Block 4 Ancient Civilizations students make more than the best of lockdown!

by Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics


The summer term’s task for Ancient Civilisations students in Block 4 is to devise and produce a piece of project-based work – something which we have always regarded as a pioneering and progressive approach to exploring the ancient world(s) and one which gives students a free hand to show what they can do. This year our students have chosen some remarkably innovating and diverse topics never investigated before, and the assessment panel which had the privilege of seeing their interim work in on-line presentations last week was suitably impressed by their self-evident interest, enthusiasm, and pride in their work. Topics this year have been as diverse as midwifery in ancient Greece and Rome, tattoos, human sacrifice across the world in ancient times, Persian kings’ propaganda, doctors and medicine, and ancient astrology. The ‘personal research and project’ approach has fitted in very well with the current lockdown situation, and it has wonderful to see the ways in which our students have risen to the challenge – even with communication problems (one student is in northern Italy and one is in Switzerland.)

So much for the teacher’s ‘official’ view What did the students think? Olivia Cooper said ‘I wanted to find out how medicine started because it has come such a long way, and to find out how much the understanding of medicine was affected by religious views in ancient societies.’ Lula Goldring’s motive for choosing ancient Persia was sheer curiosity: ‘I never knew about it but I wanted to find out about it – I find discovering new things interesting.’ Theo Heining-Farmiloe chose to study tattoos ‘because it hadn’t been looked at and I wanted to explore it.’ Inigo Portman was inspired by ‘a family trip to Mexico when I was about 11 or 12. It sparked an interest in the Aztecs.’

How did the students find it? Lula said ‘I had lots of freedom to make choices. It was hard at the beginning because it was all new, but s I learned more it all came together. Not confusing the Persia kings called Darius was a challenge too!’ Inigo and Theo both agreed that doing the presentations of their work in the development stage to a panel of three assessors was the most fun part of the course. ‘I enjoyed researching the Carthaginians, too, because they were completely new to me. The editing process was the most difficult.’ Olivia said ‘I really enjoyed the process of discovery and being able to organize my own research at my own pace. But you have to take responsibility for getting it done. The biggest challenge was figuring out what to include and what to leave out.’ Theo summed the whole exercise up nicely – ‘the interesting part is looking at something which hasn’t been looked at very much, and I wanted to explore it. But writing the essay is the most challenging part!’

As their teacher I have been very impressed by all the work done – and the tenacity that the whole class has shown in doing this – and I’m not sure who has enjoyed seeing these projects take shape, the students, their teacher, or the two assessors who saw presentations of a really fine standard. Lockdown or not, some great things are being achieved!

(Picture: the founding father of medicine, Hippocrates – not Chris G, his beard isn’t so curly)