Queen Elizabeth bounced up and down on her heels, a long loop of gold beads swinging wildly between the lapels of a black fur cape. "Guess who I am, guess who I am," she challenged anyone within earshot.
A wizard and a jester lounged together, eyeing the parade of knights and ladies-in-waiting, craftspeople and courtiers. A beggar limped convincingly past the dungeon, torn burlap hanging from her shoulders and a sheaf of paper money in one hand. A young man in a smock juggled three cardboard rings at every conceivable opportunity. The Grim Reaper lurked.
One thousand years of European history converged at Arlington's Drew Model School last week. It happened in the Great Hall -- a not-so-great corridor transformed by three months of study and a large dose of imagination into a Medieval jousting ground, a Renaissance court, another world.
Drew Principal Ray O'Neill picked his way among the noblemen and beggars, surveying and smiling. In the eyes of O'Neill, in the proud code of Drew School, the Renaissance Fair is high-quality learning, the kind you can see in action -- and taste, and smell and touch.
"If I wanted to teach you what an automobile was, the best way would be to have you see it, sit in it, drive it," O'Neill says, explaining the theory educators call "concrete-to-abstract" learning.
"If I couldn't show you a car, the next best thing would be to get you models -- we'd be going toward the abstract, and subtracting some of the qualities of the real thing." Next best after models are "pictures -- now I'm down to two dimensions. And then if I give you the word car, I have nothing left. Just the symbol.
"The closer you come to doing the real thing, the higher the quality of the learning."
Barbara Adeboye, one of four teachers who spent this semester guiding Drew's fifth- and sixth-graders from the Dark Ages to the dawn of Shakespearean drama, said the simulation should give texture and depth to two-dimensional textbook history.
"At this stage of learning, it becomes more real to them," she said. "The touch, the feel, the sight, the sound all come into play."
One day before the Renaissance Fair, three journeyman jar-makers sat in Adeboye's classroom, putting finishing touches on their wares. Living in feudal times could have been fun, "depending on your life style," said Greg Smith. Life was smooth in the 1200s if you were a knight or a king, suggested Josh Tavis. "Or a lord," said Anthony Glass.
"Or a blacksmith," added Greg. "If there weren't too many fires in your shop."
For each time period studied -- the Dark Ages, feudalism, the Renaissance and the reign of Queen Elizabeth -- the students researched famous figures or constructed castles from cardboard or wrote sonnets, projects that earned points to be translated into paper money the day of the fair.
A sampling of the projects filled the Museum Room last week. A foam-core construction with a drawbridge, watch towers and soldiers' quarters bore the label, "A Midevile Castle."
On the wall hung Adam Briggs' answer to an essay question about Leonardo da Vinci: "Among other things, Leonardo painted the 'Mona Lisa' and 'The Last Supper.' All of his works were way ahead of his time. I don't know how he knew so much."
Another student assessed da Vinci and came up skeptical: "My mom, a historian of science, says his science is overrated since it never impacted any theories of science," the carefully typed answer read.
A few doors down from the museum, the dungeon loomed dim and inviting. Brown paper was draped floor-to-ceiling; shredded newspaper covered the floor and candles flickered on the table. A sign on the door held the terse but telling order: "Peasants: get yellow mold off the walls."
A wizard, dressed in a full-length blue tunic sprinkled with stars and crescent moons, and a jester, clad in multicolored felt and tiny bells, lounged together at the end of the Great Hall.
"Jesters just sort of stayed in the throne room and kept the king and queen happy," said Kelly Skoloda, 11. "I decided to be a jester because I like playing tricks on a lot of people."
Wizards, on the other hand, "went through the village as normal people. They liked science and things; they would do spells . . . . Well, I don't know about the spells," said Erika Gray, 11.
"My favorite time was the feudal time because there was a lot of fighting and stuff," said Gordon Stokes, 10, outfitted for battle but resting from the fray. "My shield is cardboard in the front and posterboard in the back, my pants are an old Halloween costume, and my bow is made of bamboo and string."
And then there was the Grim Reaper, darkening the laughing crowds of courtiers with his hooded, inky presence. Sam Phaup lowered the hood to reveal a shock of red hair and a wide grin.
Of the 10 centuries studied, Phaup said, the last unit on "Liz and Will" (as in Shakespeare) was his favorite. "Queen Elizabeth fascinated me because she was her own woman; she didn't let anyone boss her around."
And just outside the museum Vince Perna, 11, perched on a desk, wearing a blue and gray Nike sweatsuit. A knight in post-battle fatigues? A king clad as a commoner?
"I'm a boy from the future," Perna said, and smiled.