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Operation Obelisk
Program Title: Secrets of Lost Empires: Obelisk
Subject(s): Physics, Mathematics, Social Studies
Grade Level: 6

When sixth-grade social studies teacher Tim Matthews decided he wanted to teach an interdisciplinary unit on ancient civilizations, he used the Spring 1997 NOVA Teacher's Guide to jump-start his thinking. The guide featured lessons to accompany the four-part series "Secrets of Lost Empires," and focused on the social studies aspects of ancient civilizations and the use of simple machines to raise massive objects such as Stonehenge's trilithons or the Egyptian obelisks.

Matthews worked with fellow science, mathematics and English teachers at Day Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts, to devise a plan: The teachers would introduce their 90 students to simple machines, scale and measurement, Egyptian history, and hieroglyphics during their 45-minute team period, scheduled four days a week.

In "Operation Obelisk: How Will We Raise the Obelisk?" students were asked to use any of six simple machines they learned about to develop a plan for raising a wood-frame 27-foot obelisk in the school courtyard. Students were to include an accurate drawing of how their simple machine would work, a description of how the obelisk would be raised, and a list of the materials needed.

As with any new unit, some goals were met more successfully than others. Matthews, who hopes to do the unit again, said next time he would simplify the number of concepts being taught. As assessment tools, Matthews created a process rubric to evaluate understanding of math terminology, building terms and abilities with manipulatives; and a product rubric for students to chart their own learning.

Matthews found out about the NOVA Teacher's Guide through copies passed down by a former teacher, and has now signed up for his own free subscription. "The benefit of the guide for me," he said, "is that it makes connections that I might not necessarily have made." —Karen Hartley


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