Were the “Dark Ages” Really So Dark?

Ages: 15-18
Suggested length: 2 class periods (45-55 minutes each)
Device accessibility: 1 device per 1-3 students (remote friendly)

Lesson Information

At a glance

In this lesson, students will complete an unfinished Kialo discussion on the question, “were the ‘Dark Ages’ really so dark?” In doing so, students will dispel some common myths about the Early Middle Ages, which are often misconceptualized as the “Dark Ages.” Accordingly, the top-level claims in this Kialo discussion are all popular myths. Meanwhile, the lower-level claims are all factual, or at least supported by a significant number of historians. However, these claims on their own present an unbalanced view of the Early Middle Ages, which plays into the myths. 

With this in mind, student groups will each be assigned a top claim/myth and six supporting claims below it. Student groups will then conduct research around their myth. After gathering information, student groups will develop their assigned section of the Kialo discussion into a more balanced picture of the Early Middle Ages: For every pro that seemingly supports the assigned myth about the “Dark Ages,” student groups will supply a balancing con. Finally, student groups will construct their own branches of the Kialo discussion that directly refute their assigned myths about the Early Middle Ages.

Student groups will be assessed on the number and quality of their contributions to the discussion.

Learning objective(s)

In this lesson, students will:

  • Practice research skills across a variety of sources, which cover the society, culture, and scientific developments of the Early Middle Ages.
  • Express a nuanced, balanced understanding of the Early Middle Ages.
  • [Optional] Provide proper citations for research findings.

Prior knowledge

Students should be familiar with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE and accompanying events (e.g. barbarian invasions, the breakdown of the imperial social order). Students should also have a basic knowledge of major trends and events in the Early Middle Ages (e.g. the establishment of petty kingdoms and feudalism, the rise of Church power, the creation of the Holy Roman Empire).

Teacher preparation

  • Make 1 to 3 clones of the Kialo discussion for each class.
    • Up to 3 student groups can work on each clone of the Kialo discussion.
    • Just 1 clone should be sufficient for most classes (of up to 30 students), because each student group can be working on various tasks at once. If you would like for students to work in smaller groups, then create more than one clone of the discussion.
    • There is a guided research version of the lesson, which gives suggested readings. There is also an independent research version of the lesson, which does not include suggested readings. You can use clones of both versions simultaneously, and assign different versions based on students’ capabilities.
  • When inviting students to the discussion, give them either Writer or Editor permissions.

Provided materials

  • The Kialo discussion, “Were the ‘Dark Ages’ Really So Dark?” This consists of:
    • Instructions for students.
    • A brief background on the Early Middle Ages and the historiography of the “Dark Ages.”
    • A list of suggested readings for students’ research.
      • NOTE: For an independent research activity, a version of the Kialo discussion without suggested readings in the discussion background can be found here.
    • A partially developed Kialo discussion for students to engage with. The discussion presents myths about the society, culture, and technology of the Early Middle Ages, which students will seek to dispel.
  • Lesson plan for educators (.docx / .pdf).
  • Instructions for students (guided research) (.docx / .pdf).
  • Instructions for students (independent research) (.docx / .pdf).
  • Suggested rubric for grading student groups’ contributions to the Kialo discussion (.docx / .pdf).
  • Download all offline materials (.zip).
  • Click here to view individual file download links.

Lesson Plan

Suggested length: 2 class periods (45-55 minutes each)

Lesson components:
– Opener (9-20 minutes)
– Activity
– Part A: Balancing the Kialo discussion (focus of 1 class period)
– Part B: Developing new sections of the Kialo discussion (focus of 1 class period)
– Optional closer (1 minute)

Assessment
Student groups will be assessed on their contributions to the Kialo discussion. (see suggested rubric in provided materials)

Tip(s)
Up to three student groups can work on one clone of the discussion. If you would like students to work in smaller groups, then create more than one clone of the discussion.

Opener (7-18 minutes)

  1. Pose the following question to the whole class: “What do you think of when you hear the term Dark Ages?” Conduct a brief discussion of students’ answers.
  2. State that historians no longer speak about the “Dark Ages,” but instead prefer the term Early Middle Ages to describe the period after the fall of Rome in 476 CE to about the year 1000. Next, ask students to discuss their answers to the following question in pairs: “Why do you think historians might have changed the way they refer to this period?”
  3. Invite students to share their answers with the whole class.

Optional extension (11 min): Activate students’ knowledge by showing the TEDed video “The Dark Ages…How Dark Were They, Really?

  1. Explain that students will do a Kialo-based research activity in which they refute the unfair characterization of the “Dark Ages.”

Activity
Part A: Balancing the Kialo discussion (focus of 1 class period)

  1. Display the topology diagram of the Kialo discussion (see graphic below—this can be found by clicking the mceclip1.png button in the top-left corner of the discussion). Hover over top-level claims to display their text, and explain that these top-level claims are all myths or misconceptions about the Early Middle Ages (they are all clearly marked as “MYTH”).
  2. Explain that the lower-level claims are all true, or at least supported by some historians; however, these claims on their own present an unbalanced view of the Early Middle Ages, which plays into the myths. 
    mceclip0.png
  3. Distribute student instructions and go over Part A with the class.

Tip: When explaining the students’ task to add cons, explain that appropriate cons should refute or temper the claim that they are attached to. You can model this by taking the claim “Without the vast Roman economy, people’s quality of life deteriorated” and adding the con “Life expectancy in the Early Middle Ages was roughly equal to life expectancy in the Roman Empire.”

Optional differentiation: You can require students to not only link sources in their claims, but to provide properly formatted academic citations in the Quote/Note box.

  1. Show the suggested readings within the Kialo discussion background (this can be found by clicking the mceclip1.png button in the top-left corner of the discussion).

Optional differentiation:
Option 1: Share suggested readings with only some students, while directing higher-performing students to locate their own sources
Option 2: Direct the whole class to locate their own sources.
In either case, a version of the Kialo discussion without suggested readings in the discussion background can be found here. If you decide to use both the “guided research” and “independent research” versions of the discussion, be sure to have a clone of both.

  1. Direct students to form groups. Assign each a different top-level claim (i.e. common myth).
  2. Instruct students to log into the Kialo discussion and begin working.

Tip: If you have more than one clone of the discussion, it is ok for two student groups to work on the same myth, but each in a different clone of the discussion.

Part B: Developing new sections of the Kialo discussion (focus of 1 class period)

  1. Refer back to student instructions and go over Part B with the class.
  2. Direct students to begin researching and creating their own sections of the discussion.

Optional closer (1 minute)

  1. Share the following quote from American author James A. Michener:
    “An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.”

Related Kialo Discussion

Downloadable files



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