Do you have a polymath in any of your classes? A what?? A polymath is defined as a very learned person with encyclopedic knowledge. A polymath is a person who thinks, explores, and experiments to become an expert in many fields. These are the kind of people who treasure lifelong learning (and people you definitely don’t want to go up against in Jeopardy!). I know I don’t quite fit into this group of experts, although I wish I could say I do. To create a thinker of this caliber is the ultimate goal of many educators.
In an ideal world, students would have an insatiable hunger to learn about the world around them. Teachers would simply be there to guide their learning and provide the resources students need to fulfill their curiosity. The study of art could lead to learning about science. Inquisitiveness could lead to new inventions and discoveries. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and it is up to parents and educators to bring the love of learning and exploring new idea to their students so they will have the desire to continue fulfilling their curiosities throughout their lives.
There have been some great renaissance men and women throughout history, and Leonardo da Vinci is a perfect example whose life has been prominent in recent books and movies. Thinking about successful historical figures like da Vinci made me wonder what we can do as teachers to inspire students to embrace learning enough to become well rounded and learned like these people. After all, according to Leon Battista Alberti, “A man can do all things if he will.” How can we encourage this will to do new things?
Although studying the life and learning of da Vinci in your classroom probably won’t create a classroom full of polymaths or renaissance students, it might inspire students to think about the amazing things they could do with their lives. It can also serve as a great theme to tie together lessons from fields including art, science, and math. A perfect example of studying a variety of fields under the umbrella of one theme can be found in the yearly studies and competitions of Academic Decathlon teams. I’ll discuss that more in future columns, but it’s an idea to look into if you work with high school kids.
Math might seem a lot more interesting to students when it is presented within the theme of Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork. Drawing in perspective can be a lot more relevant to students when they can see how it has been done throughout history. There are a lot of well-made lessons on The Gateway to help you bring Leonardo da Vinci and his discoveries and studies into your classroom. The Boston Museum of Science did a wonderful job creating a science-based approach to studying the life and times of da Vinci. Browse through their site to see some ideas for incorporating this theme into your teaching. The lessons were designed for 4th through 8th grade students, but are adaptable to many levels. Here is a sample of what the Museum of Science has to offer:
Inventor’s Toolbox: An interactive site to explore the elements of simple machines with a game using three simple machines. This activity can be done online or as a classroom activity
Using Leonardo’s Window: A lesson in creating proper perspective in a drawing using a Renaissance technique of drawing a scene on a glass window.
How Far? How Small? A measurement activity where students measure the change of the apparent size of an object as it moves away from them.
Leonardo: Right to Left : An activity for students to experiment with writing in reverse.
~Peggy's Corner - February 4, 2010~