A Student Project on Ancient Civilizations

Women in Power: A Student Project on Ancient Civilizations

Roe, Chris

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.

Getting Started with the Project

Step 1: Discussion

This was the case in my sixth grade classroom. The girls were bright, the boys were cool. The girls wanted to learn, the boys wanted to learn only if it involved physical movement. My challenge was to present the standardsbased curriculum and try to decide how it was going to have the most impact on their young minds. Because of the demands to teach so many subject areas, the time allotted for social studies was limited. This is unfortunate because teaching social studies is my passion.

The answer to my dilemma came simply, and it came from one of the girls. She asked, “Why do we always have to read about men? Weren’t there any women back then who did stuff?” This question was like a bolt of lightening. Sparks ignited between the girls and the boys in the classroom. Typical comments made by the boys included: “Girls didn’t do nothin’ but have babies.” This was countered by comments from the girls: “They would have done stuff if the men would have let them.” Intervention was necessary to facilitate learning. The question became, since the girls were already motivated to learn about women in history, could the boys be brought into the learning circle? I offered a question that would become a challenge and eventually a stimulating and fascinating project for all of the students. I asked the students: “Do you think there were that many women involved in history long ago?” The girls replied, “YES!” The boys replied, “NO!” This powerful learning project was about to begin. I asked the students, “Why don’t we search for information about women in ancient history who have made a difference in their cultures and communities?”

Step 2: Reading and Research

The seed was planted and the race was on. During social studies, students read the sections in the text about a few of the women who made a difference at the time. The reading continued, but time was allotted for exploration so that the students could strengthen their knowledge and understanding of the contributions of women. Time was given during our computer lab weekly visits along with workshop time allocated during the reading program in the morning, if all other work was completed for that day.

The boys soon discovered there were plenty of women in history who had made significant contributions to society. When we studied Egypt, they met Queen Nefertiti. When we read from the SRA Open Court reading series, they encountered an African heroine in the opera Aida. While studying China, they met Xishi, Wang Zhaojun and Diaochan. In India, they discovered Jenti and Citta.

Step 3: Recording the Data

As each unit progressed, the students discovered more and more women in history. Students kept a running list on chart paper as they challenged each other to find more about women in history.

Eventually, the students compiled lengthy lists of remarkable women in history. For example, (Egypt: Cleopatra, Hapshetsut, Kiya, Tiya, Hetephres, plus a number of Egyptian goddesses; Greece: Hypatia, Sappho, Helen of Troy, plus a number of Greek goddesses; Rome: Livia, Coldia, Agripinna; India: Abhirupananda, Jenti, Citta, Sukka, and SeIa; China: Quan Ym, Xishi, Wang Zhaojun, diaochan and Yang Guifei). Now came the time to put their research into action. Students were asked to choose a woman from ancient history that impressed them or that they would like to learn more about. The format for their presentation could be a simple research paper or a PowerPoint presentation. All of the students chose to create a PowerPoint presentation because they wanted to opportunity to interface with the computer. Students were eager to begin, but were required to input all of their research before creating their PowerPoint presentations.

Step 4: Creating the Presentation

The format of their slide presentation had to include a minimum of 10 slides to encompass the following information:

* title slide

* one picture of their heroine

* a brief biography (1-2 slides)

* important facts about her contributions (1-2 slides)

* map of country of origin

* timeline of heroine’s life

* other historical events of the time

* personal information about the author (student information and picture)

Step 5: Assessment

Presentation day was upon them before they knew it, and the excitement was in the air. Students were busy with a flurry of last minute details as they put the finishing touches on their projects. They were much more critical in grading their projects than their peers. Due to the nature of students, there were those who had not completed their 10 slides and those that had completed more than the minimum required. My grading rubric took into account the number of slides along with the quality of each slide and the special effects they may have added, although special effects were not an essential part of the presentations. I emphasized the importance of content and student learning. See Appendix 1 for the Women in Power Assessment Rubric.

The quality of the presentations surprised me. Most students took the time to thoroughly investigate their woman in power and they collected valuable information to share. They used their computer time and free time wisely to create a strong PowerPoint, and rehearsed their presentation so as not to be embarrassed in front of their peers. Since their peers were involved in the grading process (feedback only) it was worth the effort to impress not only me, but their peers as well. The presentations that stood out were not necessarily the most famous of our women in power in ancient times, but the style with which they were presented or the creativity included in the PowerPoint.

Presentations were given in front of the class using presentation skills that we had practiced on previous class projects. They had to be professionals, speak with authority, and keep their audience engaged as they spoke. We invited the administration in to view their projects and hear their presentations. We also videotaped them and had the video playing at the spring Open House.


The pride experienced by my students when presenting their PowerPoint presentation on “Woman in Power” was a career highlight in student learning. Through their own desire to challenge themselves and to learn about powerful women, they created thoughtful, informative and interesting biographies of women who have made a difference in the world. In retrospect, I could not have created a better “planned” lesson. These students taught me that they could direct the curriculum and become engaged and reflective learners if I listened to their voices. With guidance and gentle persuasion, they became eager participants in the teaching and learning process.


http://www.sra-4kids.com/index.php/home/ curriculumsolutions/reading/ocr/622

Open Court Reading SRA. McGraw-Hill Companies.


Women in World History. Classroom Lesson Series. Ancient Tablets, Ancient Graves: Accessing Women’s Lives in Mesopotamia.


About Women’s History. Ancient & Medieval Women.


Women in Ancient Egypt.


Women’s History & Impact on the World. Links to many sites.


Ancient World History. Many links.


Jones, Constance (2000). 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Women’s History. Pella, IA: Main Street Books. This book profiles modern day women along with women from days gone by. The writing makes history fun while providing informative tidbits about women in history. ISBN: 0385483872

Leon, Vicki (1997). Outrageous Women of Ancient Times. New Jersey: Jossey-Bass. Makes the politics, practices and wars understandable for youth. Highlights the accomplishments of women who rocked the world in a different way. ISBN: 0471170062

Leon, Vicki (1995). Uppity Women of Ancient Time. Newburyport, MA:Conari Press. Highlighting over 200 women from ancient days who made a name for themselves while influencing history. ISBN: 1573240109

Rolka, Gail Meyer (1994). 100 Women Who Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: BlueWood Books. Beginning in 1500 B.C., this book provides a profile of women who have made a difference in history. ISBN: 0912517069

Sharp, Anne Wallace (2005). Women in History – Women in Ancient Egypt. Farmington Hills, MI: Lucent Books. Discusses history, cultural beliefs and legacies left by women in Egyptian times. ISBN: 1590183614

Chris Roe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at California State University, Stanislaus. He has taught elementary school, been a school administrator and a county office coordinator. After 13 years in school administration, he returned to the classroom for 3 years, putting into practice all he had preached to his teachers.

Copyright California Council for the Social Studies Fall 2006

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