Why do your students need to know that 1456 was a big year? A Social Studies project

 Dates, times, places.  Not always fun stuff for students to remember.  But 1456?  That one's a biggie.  And your students need to know how it changed the world!


Our students are living in the midst of the age of social media, where information comes flying at them every second!

The back story

But back in the 15th century in Europe?  If you wanted to print something, you had to carve the words on a wood black.  Backward, of course.  No room for error there, right?  

So most documents were copied by hand.  Because there were fewer errors, one hoped!  Now imagine recopying a big book, like the Bible.  With illustrations, of course.  How much do you think that would cost?  Does it make sense that almost no one owned anything with words on it?

And if no one owned documents, then who needed to learn how to read?  Unless you were wealthy or lucky, you might never see a book in your lifetime.  Think about it.  Everything you learned, you learned from someone else.  Who might or might not be correct, or have their facts straight.

The Middle Ages weren't known for being a time of enlightenment.

So what Johannes Gutenberg did was nothing short of revolutionary.  Now, movable type had been used in Asia hundreds of years earlier, but Gutenberg developed a metal casting system that made production easier.  He started the age of communication a
nd exploration.

So, for our students who only know iPhones, streaming services, and TikTok, how do you get them to care about Gutenberg?  

A fun STEM challenge

Have your students create their own printing press.  They'll discover it takes a lot of effort just to write their name or create a sentence.  And, suddenly, their appreciation for what Gutenberg did will grow immensely!

It doesn't take many supplies to get this going!  

Here's what I did and what you can do, too.  You'll need masking tape, styrofoam, rubber bands, some craft sticks, markers, and paper.

I had students work in groups of 3-4.  The directions were simple.  Take the supplies and find a way to print all of your names on a piece of paper.  Some kids realized right away that they needed to count how many letters were duplicated in their names.  Those letters only needed to be made once and then re-used.

Others made a letter for every letter in each name.  Letters were carved into styrofoam with craft sticks or scissors.  Or tape was put on craft sticks and letters were written directly on it with markers.  Some students assembled their letters on tape or in a row on craft sticks, others stamped the letters one by one.

 They learned some lessons the hard way.  Names had to be written backward; letters had to be created backward!  They had to pay attention to Bs, Ds, and Ns, with lines going the correct way.

It took about one period for them to print all their names.  But the "WOW" factor when we discussed the printing press the next day? 

These kids might be part of the social media generation, but they understood a little better how slow, but also how vital this achievement was.


If you're looking for a fun way to get your students to read (and share) the books they're reading independently, click here!

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