I have always been fascinated with castles.
It probably goes back to the Fisher Price Castle that we played with at my Grandma’s house—although it was strangely inhabited by Sesame Street characters. My Grandma had that castle for something like 35 years—my daughters were even playing with it as we cleaned out her apartment last fall.
During the years that my husband and I lived and taught in Hungary, we had the opportunity to visit lots of amazing castles. We made it to some of the famous ones, like Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Salzburg Castle in Austria, the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle, and some of the well-known Welsh castles like Conwy and Caernafon. But we also made it to some smaller, lesser-known castles in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovenia, and France, as well as one of my favorites, Castle Muiderslot in the Netherlands, which is in the town where my grandparents grew up.
I haven’t visited a real castle for quite some time, but every February I have the chance to reminisce with my Grade 8 students about those years and experiences as we introduce our Grade 8 Castle Project. On the heels of the marvellous Medieval Fair, this project connects with the Middle Ages in Humanities class, and gives students the opportunity to practice working on Math skills such as measurement, drawing 3-D views and nets, and calculating scale, surface area, and volume.
Like many middle school learning experiences, it is also messy! We schedule this project to take place over two very chaotic days, when it is “All Castle All the Time” in grade 8 (minus PE and Exploratories so that we all get a little break). At the end of the first day, we close our classroom doors and suggest to the janitorial staff that they just stay away…
It’s always interesting to see how this develops. Some groups come prepared with all of their materials, while some spend the first morning scrounging for supplies. Most groups work with traditional materials like cardboard, but we have had castles constructed out of hundreds of sugar cubes hot-glued together. Many of our creative students like to incorporate interesting details, such as giant farm animals, Lego soldiers, colourful gardens, and this year, we had our very first moat-inhabiting beluga whale, Henry!
Our studies of the Middle Ages in grade 8 always provide opportunities for us to think together about how we are called to kingdom building here and now, but this year it is especially fitting in light of our 60th anniversary celebrations and our school theme song, “Build Your Kingdom Here” by the Rend Collective Experiment. Now if we could only do a grade 8 class trip to a castle we’d be all set!