Depicting Deities

Standards Met: McREL World History Standard 8; McREL Visual Arts Standard 3

What You Need: Sources on Greek gods and goddesses; copies of the Greek alphabet; watercolor paper; watercolor paints; black markers

What to Do: While learning about ancient Greece in Lori K. Hannon’s history class, seventh graders at St. Clair Middle School in Michigan learned that the ancient Greeks built temples to gain the favor of gods and goddesses—and decorated them with divine likenesses. Hannon decided to have her students build on this tradition by painting portraits of the deities. First, she showed students several examples of portraits, like Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, and American Gothic, by Grant Wood. After discussing what these portraits reveal, students researched the Greek gods’ and goddesses’ likenesses, roles, and symbols. Artemis, for example, was often depicted as a young woman in a forest carrying a bow and arrow and accompanied by  a deer; these symbols relate to her role as the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness.

Students incorporated their research into the portraits, sketching on watercolor paper before outlining in black marker and then painting over the sketches in watercolor. To finish, they wrote their god’s or goddess’s name on the frame in Greek lettering.


Facing the Music

Standards Met: McREL United States History Standard 7; McREL Music Standard 7

What You Need: Copies of primary and secondary sources related to Alexander Hamilton; recording of the musical Hamilton

What to Do: The hit Broadway musical Hamilton sparked a two-day lesson and yearlong Alexander Hamilton mania in Justin Emrich’s eighth-grade American history class.

The 2016 Ohio Teacher of the Year began by posting the following quote on the board: “Character is revealed when pressure is applied.” He asked his students at Olentangy Berkshire Middle School in Galena to discuss what the quote means and how it applies to their lives.

Then, students read a series of documents to gather evidence about Hamilton’s character. The documents included both primary sources, such as a letter Hamilton wrote to his wife, and secondary sources, such as lyrics from the musical. While reading, students annotated and answered questions that drew out the meaning of the texts. Ultimately, they used evidence from multiple documents to respond to the following: “Using evidence, explain the aspects of Alexander Hamilton’s character that led him to accept the challenge of a duel with Aaron Burr. Based on the sources provided, explain why the duel between Hamilton and Burr was/was not inevitable.”

“Using the musical is a must!” says Emrich. “My students wanted to learn so much more because Hamilton was no longer just another dead guy. All of a sudden, Hamilton was cool!”


Dressing the Part

Standards Met: McREL World History Standard 27; McREL Visual Arts Standard 2

What You Need: Books about fashion in a given time period (e.g., Medieval Fashions, by Tom Tierney), paper, scissors, colored pencils

What to Do: Costumes can make “long ago” much more real, as Heather Woodie, a homeschooling mother of four in upstate New York, found out when working with her 11-year-old daughter on a project to create historically accurate doll clothing.

Woodie and her daughter decided to focus on the clothing and customs of medieval times. Based on extensive research, her daughter learned, for example, that the wealthier a person was in the Middle Ages, the longer their garments hung. Ultimately, Woodie’s daughter ended up designing and sewing a woman’s full-length 15th-century gown with a large fur collar, one of many projects Woodie chronicles for other homeschooling families at Blog, She Wrote.

In a more traditional classroom context, students can design and draw historically accurate outfits for paper dolls. First, as they research life and fashion during a given time period, encourage them to invent a person with a specific job and social position (e.g., a farm worker in the Middle Ages) and take notes on the typical clothing for such a person, specifying the type and length of garment (a knee-length tunic), the type and color of fabric (rough, brown wool), and other details (rope tied around the waist as a belt). After students draw and cut out a paper doll figure, they trace it to create the outline of garments, including tabs to fold the clothing onto the body, and then color and cut out the clothes.



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Photo: Yusuke/Shutterstock (star); Courtesy of Justin Emrich (children)