
In this lesson, students learn about Leonardo da Vinci and his legacy. The lesson contains activities in which students create advertisements in honor of one of da Vinci's inventions, and attempt to copy his mirror-handwriting technique. This lesson is part of the Time Warp Trio series produced by WGBH, the flagship PBS station in Boston. These lessons offer concise overviews of historical time periods, and include two activities, curriculum connections and standards, handouts, and recommended books and links. All lessons are linked to national standards.

Leonardo da Vinci Activity: Vitruvian Man
Subject: Algebra
Grade: 6-8
How can we trust a drawing? One of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings is called the Vitruvian Man. It is based on a model of ideal mathematical proportions. In this activity, students will measure each other, chart their data, and test whether their respective arm spans equal their heights. This lesson is offered by The Math Forum at Drexel University, which provides expert math help services, online resources for teaching and learning, and curricular materials.

Theft of the Mona Lisa
Subjects: Art, World history
Grade: 7-12
The theft of the Mona Lisa created a frenzy when it was stolen in 1911. In this lesson, students will investigate the question, "What is an icon?" They will compare their impressions and interpretations of the Mona Lisa to the hypothetical opinions of other people affected by this painting. This lesson is also a natural starting point for a discussion about which images have become, or will become, icons in the future, leading students to investigate the following Life-long Learning Question: What shared understandings does an iconic image communicate? This lesson is a product of PBS Treasures of the World, which highlights the stories behind various masterworks of art and nature.

~Joann's Picks - February 4, 2011~

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of introducing students to da Vinci as a multi-dimensional thinker who was passionately curious. If only all learners looked like da Vinci!


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