Building Baskets, Benchmark Style

Consider what you might need to survive in a hunter-gatherer society. What tools would you need, and how would you get them? In Nicole Scali’s sixth grade social studies lesson on the Stone Age, they explored how the hunter-gatherers lived as nomads, and how agriculture and the domestication of animals allowed cultures to begin to form villages.  

As a follow-on project to inspire exploratory thinking, Nicole Scali asked her students to create functional hunter-gatherer baskets using only glue, 80 strips of paper, brushes, and a plan. Would their baskets hold up? The class intended to find out, holding a competition to see which baskets could carry the most weight for the longest time.

Prior to beginning construction, the class brainstormed. What obstacles might they encounter? They considered that the paper might rip, they might run out of paper, and they might be stymied by not having an example to follow. After they listed their potential obstacles, they suggested solutions they might employ if they encountered any of these issues.

Next came planning. Working in teams of two, students sketched their designs. When construction began—which took place over several days, to allow the glue to dry and strengthen—it became clear that no two basket designs were alike. Some teams made woven designs, some layered, and some used twisted paper.

Woven basket in progress

When the baskets were completed and the day for testing arrived, the students and Nicole ran into a problem they hadn’t anticipated: what to do with baskets that broke in some way prior to testing? Falling back on hunter-gatherer methods, Nicole allowed the students whose baskets needed fixing to go out into the playground and use objects found in nature, including bark and stems from leaves, to make repairs.

Boy shows basket holding fruit

Nicole enjoyed that she was learning along with the students, adapting and problem-solving as needs arose. She says, “I was very impressed with how creative the kids were, both in their designs and in their flexibility. They did a great job and were pleased with the outcome.”

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About Benchmark School

Benchmark School, located at 2107 N. Providence Road, Media, Pa., is an independent, not-for-profit day school serving students in grades 1-8. Founded in 1970, the school is committed to helping bright students who have yet to reach their academic potential become confident and strategic thinkers, learners, and problem solvers who meet with success in school and life. For more information about Benchmark School, please call 610-565-3741 or visit BenchmarkSchool.org.