To give the girls a taste of life during the middle ages, the Ellis sixth grade presents a two-day Medieval Faire. The girls play human lawn chess; build and launch catapults; partake in a jousting competition; and hold an authentic Medieval feast complete with costumes, entertainment, and peasants who only get to eat if the nobility leave them leftovers. We do this because, in sixth grade, Ellis girls study world history and civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. We end our year with the study of Medieval Europe.
In history class, the girls study the feudal system. The class discusses the lives of nobles and peasants and learns about the roles that people played in society. Before the Faire, girls pick parts from a deck of cards. Twelve of the girls are members of the nobility and clergy, while the rest are peasants. Just as a person’s role in Medieval society was determined by their birth and family (something over which people had no control), the students’ roles in the feast are determined by picking a card out of a deck.
At the Medieval feast, the peasants serve the nobility and perform for the lord’s entertainment. Peasants eat only what is left and only after the nobles conclude their feast. Food is prepared and served simply, just as it was in the Middle Ages. Girls make costumes and play roles during the feast, trying to make the experience as authentic as possible. They eat with their hands, and one of the girls plays a monk who has taken a vow of silence and cannot speak. Medieval storytellers perform, as do musicians, during the course of the feast.
HUMAN LAWN CHESS
Games of human chess were often played during the Middle Ages. During the Faire, the girls learn how the game of chess relates to the feudal system they studied in history. The girls learn what the game and its pieces represent. They then play computer chess. Right after the feast, the lord of the manor and the bishop battle one another in a game of human chess, using the members of court and peasants as chess pieces.
In history class, the girls learn about the role of knights in Medieval Europe and how jousts were held to prepare knights and keep them in shape for battle, practice their skills, and entertain nobles and peasants. During the Medieval Faire, the girls see a video clip of a joust in action and then have their own competition. In this joust of skill (not physical contact) the girls substitute bicycles for horses. They ride toward hanging rings and try to put their lances through the rings. The lord of the manor presents a prize to the winner.
After three weeks of engineering and physics lessons in science class, the girls are introduced to the idea of medieval siege engines, more commonly known as catapults. Partners are assigned, and each group is given a set of supplies. The girls are taught how to safely use hand tools, and are then given the remaining days of class time to design, construct, and test a catapult. The girls learn a tremendous amount of mechanical reasoning and engineering skills by constructing their catapults and then firing at a cardboard model of a castle. The castle is moved back by one-meter increments during the competition, so the girls not only need to design/build a functional catapult, they must calibrate it as well. They have to solve problems as they occur, with the materials on hand, while working with other students.
ART AND WRITING
In English class, the girls are writing fairy tales and also reading the book Catherine Called Birdy, about a young girl growing up in Medieval Europe. In art class, the girls create illuminated manuscripts, and they also create book covers for the fairy tales they write in English class. If time permits, they also create gargoyles, which originated in the churches of Medieval Europe. There’s even a trip to Calvary church to experience the architecture.