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story.lead_photo.caption Seventh-grade students at South Callaway Middle School turned their book reports into pumpkins and interactive slideshows. Teacher Heather Fees, left, said the project lets children show their creativity. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

MOKANE — While a light snow dusted the trees outside, sixth-graders at South Callaway Middle School remembered the warm breezes of ancient Mesopotamia.

The students completed projects themed around Mesopotamia as the culmination of a unit on the subject, then shared them with fellow students by setting up a temporary museum in their classroom Thursday.

"We try to do project-based learning as much as possible," sixth-grade teacher Danielle Hecktor said. "They had their choice between 15 topics, and we spent about two weeks designing the projects."

Mesopotamia proved a rich source of inspiration, as the first civilization to produce a form of writing and a legal code. Other innovations students studied included irrigation systems and architectural marvels.

"Each year, it's amazing to see how (the students) conceive different ideas on the topics," Hecktor said. "It's nice to see them be creative — we can focus so much on assessments and tests."

Some students were even talking about becoming archaeologists, he said.

Cole Lee, Chase Mealy and Gavin Briggs teamed up to build a cardboard model of the Ishtar Gate. Originally constructed in about 575 B.C.E. as the gate to the inner city of Babylon, the elaborately painted stone gates live on only in replicas.

"Ishtar was the goddess of love and war," Lee explained. "In Iraq, they found bricks from the gates and tried to rebuild it, but it got completely destroyed in World War I."

Courtney Whisler and Sara Howard built a ziggurat, surrounded on all sides with jungle creatures. They said in real life, these five-story step pyramids often stood in the center of towns.

"There would be houses built around them, so it'd be easy for people to come and give offerings," Howard said.

Reece Pahl, Nola Glover and Mattie Pritchard recreated one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

"We don't actually know if it existed," Pahl said.

"The ancient Romans and Greeks wrote about it, but no one has ever found it," Glover added.

Their version is a tiered design of platforms held up by styrofoam columns with tape-and-hot-glue waterfalls spilling down the sides.

"It would've taken 8,200 gallons of water a day to keep the plants alive," Pritchard said.

The sixth-graders weren't the only ones putting on a display Thursday. Eighth-grade students shared videos they created featuring careers they're interested in. It served as a preview for the upcoming career fair.

Seventh-graders shared book reports in two formats: digital and pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin — they painted scenes from the books they read onto the orange squash.

"We spent several weeks going over the elements of a story, then the students wrote book analyses and made a visual representation on a pumpkin," teacher Heather Fees said. "We just finished up written book reports, so shifting to this, they loved it."

Seventh-grader Zylin Thorpe heartily recommended his chosen book, "Mutant Bunny Island."

"The character's a lot like me — he loves comic books and likes to stay inside," Thorpe said.

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