“Playing” with the Renaissance

About a week ago PSD’s Division Principal George Couros taped an interview with me about learning through play.  Essentially, he asked me to talk about ways in which I am learning new technology and teaching strategies by jumping into them and playing around – before I know all the answers.

I spoke about my relatively new use of Twitter as a tool to build my PLN, my experiences with blogging for myself and my students, and my use of new technologies like Prezi, with my students.

The one thing I didn’t talk about was probably my biggest foray into Playing in Public.  This year I have decided to let my grade 8 Social Studies class direct their learning of the Renaissance by planning and presenting a Renaissance Faire. I have never before run a Renaissance Faire and I have never given up control like this to my students. I’d be lying if I said I was completely confident.

Let me start out by telling you the great things about this project. We started out by looking at some videos about what a Renaissance Faire actually is and talking about some experiences they had that may relate to this project. It was decided that we would try to run similar show in our school gym and we would invite classes and teachers from our school as well as parents, family and friends from the community to view our learning display.

Next, we brainstormed some topics or presentations that we wanted to be sure to include.  I gave them five that I wanted to make sure were covered (artists, scientists/mathematicians, writers, scholars/philosophers and explorers), then they came up with some others (musicians, actors, jesters, clothing/costuming, food/baking, church/religion, games/leisure). I then had the kids pick which group they would most like to represent, based on their interests. We had to do a little bit of negotiating because there were two very large groups in games/leisure and food (ah yes – the passions of middle years students), but soon we had fairly equal numbers for each.

The next thing that happened filled me with excitement for this project. The students went to work enthusiastically planning their presentations.  The first couple of classes were spent researching and planning. Then it got crazy. Amazingly, messily, crazy.

The “musicians” brought their guitars and got to work learning a Renaissance piece to be performed at the faire. The “actors” wrote a short skit to illustrate the role of the theatre in Renaissance Europe. The “bakers” took a poll to see what kind of pie we liked best so they could prepare it for the visitors to the faire. The “artists” brought in an authentic easel and a stretched canvas that they are planning to paint on the night of the faire. Some students raided the drama room’s props (with permission, of course) and practiced mock sword fights and juggling acts. Others got to learning how to play chess. It was loud. It was chaotic. It was scattered…and it was AWESOME. It was everything I had imagined when I made the decision to take this on.

Not everything is going smoothly, though.  There are definitely some students that are less engaged in the presentation than others.  Truthfully, most of those students are in the groups that I decided needed to be covered.  I just couldn’t give up complete control (there are things that NEED to be covered – cringe). I can tell that these students are not feeling connected to their topic.  My goal this week is to meet with them and see how we can get them back on the rails.  Changing topics will be one of the options.

The last thing, and its a biggy, is assessment.  I do not know how I am going to assess this activity.  Yikes. My original plan was to meet with each group, go over the curricular outcomes and together come up with an assessment strategy.  Well, they are half-way through this project and I have not yet set up these meetings. I think part of the reason is that I am nervous about how it will go.  Likely, they have rarely been asked to do this and they are going to struggle.  Will I be able to help them, or will I just end up taking over?

So that is my explanation of how I am learning through play and watching my students do it as well.  We are failing in some areas but succeeding in so many more.  It is definitely worth it.  I would love to hear your feedback and input on our Renaissance Faire and also to hear how you are learning through play.


4 thoughts on ““Playing” with the Renaissance

  1. I am so impressed with your courage to take a risk and “play” with what sounds like a highly engaging way to bring the Renaissance to life for your students. Making mistakes and figuring things out as we go is just as important for the adult learners as it is for the students. You will likely learn so much through this process that you will be able to apply to future projects – congratulations for thinking outside of the box and working towards putting students at the center of their learning. I am confident that the students will remember far more about the Renaissance through this experience than they would with a more traditional approach. Hope you will be able to keep us posted about how it all turns out and about your learning along the way. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the encouragement. There have definitely been days when I was wondering if i should have prepared more and done this next year. Most of the time, though I am amazed at how innovative my grade 8s are and I know we can pull this off. I will keep you posted,

  2. This is an amazing project and I love the sound of it. I think that turning large scale projects over to students is at once incredibly frightening and yet liberating for students to know they have the trust and confidence of their teacher. I know that as a student I certainly learned more from self directed projects than any other, but I really respect those few teachers who had enough confidence to let us try. If our students fail in some areas of self directed projects, even that is a learning experience. I think this is a great idea and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of your blog now that I’ve read this!

  3. Marci, thanks for sharing this experience. I think it’s a sign of a great educator when you can stretch past your own point of comfort and reach into the unknown with your kids. The fact that you are learning with them and allowing for such creativity as you go is inspiring.

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