Meet a Member: Katie PetroleMoira Lavelle
Katie Petrole is the Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Fellow at the American School. She previously worked at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, and received an MA in Museum Studies at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.
Q: So you’re not exactly a member, what is your position at the ASCSA?
A: I’m the Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Fellow, which means I have two main duties at Corinth. One is collections management— from cataloguing finds from each year’s excavations to legacy objects to items found in lots, and all sorts of registration work. The other part is museum education, and we’ve defined that as creating lesson plans that teachers can use in their classroom whether that’s in the US or Greece. One of the unique things about the position is that it combines collections management with education. I think that combination is a really powerful thing because in many museums around the world these are completely different spheres. Here at Corinth Excavations we’re using the real, ancient collection for museum education, which I think is really neat.
Q: How did you get interested in those two seemingly disparate spheres?
A: Ever since my Museum Studies grad program at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) I’ve been really interested in the intersection of archaeological curating and object-based learning, which are two facets of collections management and museum education. Even in grad school, I focused more on those two theories. For five years, I worked at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis at the Interpretation department and learned from some of the world’s leading experts about informal education there.
I spent my summers interning and volunteering at the Athenian Agora Excavations and learning firsthand what collections management looks like at a Greek museum. I did various projects ranging from a massive sculpture inventory to creating amphora storage area labels in the museum basement (you can see them in the John Camp video!). I also rehoused a coin collection from the slopes of the Acropolis.
That combination of training and experience was perfect because I really enjoyed doing both things. All of this has led to doing this with a fellowship here in Greece.
In one sense I’m very different from many of the Members in that I’m a museum professional with a background in Classics. But in my mind it works very well side by side.
Q: So have you had the chance to try out the lessons plans you’ve been creating at Corinth?
A: We’ve been lucky to try out and fine-tune many of the lesson plans thanks to the interest of local teachers and teachers around Corinthia and Athens. It’s been really cool to see the lesson plans in action and to redefine what a museum experience is for Greek kindergarteners though high school students. It has also been challenging, because we’ve created the lesson plan to best fit the classroom, but also adapted them for an on-site experience. Students come to Corinth Excavations as a follow-up with their in class lesson. They get to see the objects they first saw in their classroom, they get to hold the actual objects, and we have some open discussion of the objects they’ve been prepared for because they’ve been thinking about it since their in-class lesson. It’s really exciting to see, because it’s extending the learning from their classroom and they come away with a better understanding of the topic, which for many of these students is their own cultural heritage.
During our first trial for the lesson plans, we worked with Pierce (the American College of Greece) teacher, Ms. Nektaria Glinou, for the “Asklepios and Healing in the Ancient Greek World and Today” lesson plan. We worked on-site at Pierce with high school students and the 85th Kindergarten of Athens. It was amazing to then host those same kindergartners and high school students who came all the way out to Corinth with their parents, many of whom had not been to Corinth before. It was a really great family learning experience where the students remembered their informal classroom experience and shared that with their parents, and the parents got to see some behind-the-scenes workings of a museum. We were able to see for ourselves the results of what Corinth Excavations has been working on and the full potential the project has. It sort of kick started more involvement with local and regional teachers as the word has spread.
Q: What was one of the most fun moments you’ve had sharing these lesson plans?
A: At one point Ioulia and I were co-leading a lesson plan for some students and I was doing it in English (with some of my baby kindergarten Greek) and when there were any questions or points to solidify, Ioulia would clarify in Greek. We really set the tone for this to be a new participatory experience. And it was going so well, and students were sharing ideas, which can be hard to do. At the end I always finish up by thanking them for coming and taking the time do this in their classroom and come in to do it with us. I asked if there were any more questions and hands just shot up. I was so excited because I saw the students were so into it and learning so much. And one girl asked was, “How old are you?” We expected this deep, analytical question so it was very funny. But the important thing was we created a repertoire and where she felt okay asking me that, so I answered, and we moved on to the next question.
Q: What is your process when creating these lesson plans?
A: One of the first things I did was take some time to review the state education standards for New York. The 6th grade curriculum has students learning about the entire eastern hemisphere, and while they also cover it in 1st grade, this is more in depth— they learn all the way from prehistoric to 15th century and Byzantine-ish era. When I started reading all the standards, in my mind I started making connections with what we have in our collections and what stories we can tell that would fit the state curriculum. I combined the research of the collection with the state standards. So I created learning goals for the lesson that matched a specific state standard.
Each lesson has an objective and also an hands-on learning activity. Ioulia, the Assistant Director of Corinth Excavations, and I narrowed each lesson down to one objective and goal that Corinth Excavations can offer and share with students. From there, I looked at various samples or templates of lesson plans that I had from working with museums with strong education programming or that I got from teachers, to make sure I could create a document that has value for teachers. The biggest thing for me was finding objects that had some sort of narrative or story connected to a state standard. We’re lucky that Corinth Excavations has a lot of different objects from many different time periods and that was the basis for our whole collection of educational resources. As a result the lessons range from myth, to analyzing archaeological evidence, to skeletons, to pottery, to religious monuments, landscape, environment, and conflict negotiation in ways that hopefully collide for some fun learning potential.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Athens? Or Greece at large?
A: I’m going to go with Ancient Corinth on this one. There’s a restaurant here called Marinos and not only is it the best food in the village, but it also has adorable presentation. If you order a gyro it comes on a little shovel, if you order a chunk of meat you get a little mini cleaver with it. They’re a very nice family and they pretty much know to have tzatziki at the ready when I walk in the door.
Q: What is your favorite place in Corinth?
I think my favorite place in Corinth is the ouzo terrace during summertime when we sit outside and have some yummy appetizers and can look across the Gulf of Corinth to Perachora. Even though my eyesight is terrible, it’s still beautiful. The view there is spectacular and the company is good. It’s something you can do every day. I also really like taking a lunch up to Acrocorinth but that’s harder to do with a dog now. You have to sneak your way through an alley of other dogs and it’s complicated. And loud.
Q: If you were a god or goddess which one would you be?
A: I think it’s a tie. I really like Asklepios. Not only because one of my good friends focused his Master’s thesis on Asklepios (shout out to Brian Martens), but also he’s connected to our most successful lesson plan to date. Most people often haven’t heard of him, but once they learn about the healer god, they have an instant connection. I also really like Artemis ever since I found this Roman relief in the basement of the Agora. It is hands down the smoothest sculpture I’ve ever felt and it’s a scene of Artemis and a dog. And when I inventoried it, it really sparked my interest in Artemis and Sylvie Dumont encouraged me to pull a few fun objects, including a marble peach, and put them in a glass display case in the basement, so I got to include it in a cute curated case of cool finds.
Q: What do you get from your experience at the American School?
A: One of the most important things that I’ll be able to take away from this fellowship is some evidence for the importance of the intersection of collections management and informal museum education. It’s always something I’m thinking about, but it’s not too common for positions that exist in the US. This exact position was something I was looking for to test out some theories I developed in grad school. And so this was perfect.
Plus, we’re creating real usable ways for people to begin interacting with the Ancient Greek and Mediterranean world. That pretty special because we’re going beyond what a textbook can offer and hopefully will spark others to be interested in ancient Corinth or the larger Greek world.
And finally, it’s been a really fun environment to interact with some very smart and enthusiastic scholars that come through here every week, so I’ve been lucky enough to meet all sorts of people from all sorts of places and build lots of connections. And I got a dog out of it.
Check out all of Katie's Corinth lesson plans here.