Curriculum

The past is often neatly partitioned in time periods and eras with generalized names meant to characterize what life was like during that time. In this multi-day lesson, students question the validity of using “Dark Ages” to describe Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. In the process, students examine a variety of primary and secondary sources highlighting different social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental facets of life in Europe during this period.

Image: Illustration from the 13th century manuscript of Middle Ages romance stories by Robert de Boron. From the World Digital Library.

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As we move towards Common Core, this is the type of work history students should be doing. The "Dark Ages" lesson allowed my students a chance to analyze historical documents, use primary and secondary evidence to support or refute a notion about the past. Though they struggled through the activities, it was worthwhile. Overtime, they will get better and better at this type of "higher level thinking." It was hard for them because I did not give them the answer, tell them what to think, or give them a multiple-choice quiz. Instead, they were acting as the historian. They were writing their own story about the "Dark Ages." Along with the rest of the history department at my middle school, I will continue to use these lesson plans every chance we get. It was so nice to see my students working in this way-- set the bar high, and they may struggle to reach it. Set the bar low, they will struggle to reach anything of value.

I had my 7th grade social science students complete this lesson plan. On the whole, most students were able to analyze the documents and create a thoughtful paper using the Central Historical Question "Were the Dark Ages really dark?" I feel they had a very good understanding of why this point in history is still being called the Dark Ages. It will go very well with the new Common Core standards we are implementing.
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