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THE ‘CHEMICAL’ PRODUCTION OF RADIUM GIRLS
When science teacher Marilynn Pedek-Howard heard that the theatre department would be putting on “Radium Girls,” a play about 20th century factory workers being slowly poisoned by the chemicals in their products, she saw the perfect opportunity to integrate the show’s plot into her chemistry class curriculum.
“Over the summer, when I saw everything that was happening in theatre this year, I saw ‘Radium Girls,’” Mrs. Pedek-Howard said. “We study radioactivity, so I read it. It was perfect for exactly what we are doing in Honors Chemistry. Our learning targets are related to [the] study of radiation.”
As part of their class, Mrs. Pedek-Howard’s students created spreads for a separate science playbill that will be passed out to audience members who view the play in 2020. Each set of pages relates to radiation, synthesizing class content with the play’s plot line. Students will also interact with audience members before the show and during intermission using hands-on activities that explain radioactivity.
“My favorite part is being able to see what we’re learning in science in a different way,” visual sophomore Emily Meneses said. “I feel like I’m actually engaged. I’m actually learning and understanding more.”
For their “Radium Girls” assignment, students are researching the chemical aspect of what theatre students are portraying. For those who aren’t focused in theatre, it poses as a learning opportunity to see how productions are put together.
“A lot of people who are academics-driven are going to have the opportunity to understand what it is that we do and how we operate,” stage manager and theatre sophomore Trey Mazza said. “I think when you open up such a big door, it allows a bigger audience, so it’s going to be a lot more fun.”
Although “Radium Girls” is the first time the arts and academics have crossed paths in recent years for Mrs. Pedek-Howard, combining class material and artistic components is not foreign.
“In the past, we’ve done things like that at Dreyfoos, where we interact between arts and academics, which really sets home those ideas in academic classes, and helps to support your studies in the arts” Mrs. Pedek-Howard said. “You can’t be a great artist unless you have some background to draw from.”
Many who are working on this project now would like to continue bringing the arts and academics together, far beyond “Radium Girls.”
Mazza believes that students would be able to “become more unified” at school, focusing on a final product, such as the “Radium Girls” project, rather than competing with each other.
As work on “Radium Girls” continues, Mrs. Pedek-Howard is looking forward to future collaborations between arts departments and her science classes, where every student can benefit.
“I have this idea that everybody’s learning,” Mrs. Pedek-Howard said. “The official student is not just the student—the teachers are students, too. It would be a great experience for all the students to be able to see the academics’ application in their arts, and, actually, for the teachers of academics to see how the arts is in their academic areas.”