Ancient gods thrash Becks

Classical world figures out-score modern day icons, as a simple web search demonstrates. Dorothy Walker reports

How do you teach a class of teenage boys about the relevance of classical civilisation to the modern world? You could begin by searching for David Beckham on the internet. That is what Julian Morgan is doing today, in a stunningly simple but effective lesson that he admits leaves his students "gobsmacked".

Julian is classics teacher at Derby Grammar School for Boys, and his Year 9 classical civilisation students have spent the past two lessons getting to know the Greek gods. From Apollo to Zeus, they have scoured the pantheon and know why each deity was worshipped. Now they are going online to explore the modern cult of celebrity.

After leading a discussion about Google (www.google.com), the search engine the class will use to trawl the internet, Julian kicks off the activity. "Name someone famous - really popular," he asks. "Beckham!" comes the quickfire response.

How popular is Becks on the net? Julian guides the students through a Google search that finds 210,000 references to their hero - 210,000 "hits", produced in just 0.05 seconds. The challenge now is to beat that score, coming up with famous names who rank even higher in the web popularity stakes.

Working in pairs, the pupils make their own A-lists of celebrities and put them to the Google test. Hollywood stars are an astute choice, some producing twice as many hits as Beckham. Prime Minister Tony Blair returns an impressive 744,000, and the enterprising pair who select President George W Bush are rewarded with a winning 1.6 million. The class agrees that any score beyond half a million is very impressive indeed.

But this is a game of two halves and it is time to bring the Greek gods into play. The boys already have an idea of which gods should feature most online - the familiar names such as Zeus and Apollo - but how will they shape up against Beckham and Blair?

The Google results are astonishing. Miles ahead is Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, with a total of 4.7 million hits. Then come Apollo (2.48 million) and Zeus (1.19 million). Lesser-known figures, such as Ares, god of war, command scores of half a million and even minor gods return Beckham-like numbers.

Julian's pupils are just as astonished as their teacher was when he first stumbled on the results last year. He was trying to come up with a computer project which would prove that classics was very much alive in today's world.

"I was sitting playing with Google," he recalls, "and I thought: 'Why not go through all the Greek gods?' This exercise alone demonstrates that classics has the most extraordinary relevance. And the searches are very quick. Type in a name and the results come back almost immediately. Students love that."

Many of the gods' internet hits are pointers to classics resources, although Julian admits he is puzzled about why Athena should come out quite so far ahead. Other links are to corporate websites. A wealth of companies opt for classical names, which leads Julian neatly into the homework exercise he sets at the end of the lesson. Each student has to think of a company he would like to set up, and name it after the Greek god he believes best represents the firm's aims. In the next lesson, each pupil will have three minutes in which to justify his choice to the board of directors, who were played by the rest of the class.

Julian spends two days a week teaching at Derby Grammar and the rest of his time is devoted to writing software which provides cultural background on classical civilisations. For his latest epic, The Horace Trail, he followed in the footsteps of the poet, journeying to Greece, Italy and Turkey. He also markets classical languages software, and believes passionately that ICT can provide a lifeline for classics, now seriously endangered in schools.

"We are training only 30 classics teachers a year - there are simply not enough to go round," he says. "ICT can help make the most of limited resources. In my Year 10 Latin class, 10 weeks of homework are based entirely on ICT. The students use Latin Vocab Drill software to learn their GCSE vocabulary list - a repetitive task, but computers are ideally suited to it. They take a lot of the donkey work out of teaching and learning."

This year, at the age of 16, Derby Grammar's Sachin Gunga was the youngest student in the country to sit A-level classical Greek. He gained an A grade, despite having had only one lesson a week since he began learning the language four years ago.

Greek is not timetabled at Derby, but Julian and Sachin agreed to meet for a lesson every Thursday afternoon between four o'clock and five. Julian directed Sachin to Perseus, an online treasure trove of classical texts, translations and tools. Every week, Sachin used Perseus to study the 40 lines of Homer's Iliad which he would have to translate at the next lesson. By clicking on an unfamiliar word, Sachin could bring up an on-screen lexicon entry, which he copied into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet became his vocabulary list and it helped both Sachin and his teacher at lesson time.

"Sometimes I was stuck," says Julian. "So we would both consult the spreadsheet and work out the meaning together. The whole exercise was so efficient that it allowed us both to maximise the use of our time."

Sachin says: "I was also doing GCSEs, so I would have been under a lot of pressure if I hadn't had Perseus. I would have had to use books, pen and paper, and everything would have taken much longer. The software was an incredible help, but this wouldn't have been possible without my teacher."

Julian Morgan produces a wide range of website and software resources. See below for details

CLASSICS WEBSITES AND SOFTWARE RESOURCES

Websites

Classics league

American Classical League (ACL)

fosters the study of classical languages and serves teaching professionals in the US and Canada.

www.aclclassics.org

Software directory

American Classical League's 2001 Software Directory for the Classics is an invaluable resource for all teachers of classical subjects.

www.centaursystems.comsoft_dir.html

Cambridge Online Latin Project COLP is designed to broaden access to the classics, using the internet to deliver resources and tutoring. Supports many students, especially in schools where there is no classics teacher.

www.cambridgescp.com

Classics Without Tears

Dennis Flynn publishes a Greek font for use in Word, and software which helps with Latin translations. www.doctorflynn.demon.co.uk

Learning and Teaching Support Network

This history, classics and archaeology website of LTSN features Julian Morgan's Good Practice Guide for the use of ICT in classics teaching.

www.hca.ltsn.ac.ukictc-guideindex.php

Joint Association of Classical Teachers

Julian Morgan is computing co-ordinator for JACT. Its site provides an important forum for teachers, and lists useful courses, contacts and publications.

www.jact.org

Perseus

Major collections of Latin and Greek texts, together with supporting materials such as maps and images of sites and artefacts.

www.perseus.tufts.edu

SOFTWARE

Latin Without Tears

Set of Latin unseen translations taken from past GCSE papers. Supplied with information on grammar, vocabulary and syntax.

Published by Dennis Flynn, Orchard House, Church Lane, Wendlebury, Oxon OX6 8PN

www.doctorflynn.demon.co.uk

Site licence for 20 computers pound;40

The Horace Trail

Follows the life of the poet Horace, and includes about 400 images for use in electronic assignments.

Published by Oxford University Press

Tel: 01536 741068 www.oup.co.uk

Single copy pound;35, Site licence pound;150

Perseus II

Huge database of Greek culture, containing 3.4 million words of ancient Greek texts together with linguistic tools. Also features many Greek vases and sculptures, with commentaries and links. Full version (four CD-Roms) about pound;220, concise, single-disk version about pound;95.

Published by Yale University Press, 23 Pond St, London NW3 2PN Tel: 020 7431 4422

www.yaleup.co.uk

J-PROGS

Julian Morgan also runs J-PROGS, which publishes classics software for schools in the UK. It works closely with Centaur Systems in the US.

www.j-progs.com

The following software is all published by J-PROGS, 81 High Street, Pitsford, Northants NN6 9AD

Latin Vocab Drill

Drill-and-practice software designed to help with learning Latin vocabulary. Offers many options for testing and practising vocabulary lists. A range of different versions supports most mainstream Latin courses, and includes GCSE syllabus and AS lists. Site licence pound;60 per version.

Olympia - 2800 Years of Athletic Games

A lavish treatment of ancient Greek art, history and culture, published to coincide with the 1996 Olympics. Includes a guided tour of the artefacts in the museum at Olympia.

Single CD-Rom pound;20, five copies pound;80

Romans

Four titles:

Roman Gods 2 (Olympian gods, gods of the East and minor gods of the Roman Pantheon); Roman Britain (occupation, Romanisation and religion in Roman Britain); Latin Alive 2 (a wide range of facts and figures, from names and numbers to Roman geography and politics) and Roman Life (insights into civilian life in Pompeii, Herculaneum and elsewhere in the Roman Empire).

Site licence pound;185, or individual components available separately

Roman Africa

Covers most of the major Roman sites in Tunisia. Includes about 450 images for use in electronic assignments. Site licence pound;80

Rome the Eternal City

Encyclopaedic guide to Rome in ancient, renaissance and baroque times.Includes guided tours of major sites.

CD-Rom pound;30, site licence pound;200

Rome Photo CD

Features the photographs from Rome the Eternal City, in an easy-to-use format. More than 1,000 images of Rome, saved as jpeg files for use in electronic assignments. Site licence pound;60.

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