JANESVILLE

The ancient Greeks had a lot of gods.

Their city-states had different forms of government.

And their sports competitions were held au naturel. (For all you middle school students out there, “au naturel” is a discrete way to say “stark naked”).

On Friday, sixth-grade students at Franklin Middle School celebrated the end of their eight-week unit on the Greek city-states with a modified Olympics of their own. Games included javelin with straws, discus with paper plates, shot put with cotton balls and boxing with their brains.

“We have to go back to Greece to understand where we are now,” said sixth-grade social studies teacher Marshall Reese.

Most of us can’t remember a thing we learned about the Greek city-states, so here’s a refresher: The states were geographically distinct cities that each had their own style of government and cultural values.

Greece also gave us the underpinnings of democracy, rational inquiry, very funny stage plays, insights into astronomy and, of course, columns.

Don’t underestimate columns. They changed everything, making them the architectural equivalent of the invention of the Internet.

“I give the kids computer paper and masking tape and ask them to make a column,” Reese said.

He then asks them how many textbooks they think the columns will hold, and the kids usually pick between one and five.

“We got up to 32 textbooks,” Reese said. “We actually ran out of books.”

Reese divided his students into city-states including Argos, Athens, Corinth, Sparta and Megara, and then throughout the unit, the different groups garnered points for various feats.

The kids got into it, as did the parents. Someone’s mom knitted all of the Spartans helmets, making them look like little Michigan State mascots.

“The best thing is that on the day of the Olympics, all my colleagues take time to teach a lesson about the Olympics in their subject area,” Reese said.

For instance, the math teacher taught a lesson in statistics, and the reading teacher read stories about the Olympics.

The end of the Greek unit features the Olympics, which are a fun way for kids to end things and to cement some of the lessons they learned—and to have some fun, Reese said.

We asked the students to tell us how life in the Greek city-states was different than today.

Keira Adams, 12, explained the Greeks were polytheistic, which means they worshiped many gods. Hades, for example, is the god of the underworld.

Kaleb Erickson, 12, said Greek city-states had different kinds of government. An oligarchy is a system where only the very wealthy rule, as opposed to a tyranny and/or a democracy, he explained.

Another boy, who shall remain unnamed because we don’t want his mom to call us, pointed out another big difference: Their athletes competed naked, while today “you have to wear clothes.”

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