For students of the course “Walk on the Wild Side” by Jan Dwinnells, teacher at Weare Middle School, locate animal tracks, dissect owl pellets, sort the bones of small animals into scientific categories and identify them. local plants that can be used for medicine or food have become a regular part of the school day.
During the warmer months, these students take “field trips” around the schoolyard, collecting leaves and native plants like dandelions and clovers and bringing them back to be researched and printed in booklets. . They also created models to show the wingspan of the raptors.
For Dwinnells, who grew up in Weare and has what she describes as a “genetic passion” for nature, the elective course is the perfect way to introduce her high school students to local plants and animals that they don’t know. may not know, and give them an appreciation for environmental conservation that will be valuable in the future.
âIf I can get the students to think about what is out there and recognize the plants and animals that are in the environment, the next step is to think about how we are preserving that,â Dwinnels said. “They will be responsible for this retention as voters in the future.”
Dwinnells’ elective class is part of Weare Middle School’s E3 program, which is pronounced “E-cubed” and means “Engage, Enrich and Extend”. Elective courses are back this year after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and are an alternative option for students who are not taking French or Spanish courses in the languages ââof the world. Elective courses are in many ways an exciting project for the teachers who lead them, as they often reflect a niche interest or part of their field that they usually don’t have the opportunity to explore.
Social science professor Brittany Philbert and science professor Claire Delay are team-teaching this year two courses titled âStories and Mysteriesâ and âUnsolved Mysteries in the Physical Worldâ, which examine everything from ghostly legends to real crime on the go. by the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Classes have students who research historical events, develop their own theories, and learn forensic science skills involved in solving crimes. The culminating activity? A mysterious mock murder sim, where students must identify the “killer” using crime scene investigation practices, interviews, and fingerprint analysis in the school lab.
Philbert said the course, which is new this year, allows her to move away from the simple norms of the social studies curriculum she takes in her other classes and focus on topics that are of frequent interest to students, but do not have time to delve into it.
“I find real crime and history in general interesting, I always wanted to teach a class where there was not only student buy-in, but also time and space to investigate things stories that I didn’t have time for in my own program, âsays Philbert.
Principal Shawne Hilliard began the E3 elective program shortly after becoming the school’s primary administrator in 2018, when Spanish was the only global language elective course on offer (the school has since added French). Hilliard noted that for the roughly 60% of seventh and eighth graders who were not enrolled in a language, classroom time was the only other option. She realized that electives that explored niche areas but interesting topics could be a great way to get students and teachers excited about class.
âEnthusiasm is contagious. When it’s really something [teachers] are passionate, that passion and commitment really connects with these students, âsaid Hilliard. “If we can give [students] an example of how learning is actually fun, then they can start to see how learning in other classes can be a fun and engaging experience as well.
Other electives at E3 this year include ‘Tools, Tech and Talk’ where students learn about hot air balloons, 3D printing, website design, planning and building a model city. and the use of tools. In the optional social studies course âConflict, Compromise and Cultureâ, students learn about historical conflicts, their consequences and their impact on our culture.
The electives were a great success among the students. According to Hilliard, 50% of seventh and eighth graders are currently enrolled in an E3 elective course this year, while the other 50% are taking a global language.
E3 electives took a hiatus in the 2020-2021 pandemic year, due to distance learning and also not wanting to mix up cohorts of students when they were in the building, according to Hilliard. This year, teachers say students are happy to be back and getting more hands-on learning after a year spent mostly online.
Dwinnells said she kept lecture-style teaching in “Walk on the Wild Side” to a minimum, instead giving students the opportunity to learn on their own and as a community through hands-on experience by performing projects and discussing them.
âIt’s front and center in my mind, being able to offer them something that they can actually do, see, touch and smell,â Dwinnells said.
E3 courses are also designed to acquire skills in areas where some students may fail. Most elective courses allow students to develop their communication skills by giving presentations on their research. Although Dwinnells’ class was science-oriented, she added nature books like Naughty and Call of the wild to improve English and reading skills.
âThey’ll be able to get into that class and really dig into some particular content, but we’ll align it to allow them to show off their skills in those other classes,â Hilliard said. âThat’s the goal of teaching skills. It’s about finding multiple ways for students to show us what they know and to show us that they really have that skill.