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Countdown to Culminations: Middle School Electives
Director of Communications Antonia Ehlers, Editorial Manager Rachel Freeman, & Digital Videographer/Storyteller Mitzi Mock

As December rolls around, different communities celebrate different traditions. At Nueva, the Middle and Upper School divisions celebrate a tradition that is core to our culture: culminations. These evening events showcase the depth and breadth of student work, giving our families insights into classroom learning and student passions. 

In anticipation of our electives culminations, we’ll be sharing stories from our Middle and Upper School electives in Nueva Notes and on Instagram this month. This week, we’re spotlighting a few courses from the Middle School; these projects and more will be on display during our elective culmination night at 6:00 pm on Friday, December 13, at the Hillsborough campus.

Nueva/Stanford Earth Science Collaboration

Two years ago, Stanford earth science professor Leif Thomas brought Nueva I-Lab teacher Al Davies a challenge: How could he make a fluid dynamics machine — expensive equipment used by universities to demonstrate the fluid mechanics in weather patterns and ocean phenomena — less costly and more accessible to schools everywhere?

Starting in the summer of 2018, Al and a group of seventh graders took on this challenge, working throughout the 2018–2019 school year, attracting new classmate collaborators along the way. This year, Al formalized this passion project into an official elective, giving students even more time to hone their prototype. Their goal: to create a product that costs around $200 to build and make the design available to other schools.

“We’re making something tangible that can actually be used by other people,” said eighth grader Adam K., who was eager to use his coding skills to support the machine’s data-gathering function.

“They have to understand the parameters of the consumer and the budget,” said Al. “They learn that the last 3 percent of the process takes 90 percent of the time.” 

Eighth grader Lauren S. thinks her classmates are up to the challenge. She’s been working on the project since last year, guiding the project through several iterations. 

“We want to design something that is ideal for the classroom and then show other schools how to teach with it,” she said.

Yarn Crafts: Knitting, Crochet, Macrame

Fifth grader Benji W. always wondered how sweaters came to be.

“I would look at the stitches and think, ‘How did someone make that?’” he said.

This quarter, Benji and classmates have the opportunity to learn this art in Yarn Crafts, an elective where students learn the basics of knitting, crochet, and macramé. After learning fundamental stitches and knots, students pursue projects of their choice. Projects this quarter have included blankets, wall art, plant hangers, and multiple Santa hats. 

The elective is taught by math teacher Kim Harris, and Benji quickly noticed a connection between yarn projects and math skills.

“Crocheting is both mathematical and architectural,” he said. “You have to plan your patterns. When do you use a single stitch versus a double stitch? It has to hold together.” 

Math skills aside, Benji feels the class’s greatest gift is the skill to make gifts for others.

“My mom has a blanket with the same stitches we learned in class,” he noted. “Now I’m crocheting a similar blanket for my baby sister. When I get older, it will be like this little trick I can pull out of my pocket — I can turn a ball of yarn into a blanket or a doll. It feels empowering.”

Reimagining Superheroes and Fairy Tales

Imagine Cinderella is now named Edward and he’s searching for Prince Charming, or Captain America is now Stella Rogers, or Malala Yousafzai is inspiration for a character named Aliya, a member of the newly-created Social Justice League. These are just some of the ways students have rewritten their favorite superheroes and fairy-tale characters as part of the fifth- and sixth-grade elective, Reimagining Superheroes and Fairy Tales.

“In this class, we are trying to conquer the stereotypes that we see in movies and books,” said student Alex D. “This is hard to do because these ideas have been set in our brains since we were little, and we have to figure out how to get rid of the stories in our head.”

Students began by reading, watching, and analyzing these stereotypes in various pieces of literature and multimedia, and then spent time brainstorming and rewriting their own stories, plays, and pieces of art. Reid D. has created a comic about the Social Justice League. He said, “Comics don’t usually embody all different types of people. The gimmick of comics is that the superheroes protect people, but they haven’t traditionally protected all people and then they end up being just like the villains. My superheroes are designed to protect all people.” 

Added teacher Lissie McAlvey, “I got the idea for this class from a professional development opportunity I had last spring. The overarching question I want students to answer is, ‘How can we reimagine the world where we center differences and make those differences powerful?’ The students came into this elective with an instantaneous overflow of ideas. They have demonstrated a keen awareness of traditional stereotypes found in fairy tales and superhero tales, and they’re excited to reimagine these tales we all know and love.”

Economics: A Study of Choices

During a natural disaster, if you owned a hardware store, would it be immoral to raise the price of flashlights?

Students in Patrick Berger’s Economics: A Study of Choices class explored that scenario on the heels of the California power outages. Not surprisingly, the answers were mixed, which led to some interesting class discussions!

In this elective, seventh and eighth graders explore a wide variety of topics in theoretical and applied microeconomics and macroeconomics.

“Students begin the quarter by working through the fundamentals of supply curves, the determinants of demand curves, and eventually working to create presentations on different market structures,” Patrick said. “This is an economic survey course on a variety of economic subfields. It’s fun to stir the pot as our students explore economic inequality, international trade, debt and education, and international climate change negotiations.”

What this class is: a melting pot of intellectual curiosity. What this class is not: a course on personal finance.

“All sorts of subtopics are discussed,” noted eighth grader Olivia C. “These range from the GDPs of countries to the importance of the middle wage in economics. Many middle schoolers are unaware of things as simple as the daily news around the world, and economics class helps to broaden our knowledge.”

The hypothetical flashlight scenario led to discussions about setting limits on flashlight prices, silent auction bids on flashlights, and even monitoring flashlights on the black market.

“This class is so engaging for me,” said Christine Z. “We learn through hands-on, game-based activities. The model/simulation of a flashlight market demonstrated the concept of a perfectly competitive market, which was better than reading articles.”

“The students in this class are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen,” Patrick added. “They are so intelligent and inquisitive, and it makes me feel very optimistic about the future of this program.”



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