Saturday, April 19, 2014

Learning About the Middle Ages

Last week we began our Castle Project.  It is all part of our Middle Ages Unit.  Kids come into 4th grade asking when we will build castles, and now, finally, the time has come.  Our school teaches a Core Knowledge curriculum, in addition to our district curriculum, so our students learn about ancient Egypt in first grade, China in second, and the Roman Empire in 3rd grade.  It is a well planned, and natural progression in studying world history.  You can learn more about Core Knowledge by visiting the Core Knowledge Foundation website.

I have written about our Castle Project before, but I thought I would take a few moments to highlight some of the steps I take to build background, as well as the resources I use. To lay the groundwork for our unit, I like to expose my students to lots of literature, both non-fiction and historical fiction.   In reading groups we spend time reading and discussing "If You Lived In the Days of Knights" by Ann McGovern, Medieval Life, and Knights and Castles by Will Osborn and Mary Pope Osborn.  I love the "If You Lived. . ." series.  Each chapter or section is titled with a question.  The text that follows answers that question.  It is a great way to help students understand how people lived at that point in history.

As a read aloud we read and discuss The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleishman.  This Newbery Award winning book is historical fiction.  I like using historical fiction to build background in a way that students can connect.  Along with the historical information, I continue to use the literature to build reading skills. You can read a summary of the book at Scholastic.

Another favorite book that I use as a read aloud is "The Door In the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli.  This is also a Newbery Award winner and is one of my favorite books ever.  I love the theme of this novel, that life always provides us with opportunities if we are willing to look for them. Here is a link to the Goodreads review.

To get the unit going, I have several Smartboard presentations that I have put together with information I have collected from various sources.  Much of it has come from  The Middle Ages Independent Learning Unit.  This book includes many great resources and activities about people of the middle ages, knights and armor, weaponry, the parts of castles, etc.  I have had this book for several years. It is published by Good Apple Publications.

The actual construction of the castle is completed as homework.  At school we learn the reasons why people built and lived in castles, what life was like in as castle, and the parts of castles.

I assemble these activities in manilla folders along with a step by step schedule for how we will proceed.

After learning about the parts and reasons for castles, students make a list of supplies needed and sketch out a plan.  Our project is completed over a three week period.

Some nights students have a written assignment to do.  Other nights they are just asked to work on their castle. We also do lots of writing about castles throughout the project.

Another excellent resource for this unit is Europe in the Middle Ages, by E. D. Hirsch.  I use sections of this book for read aloud, and to present lessons.  We also use it and sections of the Middle Ages Independent Learn Unit for close reading.  It provides excellent opportunities to identify and clarify the most important ideas and supporting information. 

You can see our castles from last year right here.  In a later post, I will write more about some of the other aspects of our unit and castle study.  The kids get so excited about this unit, and that makes it even more fun to teach it.

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