Studying Culture Through Home Space With Gifted Students

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by Bethany Johnsen

Living with a French family during my college study abroad program first exposed me to the differences between the homes of different cultures and what these differences can tell us about societies. The one most obvious to me in the distressing summer heat was the lack of air conditioning in French homes. My culture class called my attention to the subtler stylistic differences in traditional French living quarters, such as “closed” floor plans rather than the open kind preferred by Americans, leaving very little space visible from a French entranceway—indicating, we thought, a stricter sense of privacy.

Most students do not have the opportunity to study the private spaces of other cultures, and few textbooks cover topics like the daily lives and homes of the average citizens of the societies they discuss. Luckily for the social studies teacher, Internet resources can fill this gap. A study of ancient culture is hardly complete without taking students on a virtual visit to the Roman villa Torre Llauder, or letting them read about Roman villas in Britain. The differences between how ancient Romans and modern Americans live—as well as the disparity between the dwellings of wealthy and poor Romans—can yield a wonderful discussion. If time permits, students can gain a lot from creating a blueprint of a Roman villa on graph paper or constructing their own 3D villa with cardboard.

The idea for this blog was taken from Ancient Roots and Ruins: A Guide to Understanding the Romans, Their World, and Their Language, a social studies unit for grades 4–8.