Turner Middle School takes students, community to the Dark Ages at Medieval Fair

By Shelley Widhalm

The Berthoud Surveyor

Seventh graders at Turner Middle School (TMS) hailed the community to the Medieval Fair on April 6 to step back to the Dark Ages and become enlightened on their social-studies lessons.

The Medieval Fair, held in the school’s cafeteria in booth format, presented the culmination of two months of research the students conducted on royal, village and town life during the fifth to 15th centuries. More than 200 guests came to the morning event, where the walls were decorated with fake banners to make it look like they were walking into the great hall of a castle.

“The fair is the award,” said Justin Muir, seventh-grade social studies teacher at TMS. “Let’s show off everything we’ve done.”

The students — 180 in total — broke into groups of three to four to research various aspects of Medieval Europe, including the Vikings, knights, castles, Black Death, towns and villages, and key people during that time period, such as Mary of Tudor or Bloody Mary.

The groups, which had February to April to do the work, created posters to present their research findings at the fair, along with coats of arms, artwork, and artifacts related to their topics. They could work on the artwork in school or at home and created things like illuminated letters, mosaics and frescos in their seventh-grade art class, taught by Holly Thompson, art teacher. They also created paintings, pencil sketches, pottery and paper stained-glass.

“Art reflects … the consciousness of what’s going on in that time period,” Thompson said, explaining because churches funded most of the artwork, there was a lack of portraits and landscapes. “This is why during this time period all you see is … fresco paintings, mosaics and architecture.”

The students made their artifacts at home; choosing things like shields, helmets, foam weapons, serving platters, and a miniature guillotine, Muir said. They also made goods and services to sell in exchange for plastic coins their parents, students and members of the community received in bags at the door. This year, because the coins ran out, taxes had to be collected to continue providing the coins for the next guests.

For their goods, which included traditional breads, cookies and brownies, the students gave the items Medieval-sounding names, such as Plague Bread, Witches Brew, Dragon Snot and Unicorn Blood, and some tried recipes from the time period. One group sold Slime and called it Black Death Dupe.

Other groups offered services that included hair braiding, henna tattoos, face painting, and games like a ring toss, Planko and a miniature witches’ dunk tank, resulting in a carnival-like setting. The students dressed in medieval clothing as part of their presentations.
“The Medieval Fair was very fun and enjoyable,” said TMS seventh-grader KeeLei Burrows. “We all got to dress up and have fun. We got to buy other peoples’ products and enjoy a fun time with friends. My group had the topic of law and punishment. For our good, we made Jell-o with gummy body parts in it that we called Witches’ Brew. Our artifact was a model showing a man being hanged, drawn and quartered.”

The fair began with an opening ceremony and the procession of the royal court with the king and queen, eight nobles, the town crier, and the court jester making an entrance while the school band played. The king proclaimed the fair open and the buying of goods and playing of games ensued. After 45 minutes there was an intermission with the town crier making an announcement, the choir giving a performance, and the court jester telling jokes.

The fair then continued, and guests could participate in a trebuchet chase contest or come to the stage to learn fencing moves, presented by re-enactors from Colorado State University. At the end of the event Muir gave the closing speech.

“They put a ton of effort into it,” Muir said, adding all of his students turned in their assignments in order to participate in the fair and took pride in their projects. “The kids love it. I’m able to keep it motivating, and they are very interested in it.”

Other teachers got involved in the project for interdisciplinary learning, teaching the students Old English, the songs of the time, and the biological aspects of the Black Death. Students made scale-model drawings of suits of armor, applying mathematics principles and in-tech education, the students built trebuchets, a type of catapult. They also cooked their baked goods in the family and consumer sciences classroom.

“Project-based learning takes one project and blends it in other classes to get multiple perspectives, so students understand it at a deeper level,” Thompson said. “It gives a deeper connection. … The level of enthusiasm and engagement is much higher.”

Muir, who has led the fair for two years, moved it to a larger venue, from the gym to the cafeteria, and added the re-enactors, trebuchets, artwork and other disciplinary projects.

“We took something they’d already been doing a good job with and made it better,” Muir said.

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