Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What I've Been Doing Instead of Knitting

I have often envied teachers of the more "hands-on" disciplines the opportunities they have for field trips, museum visits, experiments, and projects that make learning more fun. Often the teaching of grammar and writing can seem like a tremendous amount of hard work for little reward. It is nice to sometimes have a chance to have fun.

Students at our high school participated in a school wide reading project in which all the students read the legends and tales about King Arthur. Because our school is heavily multicultural, we chose this topic to examine a particularly rich part of British and American cultural heritage. King Arthur, the Holy Grail, the Round Table, chivalry, knighthood, and Camelot itself are often referred to in the news, in other works of literature, and in visual media.

All the classes read the script to the Broadway musical Camelot. Individual teachers chose to examine other parts of the story in different ways, including film clips, reference books, the "original" tales from Chretien de Troyes and Thomas Malory, Chaucer, John Steinbeck’s retelling of the stories, a little Walt Disney, and other sources. Some classes struggled with reading parts of the tales in Middle English. In addition, teachers added research projects about medieval ideas such as courtly love, the wheel of fortune, and the great chain of being. Some students designed shields and heraldry projects.

Teachers in other disciplines also participated in the activities. The physics class built a catapult. United States history classes studied the idea of the Kennedy Administration as Camelot and produced a visual project on that subject.

The King Arthur study culminated with a day of activities hosted by our local chapter of the National English Honor Society. During the early part of the day, NEHS members dressed as King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and a herald visited classes. They knighted or "ladied" selected students in a ceremony that involved the traditional dubbing of a knight or presenting a lady with a wreath of flowers for her hair. As part of the ceremony, each recipient donned a T-shirt to wear the rest of the day with the shield of the Knight of the Round Table on the front and his individual story on the back. The ladies’ shirts had artwork representing their characters. Students also participated in a chess tournament and backgammon games. Some students even spent time in the stocks.

NEHS members decorated the cafeteria with royal blue tablecloths with red and gold accents. English classes contributed the shields they made to decorate the walls. Society members dressed as medieval servants served the meal as King Arthur and Guenevere welcomed guests to the banquet. The meal, served on genuine foam pewter plates, was eaten with only spoons and fingers. The cafeteria staff duplicated a medieval stew and added baked chicken legs, breadsticks, and apple cider and a pudding for dessert. Two students wearing jester suits juggled while the musical Camelot played on the cafeteria televisions.

At the end of the day, students went to the football stadium to watch an archery demonstration by a local physician who spoke to the students for a few minutes about medieval weaponry, showing some of the weapons, such as spears and battle axes, that would have been used in medieval hand-to-hand combat. He explained why the bow and arrow was an improvement over such weapons. Then he demonstrated the use of the bow by shooting a large artificial boar as a target. The school choir hosted a jousting tournament. Each class had four elected champions who competed on stick horses using pool noodles tipped with powdered chalk as lances.)


Carrie said...

Sounds like it went very well! The idea of the pool noodles cracks me up.


Sherie said...

Wow, what a terrific day you had. Such varied and fun activities are exactly what makes learning fun for the kids. Actually, I think it might have been fun for me too!