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Master Classes

Christopher Barsi
Laser Beams in Exotic Media

Normally, we think of a laser beam as a pencil of light that travels in a straight line from here to the moon. However, if we shine laser light through certain materials, the beam can bend, focus sharply, or even spread out as "shock waves." In this class, we will explore the physics of such behavior and the various applications of it.

Kate Bluestein P'90

James Joyce's Araby
 We will read and discuss James Joyce’s story “Araby,” from the Dubliners collection.  A tale of youthful romantic infatuation and its collapse, this story has been a mainstay of Commonwealth’s English 11 course.  Ms. Bluestein will share a bit of what students have written and said about it in her nearly forty years of teaching at Commonwealth.  

Mary P. Chatfield P'71, '79
Art History: A Long Look at Vermeer’s Painting 'The Artist in His Studio'

By spending some quiet time looking at Vermeer’s painting and responding to some guiding questions, I hope we can come to discover something about the painter as well as his masterpiece.

Rusty Crump
Making Pinhole Cameras

We will begin by learning how pinhole cameras work and looking at some pinhole images. Participants will then construct their own simple pinhole cameras and make exposures from the cameras using paper negatives.

Mara Dale

Reading The Odyssey in Translation

Homer's 12, 110-line epic poem The Odyssey, a time-honored ninth-grade text at Commonwealth, was written nearly 3,000 years ago-yet it seems always to engage with both current and timeless themes. Our students read the Robert Fitzgerald text in translation from the Ancient Greek. We will look at passages from The Odyssey in Commonwealth fashion, reading the text closely, enjoying the story and tuning into nuances and the differences they make. We will read from the Fitzgerald translation, but alongside Emily Watson's 2017 translation-the first published translation by a woman-and take up the question of how translations transmit and transform the original while standing as imaginative works of art in their own right.

Melissa Glenn Haber '87, P'15, '19
Polarization in American Politics

Even before the 2016 election, political scientists and pundits alike noted that American politics were becoming more polarized, more tribal. In this class, based on a "Policy and Politics" elective for seniors, we'll look at some of the research behind the ways we not only are exposed to different news stories but also see very different realities even when hearing the very same words.

David Hodgkins P'11
Learn to Sing The Spacious Firmament
Sing with the Commonwealth Chorus. We will start with typical warm ups and then learn to sing
The Spacious Firmament, which has been sung at all Commonwealth graduation ceremonies.

Alan Letarte
Some Recent Results from Plane Geometry

The introduction of coordinate geometry by Descartes in the 1600s was an enormous mathematical milestone, revolutionizing the way in which geometers approached age-old problems and fueling bold new undertakings such as the development of calculus. But mathematicians did not, at this juncture, abandon Euclidean methods entirely for the promise of the Cartesian approach.

This class will showcase some theorems of plane geometry that have been discovered since the 1600s using purely classical methods. Their proofs are elegant, beautiful, and accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of Euclid's geometry.

Heather Pierce
Soups and Stews:  The Art of Slow Cooking

In 2017, Chef Heather Pierce joined Commonwealth School as our Chef Manager. Heather and her team from Flik Independent School Dining provide nutritious and delicious to our students and faculty every day. You will learn how to cook Vegan Autumn Soup and Chicken Pozole--a  warming Mexican stew with all the toppings!

Mónica Schilder

Immigration: Latino Voices in the USA

In this class, we will analyze the work of two Latino writers: Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican, and Cristina García's Dreaming in Cuban. Both authors carry a Latin American heritage that have shaped and molded who they are as artists. They emigrated from their native countries to the United States, and had to promptly adapt to their new way of living. In these two excerpts we will try to identify what are the most salient features of their original identities that they carry with them at the beginning of their journey and how they clash, in reality or in their perception, with the overwhelming pressure to assimilate.Class will be conducted in English; texts will be provided in Spanish and English. No prior knowledge of Spanish is required.

Rob Sherry

Economics: Fixed vs Floating Exchange Rates

Don't know how many Euro's you will get for your dollars? It wasn't always this way. We will start with the fixed exchange rates established at the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 (held nearby in NH). Why was it a good idea and why didn't it last? We will see why fixed exchange rates and the gold standard failed together. We will then turn our attention to the floating exchange rates of today and what determines them. If we have time, we will discuss how and why countries interfere with those rates, and how it affects the United States. This course assumes no prior knowledge of economics.

Kyla Toomey & John Wolff
The Science and Art of Materials 

The Science and Art of Materials is a new elective developed in the summer of 2018 by ceramics and sculpture teacher Kyla Toomey and chemistry and math teacher John Wolff. One central theme of the first semester is color. We will look at our perception of color both as scientists and as artists. How does color mixing work? What molecular and macro level processes give rise to our perceptions? What's the deal with Rothko? These questions and more will be explored as we investigate how the world of molecules and photons creates art.

Bob Vollrath
French fables by La Fontaine

"The Ant and the Grasshopper" and "The Fox and the Crow," two of 17th-century Jean de La Fontaine's well-known fables, make for excellent teaching material for an intermediate-level French class. The language in each is simple yet concise, and the lessons easily expressed, but that also carries with it much to suggest La Fontaine's own perilous, complex situation in the Sun King's court. We will explore the two poems in their original French and work to understand how politically daring and clever they were in Louis XIV's France. Class will be conducted in English with original text and English translations. No prior knowledge of French required.

Brent Whelan P'01, '03, '07
Reading Hamlet Closely 

The intensive study of Hamlet, placed strategically at the center of the 11th grade AP English curriculum, has long been a rite of passage for Commonwealth students. In this class we will examine a 'minor,' apparently merely functional scene. Reading it carefully, we will see how this incomparable playwright manages to weave some of the play's most essential themes into an 'incidental' moment.

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