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    Teens go medieval for history lesson

    Largo High students turn a history lesson into a medieval castle with paper bags, rolls of tape and lots of creativity.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 8, 2002


    The peasants toiled hour after hour. But with teamwork, they were able to construct the castle in a matter of days.

    It took dozens of brown paper bags, more than five rolls of mailing tape and a generous smattering of spray paint.

    The peasants -- 70 of Toni Mullins' and Shelley Annable's magnet students at Largo High School -- turned their classroom into a castle for their unit on medieval history.

    The 21st Century Learning Center sophomores also became knights, nobles and members of the clergy. After researching the period and their assigned groups, they transformed their classrooms and hallways into backdrops for scenes from the Middle Ages.

    "That's the only way I can really learn," said 16-year-old Jennifer Wood, referring to handson projects. "If you just sit down and read notes you don't remember because you lose your train of thought."

    Rachel Misiewicz, 15, put it simply: "It takes less work to learn the same amount of stuff."

    Not that they didn't have their share of manual labor. The "clergy" had a construction project of their own, to transform the hallway into a cathedral. The students glued vibrant scraps of tissue paper onto plastic wrap, which they tacked on the windows to mimic stained glass. And they layered walls with grocery bags, creating flaming sconces by cramming colored tissue into paper cones.

    Thursday morning began with a royal ball and an excommunication ceremony. Later, peasants and nobility cheered and jeered as the knights clashed swords against shields in a grassy patch outside the classroom. One by one, the knights collapsed with a thud until Sir Galahad, 15-year-old J.R. Rehm, reigned victorious.

    Next, townspeople hit the marketplace to ply their trades and sell their wares. Randa Ransom, 16, worked the meat market. To simulate medieval smoked meat products, she used T-bone and rawhide dog treats.

    Most of the nobility dressed in regal attire -- velvet dresses, courtesy of the school's Madrigal Singers, and crowns and beads from local costume shops.

    Other outfits were creative concoctions. Rachel, who portrayed a tailor, squeezed a peasant blouse under a blue tapestry bodice. And the knights covered cardboard frames with foil to create swords and used toy stick ponies in their jousting matches.

    For the unit, each group studied notes and vocabulary on the period and wrote essays on medieval literature. Plus, each was assigned specific projects.

    The final classroom activity for all groups was a scavenger fact hunt. The students had to pick the brains of the other groups to find the answers for a fill-in-the-blank fact sheet on the period.

    Annable said the main goals of the unit were research and teamwork. "This is their reward for all the hard work," she said of Thursday's festival.

    Today, the sophomores will cap off the unit with a field trip to Medieval Times dinner theater.

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