Medieval History 101 at Eastland Middle School

Students engage peers with interactive history lesson

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 28, 2013

 Kira Priestly, a 9-year-old Kaiser student, tries out the stock while visiting the medieval festival at Eastland Middle School May 21.

Kira Priestly, a 9-year-old Kaiser student, tries out the stock while visiting the medieval festival at Eastland Middle School May 21.

Photo by Sara Kandel

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ROSEVILLE — Students in the accelerated learning program Project Challenge at Roseville Community Schools enticed their peers with a history lesson hidden in the fun of a medieval fair May 21 at Eastland Middle School.

Each Project Challenge student created a booth for the event. From weaponry to medicine and even games, their combined knowledge was concise and detailed.

“We’ll start off with Ring Around The Rosie — you think it’s so happy and playful, but it’s actually about the third-most devastating plague in history: the bubonic plague,” 12-year-old Kaelyn Kowalski told visitors to her booth on medieval medicine before detailing — line-by-line and sometimes word-by-word — the song’s cryptic meaning.

“‘We all fall down’ means one-third of Italy’s population perished from the plague,” Kowalski said, finishing off her introduction. “Moving on, do you know how people in medieval times cured a stuffy nose? They shoved mustard leaves and onions up their noses because they believed the putrid smell would clear their stuffed-up nose.”

“They believed a lot of foolish things,” Kowalski continued. “They believed bruises were punishment from the devil and that pimples were a sign someone was possessed by the devil. They thought they were tiny horns growing out of their face and the only way to cure someone possessed was to smear excrement on their body.”

The students loved the gross details in the 15-minute presentation, and even the parent helpers seemed engaged by Kowalski’s booth. She knew her stuff, and like her peers in Project Challenge, she spent a good part of the school year studying that period in history.

“We studied medieval history the whole year and this is their big culmination,” said Nancy Gitter, the Project Challenge coordinator at RCS. “I do a different curriculum every year and I try to pick things that all of them are interested in and can be taught at different levels. In my class, they have many different choices and can choose one thing to focus (on) in the topic we are studying, and we touch on as much as we can.”

The medieval festival took place over three days beginning May 17 at Kment Elementary with students from Dort and Fountain elementary schools being bused in. It continued May 20 at Huron Park Elementary with visits from students at Steenland Elementary, and it culminated May 21 at Eastland Middle School with students from Kaiser and Patton elementary schools and Roseville Middle School.

Each location featured different student booths with live performances, learning opportunities and activities that visiting students could participate in.

Patton Elementary student Audrey Schulz featured live demonstrations and a chance to try medieval embroidery at her booth.

“It’s not hard but you have to have really still hands and make sure each stitch is just right or else you waste a piece of cloth,” Schulz explained.

Eastland Middle School student Alex Wyatt created his booth around three popular medieval games: chess, checkers and Nine Men’s Morris.

“It’s a game played in medieval times where you move marbles and try to get three in a row while preventing the other player from getting three in a row, and the first person to only have two pieces left on the board loses,” Wyatt explained to prospective players of Nine Men’s Morris.

Fellow Eastland student Kyle Dreyer attracted student attention with his booth on medieval weapons.

“This one is the morning star,” Dreyer said. “You would either use it by hand or throw it like a spear. That one’s a flail. This one’s a battle-ax. That’s a sword. And this is a bow — it’s a long bow, but they used both long bows and cross bows in medieval times.”

Students lined up to check out Kaiser student Kara Hochberg’s handmade stock, or pillory, for her booth on medieval torture.

“Medieval torture was some of the worst types of torture in history,” Hochberg said. “One of the methods of torture was called a rat cage and they used rats to eat through the person’s stomach and intestines because they would set hot coals on the top of the cage and the rats would burrow into the stomach and intestines to escape the heat from the coals.”

Not every presentation contained such graphic accounts of history — one group of four girls did a Morris dance presentation and one girl had a booth on stained glass. Regardless of the topic, each child presenter knew their information — sharing both the history and how-to (or an interactive game) at their booth. And they seemed to be genuinely having fun sharing what they learned. Many offered sentiments of appreciation toward Gitter and Project Challenge.

“It’s amazing, such a wonderful experience,” Kowalski said. “Working with Mrs. Gitter is just so wonderful. She is such a blessing to have, and Project Challenge is so much fun.”

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