Don't Blame Me…The Flea Did It!
Today we know that the bubonic plague was spread by an infection carried by fleas that lived on rats. Because grain was with the travelers, the rats followed along, bringing the sickness with them. Everywhere there was food available the sickness spread. Even from the ships, the rats crawled down the ropes onto land. During the Middle Ages garbage and leftover food was left in the streets, which became a breeding ground for rats...and the plague.
When the plague finally ended it was a very different world. One out of every three people had died. Whole villages had been wiped out! Noblemen who survived wanted their fields to be farmed, but they had a hard time finding any peasants who could do the work. Farm workers and craftsmen were in high demand and paid well for their work because of it. Because of that the noblemen grew poorer and poorer and their estates became smaller and smaller. Peasant survivors worked the land of unclaimed houses and took over the houses and possessions, allowing them to become richer and richer. The feudal system began to fall apart.
Playing with the Plague
For our activity we did a Black Plague Simulation. Bags were laid out around the room based on a map of the area. Each bag had a name of a city that had been affected by the plague. Inside the bag were mostly white beans, with a very small number of pinto beans (to represent cholera, which was a problem from the water) and red beans (to represent the plague). Students were sent on a journey with a travel journal and directions. At each stop they rolled a die to determine the amount of nights they were lodging in that town. They were to pick out that same number of beans from the bag without looking. If they picked all white beans they were safe and could continue traveling along. If they picked a colored bean they had special instructions. At the next town they rolled their die. If they rolled a 1, 2, or 3 they had to add one colored bean to the bag. If they rolled a 4, 5, or 6 they added two. This served the purpose of representing how sickness spread. At the next town they wrote an “X” on the bag to show that someone died there. If they came to me before writing the “X” and could roll two “1”s in a row then they could survive. This was to show that there were a very few who contracted the plague and lived. We may continue the simulation in class if there is time. The sickness was just beginning to spread at the end of class time. Three out of the ten students participating had experienced an untimely death. One thing that students mentioned when we talked about the experience at the end was the fact that they felt bad they had infected others. We talked about how illness often spreads before anyone realizes they are sick, which was deadly in this case during the Middle Ages.
Shirts and Last Day Announcement
Next Monday is our last class before the final class of the year (Memorial Day separates these two dates). On June 1st, the last day of class, the middle school students will be performing “Good Masters, Sweet Ladies,” which is a group of monologues representing people from the Middle Ages and the different roles they played during the time period. I think it would be a valuable experience to have our class attend the performances. That same day the middle school class will be giving presentations on genetic mutations. I’m thinking I’ll do one more Chemistry class instead of going to these presentations, but if you think it would be valuable to go to them please let me know as I’m up for either one. See you Monday!