Our Castle Project
We began our castle project last week. It is completed as a homework project, and it is one of the highlights of fourth grade, or so some people tell me. I have done this project for thirteen years. I did quit for a few years because the castles had become so elaborate and huge, and they had become “Dad Castles” instead of “Kid Castles”. I knew things had gone too far when I overheard a conversation between two of my students who were complaining that their parents had taken over their projects. Stacy was commenting that she had her castle all planned, but her mom wouldn’t let her do it the way she wanted. Stacey’s parents were in the heating and cooling business, and her final castle was made of sheet metal, welded and assembled with rivets. Joey’s response was, “Yeah, my dad keeps calling it his castle.”
I make it a point to tell families that they may assist, but it should be mostly the child’s work. When students bring their castles, we always interview them about how they planned and built their castle. When asked what they liked best about the project, many respond with something they did with their parents, so I do allow family help. I have restrictions about the size of the final castle. It had gotten to the point that some castles were the size of two or three student desks. I now request that they are no larger than the top of a student desk.
I do not wish to cause a hardship for any family, so I allow the option of creating a castle model or a detailed poster. Almost all the kids create a model, and in all the years I have done this project, I have never had a student fail to complete it.
We begin in class by learning why castles were built, and how they were built. Castles weren’t just houses, they were war machines. We learn about the planning that went into the defense of these castles, and children are encouraged to include these details in their models.
I am a big consumer of manilla folders, and I use them for this project. I staple step by step directions for the project on the left side of the folder. You’ll find a copy of these directions in the File Cabinet. On the right side I include diagrams labeling the parts of the castle. This is actually one of our in-class lessons. I also include ideas about possible ways to construct a model. Most of my ideas come from the books, Knights And Castles
, By Teacher Created Materials and The Middle Ages Independent Learning Unit
, By Lorraine Conway. You can read more about the resources I use in my previous post, Medieval History for Kids
The kids and families never cease to amaze me with their creativity. I have seen castles made of wood, cardboard, styrofoam, sugar cubes, marshmallows, sand (that was not such a good idea), clay, craft sticks, and rocks. Every year, there is some new idea that I would never have thought of and have never seen before.
We do a lot of writing. We write about why castles were built. We write about the kids’ thinking and planning for their castle. Kids write a description of their work to be displayed at Core Knowledge Night. At the end we write fairy tales about what happens when an evil wizard shrinks us and our castles become real.
The third graders come in to check out our castles.
On the day the castles are due, we invite students from other grades to come see them, which is why kids come into 4th grade asking when we’re going to build castles. All the castles pictured in this post were created by my students from last year.
This year our castles are due on Wednesday, May 5th, the day before we have our big school celebration, “Core Knowledge Night”. Afterwards we will display them on top of our lockers and in the library.
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