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English, Sophocles, and the PHI, Oh My! 

What does the Pearse Hub for Innovation (PHI) have to do with reading "Antigone," written in about 441 BC by Sophocles, in freshman English?  Plenty, as it turns out. 

When the English I teachers decided to add that Greek tragedy into the mix, one of the teachers, Jane Wanninger, suggested a project to help students explore the use of masks in Ancient Greek theater, which at the time were used for multiple reasons, among them to help convey emotions.  

Another freshman English teacher, Matt Johnson, who is also a computer science teacher, talked about involving the PHI. Jo Dexter, the English I cohort leader, and Matt met with Scott MacClintic ’82, the director of innovation, and Jen Solomon, the associate director of innovation, in the PHI. 

They planned a four-day PHI project in mid-January “based on the notion of a troupe box; that is, each class would be its own acting troupe that would construct a box of masks and props they could use for Antigone — and possibly other texts in the future,” Jo said.  

It was yet another example of a team of Loomis Chaffee teachers — in this case English teachers — coming together to brainstorm and make part of the curriculum come alive in a different way. And yet another example of working across disciplines, in this case with the PHI and its design-thinking approach.   

“Once we began,” Jo continued, “the kids all applied their previously learned PHI skills to this project — a day of brainstorming/idea-gathering (and all the white board work that goes with it), followed by a day of design” in which it was important to use symbolic and thematic elements in their mask or prop. 

Antigone masks made in PHI for freshman English class.

Masks constructed in the PHI were part of a freshman English class study of the Greek tragedy "Antigone."

In the final two days, the students constructed the masks and props, and each class filled their troupe box. 

Jo split each of her classes into three groups of four students. She assigned each group to portray a particular aspect of King Creon’s character, which they had been discussing in class. “Each group worked quickly to choose which short scene to act out and then how to convey some aspect of Creon to their classmates,” Jo said. 

In one case two boys wearing masks whispered behind their hands to show that King Creon, who had recently risen to power, was paranoid and worried about public opinion, Jo said. “Another group had to convey that almost everyone on stage is afraid of Creon, who can, as king, execute anyone who displeases him. Another group had to convey that he is trying to be a good king and genuinely cares about the welfare and safety of the citizens who recently survived a war that nearly destroyed Thebes. All the groups did a very good job,” she said. 

The English I teachers who did the PHI mask and prop project with their ninth-grade classes included Kat Diaz, Zach Grobe, Petagay Rowe '95, Kimberly Randall, Jane, Matt, and Jo. 

 

 


 

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