Project Based Learning : The Black Death


Not the most inviting of titles but a subject which has gripped my children.  As we near the end of the second week of a six-week term I thought I would write more specifically about the projects the children have chosen to do. I am so incredibly excited about our new ‘project based’ status!  My school planning has decreased in spades and the children are producing far more superior work than I could have encouraged them to do.  Oh, and I still get the fun of sourcing products for their chosen projects.

I already had a small collection of resources for learning about the plague, mostly books which we had read last term:

The one on the left is fantastic - easy read and full of primary evidence and really interesting.  The book on the right is still very interesting and well written but with less pictures and a less 'chatty style'
The one on the left is fantastic – easy read and full of primary evidence and really interesting. The book on the right is still very interesting and well written but with less pictures and a less ‘chatty style’
These are fun fact books chockablock full of fascinating information peppered liberally with pictures.  Perfect for chioldren
These are fun fact books chock-a-block full of fascinating information peppered liberally with pictures. Perfect for children
This is a typical 'horrible science' book.  you either love them or hate them.  We love them.
This is a typical ‘horrible science’ book. You either love them or hate them. We love them.
There are few fiction books available written about the plague.  These two are one and the same book with different titles.  I include both just in case one is out of print or hard to find.  They are part of a series which my children really enjoyed but this is the only one which deals with the plague.
There are few fiction books available written about the plague. These two are one and the same book with different titles. I include both just in case one is out of print or hard to find. They are part of a series which my children really enjoyed but this is the only one which deals with the plague.

I also had a few websites to share which I emailed to the children (I’ll share at the end of the post).  In my own reading I had tried to come up with a main question which was broad enough to leave flexibility for the children’s different takes and yet narrow enough that it helped them to focus rather than feeling overwhelmed.

My main question was:

Discover what could have been done to limit the spread of the plague.

The reason I chose this was because I felt in order to answer it the children would need to look into how the plague originated, how it was spread, how they attempted to contain it in the middle ages and the best ways of containing it with today’s understanding of bacterial infections.

Presenting the material

Apart from the obvious goal of learning, one of the main elements of project based schooling is the presence of a real reason for learning – this often comes in the form of a presentation, or sharing of information with someone, the community even.  If a child sees a benefit in what they do then it encourages them to see the project through to its completion.  The children, including A5, will have the opportunity to present their findings to a couple of our good friends who have agreed to be an audience.  These presentations won’t be as big or magnificent as the medieval feast ones but will give them a goal to work towards and a culmination point for all their hard work.  Also, I personally find them helpful as a stop point for any given topic, without which I would go on and on and on….

T12’s Project

T had considered learning animation, but after spending the first week looking into it he decided six weeks wouldn’t be long enough to master it and produce the effect he wanted.  I suggested he did another film.  My reason for this was to encourage him to improve upon his last film.  His eyes lit up!  I think he thought he had to choose something different, but I reassured him he could do whatever floats his boat, and he could do it multiple times if he wished.

So he has chosen to write a debate between a doctor of medieval times and a doctor of today.  They will discuss how to prevent the spread of the plague, ultimately comparing the scientific knowledge of today with the understanding of the plague during the middle ages.  He has spent much time watching debates in the houses of parliaments, and whilst his won’t be exactly the same, he has attempted to reproduce the humour and back stabbing which occurs!  He will then film the debate, paying particular attention to the audio and lighting qualities.

I thoroughly enjoy watching T when something has caught his attention.  He has been sourcing white muslin to use instead of the darker back drops he used in his last film.  He is hoping this will be an inexpensive method of increasing the light without the need to buy expensive lighting equipment.  He has also sourced some inexpensive microphones which will work with his camera and hopefully improve upon the overall quality of sound.

His presentation will again be based around his film.

He woke me this morning rambling about some bright idea of a home school film club.  When I was compos mentis an hour or so later I thought it over and am quite excited about the possibility.  We’ll see, but T is a man of action and if anyone can organise a film club it would be him.

L11’s Project

L has chosen to look at the plague from the point of view of a surgeon around at the time.  In fact she has researched an actual doctor (Guy de Chauliac) and is planning on writing a semi-fictional diary based on his work.  She will make the lotions and potions she describes.  Her end goal is to be able to demonstrate their usage at her presentation.  Her diary will be made into a book which she hopes to give out to the people who attend the presentation.

She has already been in the kitchen (of course) to make some faecal matter, because, she informs me, it needs to be rock hard by the time six weeks is up.  Nice.

Fake poo made from bran flakes, nuts, raisins and chocolate powder
Fake poo made from bran flakes, nuts, raisins and chocolate powder.  It was goooood to eat!

C11’s Project

C has completely taken on board my advice to keep it as simple as possible and concentrate on her strengths.  In her last project she required a lot of help from me and I felt she didn’t gain all her brother and sister did from their more independent projects.  I really wanted this project to be a success for her, for her to enjoy it and most importantly for her to feel it was her work she was presented rather than partially mine.

She came up with the fabulous idea of making a scrap-book with a double page focusing on the day in a life of animals or people around at the time of the plague, culminating in a newspaper report of how the spread of the plague could be prevented or at least decreased by looking at how each of these animals or people should have behaved or been controlled.  So far she has written a day in the life of a flea, a day in the life of a plague victim, a day in the life of a medieval medicine man.  She is currently researching information to write a day in the life of a grave-digger, and she may do a rat and/or bacteria, as well as possibly a relative.  She has left it open and will simply see how many she can complete well in the six weeks.

I just think the concept she has chosen is such a good idea and she has, so far, kept her interest and is working diligently and steadily towards her end goal.  I am looking forward to seeing if she is able to maintain it for the full six weeks.

A5’s project

Yes, you have read correctly, A5 is joining us.  This will not be an independent project at all.  I will be doing it alongside her, much as I have worked alongside the older ones up until the last year or so.

She will be doing a short presentation on bacteria, focusing her work on the Yersinia Pestis bacteria (the bacteria responsible for the plague).  Although she is not doing any work on the plague with her brother and sisters, she is doing the microbe unit with them and it is from this unit we will draw inspiration and information from.  I will try to come up with a practical demonstration she can do for her presentation as she is not reading well enough to read from a key word outline.

She is a very confident child and I am sure will not struggle to demonstrate something…I just have to work out what!  Any ideas, anyone?

All Things BeautifulHomegrown Learners photo 50ee37ee-4f60-43f2-83eb-bb7deb75fd49_zpsbacda61d.png




  1. In some ways I’m most excited about seeing A5’s, because it’ll be fun to see how you help the younger age to get going, I’ve seen your process with the olders (and I’m excited about theirs too).
    I’ll have to think a little on A5 suggestions.

    1. I’m excited about A5 joining in as well. She been begging me to for the last couple of presentations. I think she’ll do really well!

  2. Oh my goodness! This has me so excited I’m commenting from an Andalucian beach!! My C(10) has begged me to support her doing a project on film-making this term… It’s been a hobby of hers for a while but she wants to focus on it more deeply. She would LOVE to be part of a homeschoolers’ film club & I’d happily support it… Perhaps I could put her in touch with T?! (She also loves history.)
    Over-excitement aside… everyone’s plans look great. I’m really looking forward to seeing things unfold.

    1. Laughing at the image of you beside yourself with excitement on an Andalucian beach (which by the way I had to look up the location of!). I can’t believe you’re reading blogs on the beach!!
      I showed T your comment and he was almost beside himself with excitement at the possibilities!

      1. I was actually reading a very worthy memoir of Andalucia (on real paper and everything) but when I picked up my phone and saw the email about your plague post, how could I resist?! C is reeling with joy at the prospect of talking film-making with someone. She says would it be okay if she emails T via you?

      2. If she emails me, T will send her his email address and they can email and talk filming to their heart’s content!

  3. Okay, I’m seriously ready to just ship my kids off to your house for school. I LOVE what you’re doing! Maybe I could come with them and we could watch Castle and Bones while the kids research. 🙂

    I have an idea for you for A5’s presentation. I read it just awhile back and immediately thought of it while I was reading your post. Check out this presentation idea for non-readers:

    Hope that helps!

    1. Oooh, yes please!!! The fun we’d have! I bet even our hubby’s would get on like a house on fire.
      Thank you for the link. Picture cards are the perfect alternative to words – I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. Brain must be addled from watching too much Bones and Castle!

  4. Only your family could get me this excited about learning more about the plague! I just love the ideas the kids have come up with – so creative and intelligent. Am also quite happy to hear becoming project based is working out so well for you and the kids 🙂

    1. You know what I like the most? It is the decrease in school planning. I don’t think I could have gone on for much longer working for so many hours each day.

  5. I like how each child has his/her own interpretation of the project requirement. Looks like the project based approach is really working for you! Looking forward to seeing how it unfolds. 🙂

    1. It really does seem to be working out well for us. It is the perfect middle ground between totally unschooling and doing what we were doing before. I knew there would be changes afoot this year, and they really do feel good!

  6. Thanks so much for the plague resources — we studied this earlier in the year and it really interested my children. I may look into some of these books for some summer reading for them.

    Also Claire — thank you so much for your kind comment on my blog about the floors. I think you put it just perfectly. God used you in my life today and I am thankful. 🙂

  7. Claire this is WONDERFUL!! I love, LOVE the idea of Project Based and your ideas are amazing. I am going to go through some other posts and get ideas. So you pick something and work on it for 6 weeks? Do you do anything else, school wise? Love this so much!!! Happy Mother’s Day Claire.

    1. Thanks Karen. This is still fairly new to us but really does seem to fit us like a glove. Yes, we work on one topic for six weeks. The topic has a wide reaching question but apart from that it is up to the children how and what they study and how they choose to demonstrate their learning. At the end of the six weeks we have a presentation and then have two weeks off.
      This post probably explains best what we are doing this term:

  8. I love reading the project based learning you have going on!!!

    A simple demonstration for A5 that may give you more ideas: make a substance that will glow under a blacklight bulb ( Amazon carries Glo Germ Gel or Glo Germ Kits that include the blacklight too to see some examples ) and have her put it on her hands right before the audience arrives. Watch where she goes and what (and who!) she touches. Have her be sure to shake hands with or hug people. Possibly even refresh her glow material sometime midway through. Then after she tells a bit about how germs can be spread through contact she can take people to look for places where she spread the glow plague germs.

      1. I’ve just looked it up and it’s unavailable at the moment (we’re in the UK). I tried Ebay bit it’s going to cost over £40 due to postage from the USA. I’ve not given up though….I shall hunt some down somehow!!

  9. I LOVE the project based learning you are doing. How wonderful.I love how this style of learning brings out the best of each child.
    Blessings, Dawn

  10. Wow! That looks like lots of fun. I have a copy of the Project Based Learning book on the plague by Royal Fireworks Press, and I’m eager to challenge my kids with it but my kids are just a bit too young for it…. but these ideas look great… much more self-directed, and amazing.

    1. Thanks Christy. The plague is a tricky subject to pitch at the right level. We’re finished now, and I think they all learnt loads!

  11. Looks like you have found something that works for y’all. That is great. We are getting to the plague next term, so I am absorbing your ideas.

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