Exploring Ancient Olympics with an Online Competition in 5th Grade

The 5th grade world history class recently engaged in an exciting competition in the distance learning environment, all the while learning about the ancient Olympic Games, their purpose and the city-states that competed. Middle School History Teacher Robyn Williams shared, “We recently started learning about ancient Greece. With the Summer Olympics postponed, I thought this would be a great way for students to learn about the ancient history of the games before we start a project looking at the COVID-19 impact on the games this summer and tying that in with the ancient history we studied.”

The Ancient Greece learning unit has always been a highlight in 5th grade history, and Williams wanted the experience to live up to that expectation even though students can’t physically be together in the classroom. As she began developing the learning experience anew, she recalled a session from STLinSTL this past summer. The speaker demonstrated the process and the benefits of gamification in learning. Williams turned to one of the gamification templates he shared and adapted it significantly to work for the ancient Olympic Games unit in the online setting. Williams reflected, “One of the challenges when developing this experience was to come up with games or ways the students could interact with each other as a team in the online setting, and, at the same time, learn about the ancient Olympic Games.”

Small teams competed to outsmart and outlast their opponents to win the Pentathlon Cup, named after one of the original events held in ancient Greece. Students participated in five history-oriented challenges. For example, in one event, students created a timeline in Google Slides to display the first five days of the ancient Olympic Games, explaining each day’s events with words, pictures and graphics. The activities used a variety of online tools such as Zoom breakout rooms, FlipGrid, Google Forms and Quizizz.

The healthy competition included some fun elements such as awards of Olympic rings for each completed event, video review cards that students could use to slow down an opponent, and red and yellow cards that the referee (i.e. the teacher) could issue for incomplete work.

Williams reports that students seem to be enjoying the experience. “They work well together to collaborate with the online tools available, and they are able to problem-solve and brainstorm as a team in the breakout rooms.”

Mallory Jerlecki ’27 enjoyed the camaraderie of the experience. She said, “My favorite part was working with my friends and it being like a board game.”

Some students enjoyed the challenge of working with classmates in different locations. Tara Sadasivam ’27 reported, “Something that we had to work through was not being right next to each other. We had to find a way to collaborate, even though we were in a virtual classroom. Even though we weren’t seeing each other in person, we still worked together to reach the end and finish. This was one of the best virtual learning experiences I have had in my short time doing remote learning!”

“I thought this activity was very creative and Mrs. Williams did an awesome job putting it together,” said Frances Applegate ’27. “My favorite part is that it is really competitive because there are teams, and you are trying to be the first to complete the Olympic Games.”

Millie Holekamp ’27 appreciated the project. She said, “I love the history-classroom Olympics. When Ms. Williams told us about them, I got so excited. We have done similar things to it in the past, but the Olympics was the most fun. The best part of it is competing against other teams. It is very similar to being in the classroom, because most of our work was online anyway.”

Rowan Wright `27 shared, “My favorite part about this project was being able to have fun, Well learning about the Olympics. My other favorite part was doing it with my friends, even though we aren’t actually there.”

No competition in Williams’ class would be complete without placement on the Wall of Fame prominently displayed in her classroom, of course. Thus, Williams knew that she would have to recreate her infamous Wall of Fame virtually on Canvas. The winners of the Pentathlon Cup appear on the Wall of Fame for their peers to see. Congratulations to all the winners, and to Ms. Williams for successfully retooling a favorite exercise for distance learning!