Teaching world history: from StudentsFriend.com

Students Friend response

The basis for the Greek Week activity was a packaged simulation (with some modifications) available from Social Studies School Service. There was far more material here than I could use in a week, so I chose some activities and left out others.  One day each was devoted to three major events: Olympic games, the debates, and the concluding Greek feast.

High school students can be too cool for school, so there is a possibility some might scoff at the prospect of acting Greek for a week. (I conducted this activity with 9th graders.) I gave each class the option of skipping Greek Week. But if we were to proceed, each student would be required to participate. Students weren't about to pass up a week away from their normal studies, so peer pressure always brought up each student's hand.

Underlying the week-long activity (90-minute blocks each day) was the competition between Greek city-states, or the polis.  In reality, of course, the ancient Greek city states were highly competitive. Our classroom competition was the key to demonstrating that citizens and leaders in a democracy may place their own self interest above the good of the larger society—and that ethics may be compromised in the process. This was the "ah ha moment" you mentioned.

To this end, I created a score chart on a large sheet of paper and posted it at the front of the room.  City-states gained points for numerous activities such as creating the best polis sign, or winning a debate, or winning a chiton fashion show, or bringing the best food to the Greek feast, etc. In each case, the "best" was chosen by democratic vote of the entire class.  (Polis members were not allowed to vote for their own polis.)

This is where the self-interest came in. To advance their own standing in the competition, polis members often voted for a lagging polis rather than a front-runner that had actually achieved a better performance—which would serve to hurt the front-runner's standing and enhance their own relative position.

Points were also awarded for victories in the Olympic games. Where appropriate, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in all competitions received lesser points than the 1st place winners. A polis could earn negative points by leaving a mess in their polis area or for inappropriate behavior. They could earn positive and negative points from the "Fates" as well, and for just about any other excuse I could dream up.

At the beginning of the simulation, I motivated students by telling them that the results would affect their grade. (Occasionally the competition got so fierce that I had to tone it down.) At the end of the activity I awarded the members of each city-state a participation grade of 100 out of 100 and awarded additional bonus points for the polis that finished first, a lesser number of bonus points for the polis that came in second, and so on.  So Greek Week did affect everyone's grade, but only in a positive way.

On the first class day following the end of Greek Week, we discussed how self-interest affected the democratic votes of students, and I assigned an essay question: "What did you learn from Greek Week about the workings of democracy?"

During the week, students learned quite a lot about the culture of ancient Greece, the foundation of Western Civilization. They debated Greek issues, ate Greek food, adopted Greek names, wore Greek clothes, danced to Greek music, had fun, and experienced first-hand on a gut level what is perhaps the greatest challenge to democracy: the tendency of citizens and leaders to promote their own self interest at the expense of the larger society.

If my students didn't remember anything else about their world history course, they definitely remembered Greek Week.

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Greek Week

a discussion

Tim, a Carolina teacher, wrote:

I am extremely interested in some of the activities you wrote about in which "Ah ha!" moments took place for the students.  Is there any way you could explain to me more about your Greece Week project/lesson plans?