History Comes Alive at Wood Middle School

Courtesy photo. Master Robert Shallow looks on as seventh-grader Stella Campbell handles a hawk during the recent Falcon’s Court visit to Wood Middle School.

On Friday, Falcon’s Court, a non-profit educational organization that presents living history programs at schools throughout California, brought the Renaissance to Wood Middle School to show the seventh graders what life was like in Western Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries.  Students spent the morning meeting falconers, a minstrel, a country dance fiddler and a master swordsman. 

The arms and armor workshop was a very exhilarating experience for the students. Sir Steven explained the stages in becoming a knight. Clad in Renaissance-themed costume, he told the gawking students about huge swords, where you can find them, what ranks have to do with them and how to use them. 

He also talked of the geometry of swords and how they could be swung. He even demonstrated some moves, with the help of some very brave volunteers. Don’t worry. The instruments were blunted for safety.

In the band room, students met a minstrel holding a mysterious stringed instrument in the shape of a banjo with double strings and about 20 frets. He greeted them with a friendly smile and passed out papers with songs from the Renaissance. The students soon found out that the “banjo” was actually an octave mandolin.  

Daniel, the minstrel, told them about the Elizabethans and their passion for making music. He led them in singing songs that were played when Queen Elizabeth arrived to address her people. One particular song “Rose Red” had an obscure meaning that Daniel helped the students uncover. They also sang fun rousing songs such as “The Rattlin’ Bog,” which was inspired by superstitious stories of fairies in the bog.

Another Renaissance experience was a dance class, with a fiddler playing lively tunes as she taught students square dancing and circle dancing. The energetic music was a festive part of the Renaissance, something that made the 1400s a beautiful time to live. She was also keen to tell the students that this activity was not a romantic one, but a social activity.  So it really was OK to hold hands!

In the falconry workshop, the students bubbled with excitement when they saw three birds perched in separate corners of the room.  As the students calmly sat on the floor so as not to startle the birds, Lady Hawk and Master Shallow introduced the birds: a great horned owl, a falcon and a hawk. 

Falconry is the trade of hunting in which one trains a bird to hunt. The birds teach us words to live by. The owl teaches us to use our other senses when the light is gone. The falcon teaches us we are able feel free and never have to stop and look back. Finally, The hawk teaches us to forgive. 

Afterwards the students wrote and drew their reflections on what they learned, creating a gallery of their work for other students to view. Then they wrote down their reflections and what they thought of the other students’ work and left comments on post-it notes on the posters.

The hands-on experience of life during the Renaissance made the past seem more real, and also made for a very fun day.

Marcella Welter is a seventh grader at Wood Middle School.