BETHEL TWP. — Students in Bethel Middle School’s seventh grade world studies class were in for a big surprise Thursday, when they found themselves transported to the Middle Ages.
“Where’s Mr. Endres?” students entering the classroom asked.
“I don’t know who that is,” a man in a velvet cloak answered. “I am the King of England.”
Chris Endres, Bethel Middle School teacher, knew that medieval history might not be the most exciting subject for his seventh graders. So he took what could easily have been a dry, boring lesson and tried to make it an experience.
“I’m trying to bring history to life for the kids,” he explained. “My main objective is to make it fun.”
Endres enlisted the help of several high school students to play characters like noblewomen, peasants, and knights. When students arrived in the modular classroom unit, the room had been transformed into an ancient castle.
Endres also dressed up for the occasion, with a crown and royal robes.
“I own the rivers, I own the sky,” Endres proclaimed, getting into character. “Because I am king!”
Endres kept his plans a secret, staying three hours late after school on Wednesday to decorate his classroom. The students in the last period of the day were obviously shocked, they’d been told by students in earlier classes to expect a test.
“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” Endres said. He has been teaching at Bethel for 10 years and has noticed that the way students learn in today’s tech-centered world is changing. So he wanted to channel his enthusiasm for social studies into something more engaging for students.
The lesson covered the roles of nobility and peasants in the Middle Ages. Assisted by his high school helpers, Endres illustrated how society in medieval times was strictly divided by social class.
Students learned about courtly etiquette from two noblewomen and about the struggles of peasant life from another group of actors. To teach them a little about knighthood, the high school actors picked several students out of the audience to begin their knight training.
The seventh graders even learned a little about medieval warfare and tax collection. Under nearly constant attack from vikings in the early middle ages and fighting other wars through much of the medieval period, English kings raised taxes to pay for their armies.
At the end of the period, a viking, played by high school student Kole Pike, burst into the classroom and stole the king’s tax money.
When the door flew open and the viking attacked, startled students were enthralled by the ensuing sword fight between Endres and Pike.
This was the first time Endres had combined theater and learning in the classroom, but the lesson seemed successful with the students.
After all, how often does a class period end with a round of applause?
Reach Cecilia at [email protected] or at (937) 903-8400.