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Leonardo da Vinci: The Scientist

Updated on November 17, 2014
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Did you know the artist who painted Mona Lisa was also an impressive scientist? This is part 2 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor. This lesson will cover his work as a scientist. Build a working hydrometer and hygrometer, begin a nature journal, write notes in a secret code, and more! These lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. They were created by another creative teacher for a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 16 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, or homeschool co-op group!

His Contributions to Science - All photos are from http://en.wikipedia.org.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.Obstetrics. He had detailed drawings of babies in all stages in utero along with the womb.Human Anatomy. He actually dissected corpses, which got him into a bit of trouble. His detailed drawings were so accurate and detailed that they have been used by medical students.Botany. Throughout his notebook are various plants drawn to perfection.Astronomy. He recognized that the sun was a star just like all the other stars, only it is closer to the earth. He determined that the earth is sphere-shaped. He also recorded sketches of eclipses.Biology of animals. As with his detailed study and illustrations of humans, he took the same interest in animals and drew them in various poses. He also dissected them and drew that as well.Optics. His study of light and how it refracts was applied to many of his works of art as well as his detailed observations in his notebooks.Geology. He made many observations about rivers, shells, fossils, caves, and mountains.Physics. He made many notes on how to create bridges, war machines, and many other devices by applying his knowledge and observations of many concepts of physics.Aerodynamics. His desire to fly showed through from his numerous detailed drawings of birds and bats flying. He even includes plans that would allow for humans to fly...and they actually work!Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.
Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.
Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.
Obstetrics. He had detailed drawings of babies in all stages in utero along with the womb.
Obstetrics. He had detailed drawings of babies in all stages in utero along with the womb.
Human Anatomy. He actually dissected corpses, which got him into a bit of trouble. His detailed drawings were so accurate and detailed that they have been used by medical students.
Human Anatomy. He actually dissected corpses, which got him into a bit of trouble. His detailed drawings were so accurate and detailed that they have been used by medical students.
Botany. Throughout his notebook are various plants drawn to perfection.
Botany. Throughout his notebook are various plants drawn to perfection.
Astronomy. He recognized that the sun was a star just like all the other stars, only it is closer to the earth. He determined that the earth is sphere-shaped. He also recorded sketches of eclipses.
Astronomy. He recognized that the sun was a star just like all the other stars, only it is closer to the earth. He determined that the earth is sphere-shaped. He also recorded sketches of eclipses.
Biology of animals. As with his detailed study and illustrations of humans, he took the same interest in animals and drew them in various poses. He also dissected them and drew that as well.
Biology of animals. As with his detailed study and illustrations of humans, he took the same interest in animals and drew them in various poses. He also dissected them and drew that as well.
Optics. His study of light and how it refracts was applied to many of his works of art as well as his detailed observations in his notebooks.
Optics. His study of light and how it refracts was applied to many of his works of art as well as his detailed observations in his notebooks.
Geology. He made many observations about rivers, shells, fossils, caves, and mountains.
Geology. He made many observations about rivers, shells, fossils, caves, and mountains.
Physics. He made many notes on how to create bridges, war machines, and many other devices by applying his knowledge and observations of many concepts of physics.
Physics. He made many notes on how to create bridges, war machines, and many other devices by applying his knowledge and observations of many concepts of physics.
Aerodynamics. His desire to fly showed through from his numerous detailed drawings of birds and bats flying. He even includes plans that would allow for humans to fly...and they actually work!
Aerodynamics. His desire to fly showed through from his numerous detailed drawings of birds and bats flying. He even includes plans that would allow for humans to fly...and they actually work!
Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.
Hydrology. He studied water and made observations on how it moves.

Lesson Plan on Leonardo da Vinci: The Scientist

1. Pray. Read Proverbs 20:12.

2. Introduce Leonardo da Vinci as a scientist. Emphasize how he used his eyes to observe things rather than blindly accept what the Greeks & Romans taught.

3. Have children close their eyes. Rearrange 5 items in the room. Have children open their eyes. Can they tell what has changed? Were they attentive to detail like Leonardo da Vinci?

4. Read some of Leonardo da Vinci: Dreams, Schemes, and Flying Machines by Heinz Kuhne, focusing on his scientific discoveries and observations.

(Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org)

Optics

5. Show the painting of Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani). Briefly explain how Leonardo da Vinci made many observations about how light works (called optics) and applied it to his art.

6. Get 2 volunteers to demonstrate. Have one child hold a flashlight and shine it from various angles toward the side profile of the second child. Ask the children what they observe and the light and the shadows.

YOU WILL NEED: a flashlight

Image credit: http://haunty.hubpages.com/hub/Hygrometer-Leonardo-da-Vincis-Weather-Predictions
Image credit: http://haunty.hubpages.com/hub/Hygrometer-Leonardo-da-Vincis-Weather-Predictions

Hygrometers

7. Explain that a hygrometer is an instrument used to measure the humidity, or amount of moisture, in the air. Many people credit Benjamin Franklin or Horace-Bénédict de Saussure for this invention, but Leonardo da Vinci actually invented a hygrometer a couple hundred years before they did. We gave each child 2 plastic drinking cups with 2-3 holes punched through the top so that we could string yarn through them. One cup had the bottom covered in wax (done by dripping melted candle wax into it). The children attached the cups to each side of a wire hanger, looping it over and tying it through the holes. We used tape to match sure 1 cup stayed on each side. We placed 3 cotton balls in the cup without the wax. This can show how much humidity is in the air because the cotton balls will fill absorb water. That cup will show itself to be heavier when there is more moisture in the air. To find out more, go to haunty.hubpages.com.

YOU WILL NEED: candle, lighter/matches, hole punches, wire hanger (per child), 2 plastic cups (per child), yarn, scissors, & 3 cotton balls (per child)

Image credit: http://www.allposters.com/
Image credit: http://www.allposters.com/

Hydrometers

8. Hydrometers are used to measure the density of water. They are especially important in the shipping industry when ships sail into different bodies of water. Leonardo da Vinci designed the first hydrometers. We will create simple models. Pair up children into groups of 3. Give each child a straw, a small ball of clay or play-dough, and a small nail that can fit inside the straw. Give each child a glass of water. One glass should have regular tap water. Another glass should have slightly salty water. The third glass should have extremely salty water (made by boiling the water and then stirring in lots of salt). Emphasize that all 3 glasses contain water. Have each child place the ball of clay on the bottom of the straw and then drop the nail down into the straw. This is your hydrometer. Each child should place their hydrometer in their glass of water. Have them compare how high or low their hydrometer floats compared with the other children's in their group. A less dense liquid will allow the hydrometer to sink lower. You can also compare cold and hot water. To find out more information, go to www.ecawa.asn.au.

YOU WILL NEED: (per child) a straw, nail, ball of clay/play-dough, a glass, & salt

Image credit: http://www.mos.org/sln/Leonardo/LeonardoRighttoLeft.html
Image credit: http://www.mos.org/sln/Leonardo/LeonardoRighttoLeft.html

Writing Backwards/Mirror Writing

9. Leonardo da Vinci wrote his letters backwards in his notebooks. He may have done this in order to not smear the ink since he was left-handed and/or as a "secret code" to deter others from stealing his ideas. Attempt to write backwards by using the Mirror Book that can be printed from dynamic2moms.webs.com. Have children write something and then use a mirror to check to make sure they wrote it correctly. Some children found it helpful to practice on a sheet of scrap paper first.

YOU WILL NEED: mirror pages from dynamic2moms.webs.com (optional), writing utensils, & compact mirrors

Source

Journals

10. Leonardo da Vinci learned so much for careful observation, and he was forever making detailed drawings and notes on whatever he observed. Pass out a spiral notebook to each child. Give them a few minutes to design the front cover. If desired, give a short lesson on how to add shadows and shading in with a pencil. You can get ideas on what to do and show from www.artinstructionblog.com. Then head outside and tell them to find something outside. Have them draw as much detail as they can. If you are not limited by time, have the children exchange notebooks and try to identify what the other child drew. If the weather is bad, have the children sit next to a window to draw something outdoors.

YOU WILL NEED: (per child) spiral notebook and pencil plus items for decorating the cover of the notebooks

11. Five minute review of what we learned.

Want to Learn More About Leonardo?

Making and testing out models of Leonardo da Vinci's ornithopter from Lesson 3: Leonardo da Vinci: The Inventor
Making and testing out models of Leonardo da Vinci's ornithopter from Lesson 3: Leonardo da Vinci: The Inventor

Recreate and test out some of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, begin an observation notebook, apply his art techniques as you study his art work, and more in this exciting 3 part unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor!

  • Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist - Always been intrigued by Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile? Wondering about The Last Summer? This is part 1 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor. This lesson will cover his work as an artist. Sculpt a horse, use watercolors to paint a bird, practice drawing using perspective, and more!
  • Leonardo da Vinci: The Scientist - Did you know the artist who painted Mona Lisa was also an impressive scientist? This is part 2 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor. This lesson will cover his work as a scientist. Build a working hydrometer and hygrometer, begin a nature journal, write notes in a secret code, and more!
  • Leonardo da Vinci: The Inventor - An army tank? A parachute? A machine gun? A bicycle? All these and more were developed by the creative genius, Leonardo da Vinci, in the late 15th century! This is part 3 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor. Join us as we recreate and test out Leonardo da Vinci's inventions including the ornithopter, parachute, and trebuchet!
  • Leonardo da Vinci Presentations, Meal, & Field Trip - This is the culminating project following a 3 part unit study on Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Scientist, & Inventor. Children will present on Leonardo da Vinci's works of art and inventions and then will enjoy an Italian meal together. Also included are the field trips we attended while studying this unit.
  • Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Looking for all of my lessons and unit studies? Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 140 lessons. For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at the above link.

Great Minds: Leonardo da Vinci by SciShow

Leonardo's Study of Anatomy by Nature Video

What impresses you the most about Leonardo's observations and discoveries? - Or just leave a note to let me know you dropped by! I love getting feedback from yo

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    • bibliopola profile image

      Işın Tuzcular 4 years ago from Istanbul

      I went to an exhibition about Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo in Istanbul. I saw the notebooks of Leonardo, small models of his inventions. I think he is a genius. I like reading about him. Very good lens.

    • Kumar P S profile image

      Kumar P S 4 years ago

      Great lens ! Informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • iijuan12 profile image
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      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      @Kumar P S: Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • iijuan12 profile image
      Author

      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      @bibliopola: That would have been so neat to see. I was very sad when we went to the Uffizi Gallery but didn't get to see Leonardo's notebooks since we were on a guided tour.

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