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School Stories

Grade 5: Greek Myths Bring History and English Together

When Grade 5 English Teacher Kimm Lucas and Grade 5 History Teacher Mike Willis participated in a World Leadership School training about project-based learning, a light bulb went on. What if they used Greek mythology as the centerpiece of a collaboration that would tie history and English together? History lessons about ancient Greece could be enhanced by language arts lessons about the myths, and vice-versa.
The two teachers originally planned a month-long unit. However, it quickly turned into a two month endeavor due to the high level of student engagement and interest, and the ongoing need to pivot to accommodate students, whether they were learning in-person or remotely. Gods, goddesses, heroes. What more could a middle schooler ask for?
 
At the beginning of the unit, Mr. Willis invited retired Graland teacher Phil Hickey to Zoom with his classes. Mr. Hickey, who taught some parents of current fifth-graders, helped set the stage for a rich study of Greek history.
 
In English class, students read two different versions of the 12 Labors of Hercules. They discussed the different “labors,” seemingly impossible tasks that Hercules had to perform as penance for a crime. Mrs. Lucas challenged students with a writing assignment to create a thirteenth labor for Hercules. One student suggested he had to banish COVID-19 and deliver vaccines to save the world. Another charged him with training dogs as circus dogs to guard the underworld.
 
“It was supposed to be a one-page assignment, but the kids got so excited it turned into narrative stories,” said Mrs. Lucas. “There was peer editing, and we explored how figurative language can enhance a story. We ended up focusing on some of the more technical aspects of writing than I had envisioned.”
 
Meanwhile, in history class, Mr. Willis introduced a Greek museum project in which students created their own museum displays.
 
While the unit had to be adapted to fit this year’s unusual circumstances, the two teachers think of it as a good start and look forward to developing it even further next year. They feel they’re on the right track as was evidenced by an email Mrs. Lucas received from a parent requesting a suggested reading list of additional myths. “Their student was so interested in the unit, they were asking for more myths to read in their free time,” she said.
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Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.