Class Project: Medieval Villages

We recently completed a project designed as a summative experience for our unit on the Middle Ages. I love to use role-play in my classroom, so to begin the unit I assigned each class to an English village, circa 1300 AD. As we learned about the life and times of peasants and noblemen we pretended to be citizens in the towns of Norwich, Oxford, Winchester, York, and Canterbury.

Through video, readings, and activities, students uncovered medieval society by role-playing villagers like peasants, merchants, clergymen, knights, and lords and ladies. They wrote in first person describing their hopes and dreams and the ordinariness of daily life. They pretended to be monks, working diligently and in utter silence, and created quite beautiful illuminated manuscripts. We discovered that Google Translate does a wonderful job translating the Latin manuscripts of the period into understandable English.

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They had a chance to see and wear replica chain mail, hold swords, shields, a mace, and a flail. Students had the opportunity to learn proper etiquette when they met and had to address the Royal Tax Collector. We are now preparing for our annual Medieval Faire where the entire 7th grade dress up in costume in a day that includes meeting Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Royal Court and attending the afternoon faire full of fun games and activities. Each student is building a castle or catapult/trebuchet from scratch as a school-wide project. This year several students are creating castles in Minecraft and I will share their work here.

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For my villages project I had three main goals in mind:

1. Let each student independently work in Minecraft to create a village building or resource while collaborative designing and developing a historically accurate village.

2. Using evidence students uncovered in class and on their own, create a Google slideshow detailing the role that person or resource played in Medieval society.

3. Create a screencast tour of their accomplishment and embed the link in a MinecraftEdu infoblock placed near their design.

I wanted their voices to be heard through their writing, their Minecraft build, and their narrated tour. Each class period developed their village independently from the others. They each thought that they had their own map, but I had them actually building within a short distance from each other. I placed a couple of roads on their map and a schematic of a churchyard near the center of the otherwise empty village.

They had to meet and plan out the location of each home, field, merchant, orchard, and town commons on butcher paper before creating anything in Minecraft. One by one each class period began by writing about their resource or citizen to better focus their build requirements. Individually, they entered the map and began construction.

In order to limit their movements outside the village and to create a more “realistic” village, we began play in MinecraftEdu mode. I placed chests full of building supplies that they could use and shared other items by request. They built using primarily stone and oak, to simulate English oak that we learned about. The build portion lasted 6 class periods.

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They got creative with grass (hay bale) roofs.

When we reached the end of the build stage, they were able to take screenshots of their completed work and placed those into their slideshow. Links to the individual slideshows were placed in an infoblock. Finally, students that had completed each step of the process recorded a short tour of their work.(see below)

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The project officially ended on a Friday, but I spent the following weekend connecting each village by road. On Monday as each student teleported onto the map, I gave them a horse and asked them to head out of town on the road and discover the other villages and see what their friends had created.

Takeaways include:

  • Placing links in the infoblocks worked beautifully with slideshows opening in a web browser
  • Build quality was consistently good
  • Students were openly discussing the layout of the village and making connections with their learning
  • Great visualization of the scale and critical role of agriculture in Medieval life – each village had Fall, Spring, and fallow fields and an orchard
  • Grading rubric worked well as solid writing was emphasized before work in Minecraft was allowed.
  • Students had to discover how to build tall and complicated structures without flying
  • LOTS of experimentation in designing buildings, laying out fields, and creating structures that looked realistic and period appropriate.

Further planning needed:

  • My students this year have the greatest range of reading and writing levels as I have ever seen. Even though I have attempted to compensate for such a wide range of ability levels, I am still missing the mark with several students.
  • Horses. The idea was inspired, but trying to get 30+ kids to successfully ride a horse from village to village was problematic. We spent too much time dealing with horsemanship skills and horse thieves and not enough time exploring quality work. I had to resort to a follow-up day where I shared good work.
  • Writing. It took far longer than I had anticipated which forced me to split my time working with struggling writers and struggling builders. There is an analogy in there somewhere.

Next time:

  • Instead of dropping this all on them at once as a stand alone project, it will be incorporated into a PBL lesson where they can implement and meet expectations during the knowledge acquisition stage.
  • I would like to see their Medieval towns grow into Renaissance cities, but am unclear how to transform them at this point. I’m leaning more toward recreating Venice or Florence and having students complete quests within each city.
  • One of my favorite books on the Middle Ages is Ian Mortimer’s, Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. I would very much like my students to select a passage of their choice and recreate it in Minecraft.
  • As with my Chang’an map, I would like kids to develop their own Custom NPC villagers that could provide a tour of “their” village.

Next post: Implementing MinecraftEdu throughout a school or district.

2 Comments

  1. I am a brand-new Minecraft.edu teacher. Our instructional coach told our sixth grade team about it, and attended your workshop at CUE 2015 with two of us. We’ve grabbed the bull by the proverbial horns and let our much-more-knowledgable students take off! They are in groups of five, each group building one of the ancient civilizations we study (Egypt, China, Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, Israel, India). Each student is responsible for at least one landmark in their culture. Our instructional coach will make a screencast of their civilizations for Open House. I can hardly wait!

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