Women in Power: A Student Project on Ancient Civilizations

Article excerpt

Background Information for the Project

Returning to the classroom to teach sixth grade was a blast from the past - literally. My students taught me that they are interested in the social studies curriculum. By listening to their voices, I was able to teach the History-Social Science standards and help them to learn about the contributions of women in historical contexts. Women's contributions to society have been essential for human survival, but have often been overlooked in the curriculum. However, my sixth grade students showed me how to teach the History-Social Science standards while learning about strong and courageous women.

As I listened to my students' voices and heard about their interests and perspectives, a social studies project for learning about women's contributions emerged in the classroom. The project was so successful that I decided to share it with other teachers.

This project meets History-Social Science Standards 6.2 through 6.7 (Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Hebrews, Ancient Greece, India, China and Rome). Although this project was completed in a sixth grade classroom, it could be easily adapted for the fourth and fifth grades. Women's achievements are an important part of all subject areas in the curriculum.

The focus of the sixth grade social studies curriculum is Ancient Civilizations, which may seem like a formidable topic for today's sixth grade students, particularly because so many students live in impoverished urban settings. Many students come to school undernourished both physically and mentally. Some parents work hard to make ends meet and to provide their children with the necessary elements needed to survive. Frequently, these students come from single parent households provided by their mothers. Many students are living with and being taken care of by strong and courageous women in their homes, but they have not been encouraged to reflect on their circumstances from this perspective.

Through the social studies curriculum, my students have been able to discover how powerful women have been throughout history. It was a valuable experience for the students to learn about the challenges faced by strong women and their remarkable achievements. It was rewarding to see my students enjoy the social studies curriculum and discover information about women who have made significant contributions to history.

We know about many of the accomplishments of men in countries and cultures throughout history because those accomplishments have been the focus of history books. It is quite common for students in school today to know about men who have made a difference in the world. What is less known about are the accomplishments made by women across time and place. This is not to say that information about historic female figures is completely left out of the texts, but they are mentioned less frequently than those of men.

When I returned to the classroom after working as a principal for 13 years, I had a lot to re-learn. I had previously taught several grade levels, including sixth grade, but left the classroom to enter the ranks of administration. Resuming my teaching career was a great adventure and gave me a whole new perspective on teaching and learning. I was fortunate to learn much from stellar teachers when I worked as a principal. Making the decision to return was easy after so many years out of the classroom. I longed for the connection with the students I saw enjoyed by the teachers I supervised daily. Once back in the classroom, however, I learned that not only had the curriculum changed (standards were here along with mandated assessment) but the students had changed as well. They were smarter in the sense that they could tell me what they needed to know. The following section includes a summary of our class project about women in power. …