After my first year of teaching English I was asked to teach a 9th grade course in Greek mythology the following year. I had never formally studied mythology and found I knew little about it. So, I sat down that summer and spent about four hours a day studying what became the greatest love of my teaching career, teaching Greek mythology. While teaching this course, I had learned about CANE and attended Annual Meetings as well as the Summer Institute, then held at Dartmouth. I acquired many new ideas and my students readily captured my enthusiasm from these CANE-inspired lessons. My methodology grew from there: Wherever I sought to learn, my own processes of mastery led me to design creative tasks for student experiences of Greek Mythology, though I had never studied Latin or Greek.
In order to understand all the complex relationships between gods and goddesses, I made a genealogy chart for myself which I used in the classroom. This later became the first project that I would assign to my students. Since I had needed to learn related geography of Greece and the Mediterranean, my second student project involved making maps of the ancient world. Level I students had a simpler blank map with dots for the cities and ‘carrots’ for mountain ranges that they were required to label correctly. I required the Honors students to draw and label a map in fuller detail, showing topography.
We had great fun in this course while students met their English language competencies. On ‘Dress-up-to-tell-a-story Day’ students wore their version of Greek attire and took on the persona of Greek god or goddess and told their character’s story. They could work in groups to act out various myths if they preferred. I checked off my students’ public speaking requirement. At that time 9th grade students were required to write ‘compare and contrast’ papers. My students compared a Greek creation story with one from another culture and then analyzed their similarities and differences. A more challenging version of this was during a unit of study of ‘The Quest.’ Students analyzed the film Ladyhawke by identifying features of a quest also found within with the story Jason and the Golden Fleece.
During the week of midterm exams we read Euripides’ Medea in class without additional assignments or homework. We utilized a basic Socratic questioning technique during the reading in which each student asked a question of someone else, who answered it and then asked a question of their own of another student. Their questioning was very spontaneous, but they took this very seriously with great results, while I simply watched in amazement and told them how proud I was of them.
Students learned the Greek alphabet while studying Oedipus Rex and had to guess the riddle of the Sphinx. One day I would wear a T-shirt I purchased at CANE with the riddle on the back in Greek. Each student had a paper copy of the mysterious writing on my shirt that they had to transliterate and try to decipher. I told them the one Greek work I knew which was kai that meant “and.” Students eventually saw the prefixes for one, two and four and got the idea that it was the riddle, while others started at the end and saw the answer, “anthropos.”
Another exciting moment for all! The story of Damon and Pythias inspired a newspaper project in which students designed a front page complete with scandalous headlines for individual news articles, which featured the same story from the different viewpoints of Dionysius, Damon, Pythias, Pythias’s family, and the townspeople. All my classes enjoyed reading the papers posted with humorous points of view and artistic representations of scenes from the myth.
Gwyn Baldwin taught Greek Mythology in her high school English courses for 31 years: 10 in Illinois and 21 in Wilton, New Hampshire. She regularly attended CANE Annual Meetings and the Summer Institute.