Innovative Course Offerings
in the Upper Division

January 15, 2015

By Kirk Smothers, Upper Division Director

Temperatures may be dropping, but activity has been running at a steady boil in upper school classes. This month, the faculty members of the math and arts departments provide brief glimpses of innovations in their departments.

The upper school mathematics department developed three new courses this year, and students and teachers have been enthusiastically exploring new topics and approaches.

For the first time, MMFS is offering Calculus II, equivalent to a second semester college calculus course, that prepares students for the AP Calculus BC exam. Recently, the class has been working on techniques for determining the volumes of irregularly shaped solids and investigating approximation methods for otherwise unsolvable differential equations.

The upper school is also offering a logic-oriented geometry course based on the oldest mathematics text in existence, the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid’s The Elements. In addition to reading and discussing geometric proofs, students have made presentations on their own analysis of a proof, and are currently doing individual research on the properties of various polygons.
 – John Michel, Upper Division Head Teacher, Mathematics

The students in Business Math are learning how math applies to them, their futures, and their everyday lives. After learning about the importance of saving money (and effective ways to save), taxes, and budgeting, each student was given a real life scenario – a job, a family, a house or apartment – and asked to write a one-year budget for his or her life. Currently, the class is examining investing, and students are working on their own investment project. Future topics include loans and mortgages, bookkeeping and accounting, credit/credit cards, and retirement savings plans.
 – Jen Gold, Upper Division Head Teacher, Mathematics and Biology

New courses and new faculty are also bringing innovation to the upper school’s arts department.

This semester in the new woodworking course, students engaged in projects that emphasize practical knowledge, such as shop safety, understanding of wood and tool uses, joinery, and project procedures, while developing individual creativity and unique applications of these skills. In their first project, students deconstructed oak pallets and used hand tools and fasteners to “up-cycle” the wood into new creations, such as lamps, boxes, and model chairs. Currently, students are being introduced to the band saw with a focus on designing sculptural pieces that will make use of curves and layers. Upcoming units will include carving, finishing, and turning on the lathe.
 – Jeannine Armbruster, Upper Division Head Teacher, Visual Art

The digital arts and photography classes recently completed their study of sound art. Students were challenged to consider sound as a medium, much like painting or sculpture. The class listened to work by Italian Futurist composer Luigi Russolo and John Cage as they contemplated the sound of silence. Finally, the class examined the work of artists and musicians who use the medium of sound to engage with communities and promote equality. Each student made two different sound pieces. The first utilized recordings made during a “listening walk” the class took around the neighborhood. The second was a more personal piece made from recordings taken independently, over the course of a week of simply living their lives and listening. Students created “cover art” to further enhance the theme of their work. Since sound art is multidisciplinary in nature, the students are excited to explore a collaboration with the dance classes.
 – Caitlin Clifford, Upper Division Head Teacher, Visual Art

With nineteen distinct math and twelve visual and performing arts courses offered this year alone, these brief snapshots provide only a small cross section of the wide range of curricular offerings and learning experiences that our faculty provides. Innovation has become a hallmark of the upper school. Great schools are always working to become even better, and we strive every day to provide the fullest and richest educational experience possible for every student.

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