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Teaching Fifth Graders Science Through the Lens of Medieval Scientific Discoveries and Developments
By Francisca R. Sorensen
The Medieval World: Life, Thought, Action, edited by Sally N. Vaughn (Houston, 2005)
Introduction: I have always wanted to expand my knowledge of European history, especially the Medieval period. That is why I signed up for this seminar when I learned of it. I was curious to know about the social structure, to know more accurately the population’s degree of civilization, and the people who influenced the development of their society and made possible its continuation. In other words, the conditions prior to the onslaught of the Black Death, so that I could more clearly detect the effects that it had on the population, the social structure, and how the people had rebuilt their lives. I had not suspected that climatic and ecological changes had played a crucial role in the development, advancement, and slowing down of that cultural thrust. Yet, realizing it has made the pieces fit into the enormous puzzle that is the European Medieval Period. It explains decisions, perceptions and ultimately impact upon present day western thinking. My intentions are to connect those experiences to the present or recent past, especially for those students whose parents migrated from war-torn countries with devastated ecosystems and rampant disease. As I share some of this knowledge with my students, they will share that information with their parents and grandparents. The parents often make the connection to their own experiences and tell their children about them, thus creating a commonality between the cultures.
The era called the Middle Ages is one of the most impressive periods in the development of occidental culture. In it many technological advances that we take for granted were made. It is hard to know if they were made as the result of peoples’ needs or out of simple curiosity. What we do know is that among the mentally active people there was a desire to know about nature and the laws that govern it. They were open minded and interested in what other peoples were doing and knew and eagerly adopted any information that would make their lives more comfortable. They learned of and developed philosophical and theological ideas that helped lay the foundations for scientific experimentation and discovery. These, in turn, were greatly aided by arithmetic and geometric imported knowledge that they applied to engineering, construction, mining, transportation, and banking: all evinced in the architectural and documentary remains of European cities.