When Grace moved to distance learning, Grade 5 teacher Margaret Meyer was faced with a decision: interrupt the more-than-20-year tradition of Renaissance Day, or proceed with a virtual event that even Leanardo da Vinci himself could not have imagined. For Ms. Meyer, the choice was an obvious one.
“It never entered my mind not to proceed with Renaissance Day. I knew my students would make it work on the small screen just as well as if we were all sitting in our classroom together. This has proven to be the case. It’s not every day 11-year olds produce research papers on international topics. Our fabulous fifth graders came to value the experience of having written their research papers by virtue of having worked long and hard to make them happen. My confidence that the Renaissance Day experience would be even better via distance learning this year was richly rewarded,” Ms. Meyer stated proudly.
She also knew that conducting the presentations online offered an unexpected advantage: family members and friends who might have been unable to attend a live event could now partake in the fun of watching the student presentations, which began on Tuesday and will continue for several weeks.
Preparations for Renaissance Day began months ago, before the new normal, as Grade 5 students started the process of writing their first serious research paper and creating accompanying projects. First came the prompt from Ms. Meyer, who asked students to consider the time between 1200 C.E. and 1600 C.E. and identify two events that occurred in regions throughout the world, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East, in addition to Europe. Students then shared their findings with one another, engaging in lively discussions, following which they narrowed in on their topic of choice. Everything from Chinese architecture circa 1500 C.E. to the advent of the printing press in Europe to the contributions from the Muslim world to the fields of science, math and literature.
It is crucial to Ms. Meyer that she avoid the Euro-centric narrative of the Renaissance. Instead, she teaches students to view the world through an international lense, helping them to understand the vast contributions made by all peoples. Equally important to her is to instill in students a desire to think critically, even if that sometimes (occasionally) means that she’s proven wrong. In fact, she delights in receiving emails from students who, after fact-checking on their own, are eager to contradict something she said in class. “It’s all part of teaching them to be independent thinkers,” she says. “I’m pretty much right. But I’m not pretty much perfect.”
When asked what it was like to write their first research paper, responses from students were, well, mixed. Many students echoed the sentiment of Hudson A. ’27, who said, “It’s a fun process because you made the paper, it’s your creation and you get to share it with everyone who reads it.”
Still most agreed that the task was not without its challenges. No surprise as Ms. Meyer evaluates her students’ work as both their history and English teacher; that means papers must not only be rich in content but also well-constructed and, of course, properly cited. This includes an official acknowledgement form thanking the family members or friends who provided assistance throughout the process. After all, writing a research paper, like so much else in life, is a collaborative effort.