Making Connections to Today Through Ancient History

Greek warriors on horsebackWhen reflecting on her work, Kailey Sparks, a high school history teacher at Dearborn Academy, says, “Being able to see students make the connections to the present day is where learning happens.”

This philosophy can be seen in Kailey’s Growth of Ancient Empires unit. Engaging students’ interests (think Instagram) with historical content, she had them study and compare the patterns of 11 ancient empires including Greece, Persia, Akkadia and Macedonia. Throughout the unit, students practiced building executive function and organizational skills, such as breaking down long-term assignments into manageable chunks and utilizing graphic organizers.


Content was presented through multiple means, including teacher lectures with guided note-taking, readings and activities, such as historically-based simulated Instagram postings. Students learned how to choose reliable sources and break down complex information into palatable PowerPoint presentations for the end-of-unit Gallery Walk, where students were given the opportunity to present their research to their classmates. 


Citing one presentation, Kailey described how a 9th-grade student was able to compare the Grecian empire with modern-day democracy and make connections between the modern Olympics and the politics of the ancient Olympics. The student illustrated how the world’s top athletic competition involved bringing together more than one group of people to create and sustain the games, emphasizing the ideals of democracy.

The class also used what they know about social media to bring history to life. While studying Alexander the Great, the students were asked to apply their learning of the leader to create five original Instagram posts from his perspective.


“They were able to take facts from both the biography we read as a class and their notes on the Macedonian Empire,” Kailey explains. “The students got really into it because they were using a familiar technology platform in a new way.” In addition to practicing their study, multimedia and research skills, the history students had fun presenting their projects to the Dearborn community and exploring how the past informs today’s world.