Blog Post #27: Interview with Grace Erny of Archaeology after School

May is “New Projects Month” at Peopling the Past, where we feature interviews with educators and researchers who have founded amazing new projects dedicated to making history, archaeology, and related subjects more inclusive.

Archaeology After School is a free enrichment program focused on Greek archaeology and cultural heritage for middle school and high school students. In its current iteration, the program is designed for students aged 12-17 from Greek community schools on the West Coast, though we hope that our materials will prove to be easily adaptable and useful to teachers and students working in many different contexts. The goals of this program include:

  • introduce Greek archaeology and cultural heritage to a wide range of students;
  • to help students understand and form opinions about the complex links between the past, present, and future; and
  • to enhance students’ critical thinking skills through engagement with archaeological evidence.

Our pilot program begins on Saturday, May 15 and will last for four weeks. This pilot consists of eight hour-long modules, each of which comes with original lesson plans, activity sheets, and video lectures. The program begins by introducing students to key concepts in archaeological methodology, archaeological reasoning, and cultural heritage ethics. After providing basic information on Greek geography and an introduction to ancient Greek history, our curriculum pivots to a series of case studies focused on important archaeological sites from a variety of time periods with cultural heritage significance, including Knossos, Pylos, the Classical Athenian Acropolis, and Hagia Sophia. These modules employ an inquiry-based approach that encourages students to propose archaeological interpretations based on evidence and to consider ethical issues from multiple perspectives. All modules include a Modern Greek language component for heritage language learners. We hope to expand our curriculum in the future and create more free, engaging resources for teachers and students.

Our team includes Dr. Eva Prionas (Language Center, Stanford University), Grace Erny (Classics Department and Archaeology Center, Stanford University), Elle Ota (Human Rights Foundation), Ioanna Kravariti (Holy Cross Greek School), Nicole Vakis (Stanford University), and Alexia Moustakas (University of California Davis).

Image of the homepage of Archaeology After School. The words "Curiosity is the first step towards discovery" appear in front of columns.
Fig. 1 Homepage of Archaeology After School
What was the inspiration behind your project? How did it come about?

Both Grace (PhD candidate, Stanford University) and Elle (BA 2018 and MA 2019, Stanford University) took multiple Modern Greek language courses with Eva over their time at Stanford. In 2020, Eva reached out to Grace and Elle about designing a bilingual curriculum around Greek archaeology and heritage that could be freely available online for teachers around the world. Grace and Elle created video lectures, slides, activity sheets, and lesson plans for each of the eight modules. Ioanna and Eva helped us to align our curriculum with California Common Core standards and worked with Eva to make Modern Greek language vocabulary lists and activities for each lesson. Alexia provided critical feedback on our materials from a student’s perspective and helped prepare slides for lecture, while Nicole designed our website and will be using the materials to teach the pilot this spring.

Eva developed teaching guidelines and resources for the teachers involved in the program. Our work has been supported and promoted by the American Association of Teachers of Modern Greek and the Greek Consulate General in San Francisco. We are also very grateful to the Society of Classical Studies’ Classics Everywhere grant for providing funding for this project.

View of the Acropolis with the Parthenon, Propylaia and Erechtheion visible.
Figure 2 View of the Athenian Acropolis from the Pnyx by F. Tronchin CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Who is this project geared towards? Which audiences would benefit most from this platform?

While this project was designed with students from the Greek diaspora and heritage learners of the Modern Greek language in mind, we hope that the high-quality content and flexible format will allow our curriculum to be of use to students and teachers from various backgrounds and can stoke interest in Greek archaeology and cultural heritage for a diverse group of people.

Though the pilot is being taught as a sequential after-school course, our videos and activities can also be used in a stand-alone format as supplements to daily class activities in elementary, middle, or high school.Some activities, like building an archaeological site in a jar to explore principles of archaeological stratigraphy, can be engaging for many different age levels with a few adjustments.

What was most challenging about designing this project?

Since archaeology is often a very “hands-on” discipline, Grace and Elle found it challenging to develop online content that could give students a taste of what it’s like to be an archaeologist without being in the field or in a lab with them. We also had to figure out how to fit a wide range of detailed information into short class sessions pitched at the right level for teenagers – not too complicated, but not overly simplified either. Our team worked hard to create content that would keep students involved and motivated and that would encourage student interaction in an online learning environment.

What impacts have you made or do you hope to make with this project?

In addition to expanding access to information about Greek archaeology and cultural heritage through free content, we hope that our program will lead students to engage thoughtfully with modern debates around material culture and heritage. We include several activities that prompt students to consider multiple perspectives on complex issues. In one lesson, students are given a brief “press release” about a newly-discovered archaeological site in Greece. They are then assigned to groups to roleplay different stakeholders, including an archaeologist, a local landowner, and a government official, and discuss their concerns about and hopes for the site. In another activity, students read several different perspectives on the repatriation of the Parthenon or Elgin Marbles before debating the issue with their classmates.

Image of the partially reconstructed remains of the archaeological site of Knossos, Crete.
Figure 3 Knossos, Crete by Paula Mcmillen CC BY-ND 2.0

Other activities focus more on the process of archaeological interpretation. In our Bronze Age case study, for example, we present students with assemblages of artifacts and architectural plans from real archaeological sites and ask them to “think like an archaeologist.” We ask questions such as: Who lived here? What kinds of activities took place here? What other information would you need or want to know in order to answer these questions? We hope that engaging with the archaeological material in this way will allow students to practice crafting arguments and supporting them with evidence – skills that are important in many areas of life beyond archaeology!

Screenshot of the "About" Page. Description reads: About the Program

Archaeology After School is a free pre-collegiate enrichment program designed for students of Greek community schools aged 12-17 across the West Coast. The focus of this selective program is to learn about classical archaeology, as we encourage students to critically think about their own heritage and beyond.
Fig. 4. About Archaeology After School
A selection of courses offered by Archaeology After School
Fig. 5. Course Offerings

How does this project help shed light on real people, either those in the past, or those in the present?

Historically, classical archaeology has not always done a good job engaging with a wide range of communities and stakeholders. U.S.-based academic archaeologists who work in Greece, for instance, are rarely encouraged to learn Modern Greek. As such, we are excited about the Modern Greek language component of this program, which values the language skills heritage learners already have. We hope to advance students’ linguistic and cultural knowledge in a way that allows them to reflect on their identity, build on their talents, and create partnerships within their community and beyond. By engaging in this way with the Greek diaspora and speakers of Modern Greek, we hope to make the past relevant to people’s lives today. 

How can people learn more about your project?

You can visit our website at https://www.archaeologyafterschool.org/ to learn more about our project or to contact us. If you are a teacher who would like to use our lesson plans, worksheets, or video lectures in your classroom, please email us at info@archaeologyafterschool.org. On the website, we have also compiled a list of online resources related to Greek archaeology and cultural heritage that may be of interest.

Image of Grace Erny in front of a tree
Grace Erny

Grace Erny is a PhD candidate in Classical Archaeology at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the archaeology and social history of Greece in the first millennium BCE, and her dissertation investigates social inequality and rural communities on the Greek island of Crete. Grace has worked as an archaeologist in Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and the United States. She currently lives in Athens, Greece.

For the bios of her follow Archaeology After School Team members, click here.

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