Dustin Murray’s eighth-grade history class recently studied the Middle Ages, which took place in Europe starting from the fifth century and ending around the 15th century. A complete change hit every aspect of living during that time frame, including art, religion, architecture, economics, etc. But, rather than having students just read about the Medieval period in a textbook or on the Internet, Murray had his students do more of a hands-on approach.
When asked what exactly they were doing, Murray laughed and said, “We’re going to sieze a castle.”
“The kids built catapults, and we had other students that built makeshift castles and other projects. We were studying the Middle Ages, and so I gave them free reign to build what they wanted to build, and this is what happened,” he continued. “You cut the leash, let them free and they can excel, and that’s what I was gunning for.”
While some students worked in groups on the life-sized catapults, others created mosaics and canvas art, clay sculptures and pottery, smaller versions of catapults with popsicle sticks, posters and a 3-dimensional church and castle. Not only did the projects cover the area of history, but they also touched on areas across the entire curriculum.
“You get to combine math and science and art. You get to do a little bit of everything,” said Murray, who is in his fifth year of teaching. “I had kids write papers, so you were able to cross curriculum in everything. We had a little English, a little science, a little math and you got your history behind it to drive it.”
Three catapults lined one of the end zones on the school’s football field Wednesday morning in preparation for a distance battle. Fourteen-year-old Hunter Rickles said his catapult launched a softball at a distance of 64 yards, which was the farthest he had recorded before the wooden arm broke.
“It took us about three to four weeks [to build the catapult],” Rickles said about his group. “I learned that this was one of the most tactile weapons. ... It shows us how to work together and how we can have fun by doing it.”
Heather Carmichael, 14, said she built a medieval castle. She also said the project was “fun” and briefly discussed what she had learned while covering this particular time period.
“It just really gives us a concept of what it was like back then. We covered the Black Death also, and it was a really hard time of great famine,” Carmichael said. “It just gave us a feel for what it was like.”
Murray bragged on the students, complimenting on their behaviors and their persevering attitudes.
“I like putting it in the hands of the students, because they thrive when you cut them loose. You’ve got some that may struggle at first, but it’s a good struggle because they get stronger through it, and I think they learn that they can actually build things that matter and get a really good result,” Murray said. “When you see that and see them actually be happy and content with what they’ve made, then that makes me feel pretty good, too.”