Class Spotlight: Big Issues

Picture of the map found in the classroom where the Big Issues class is held.

Picture of the map found in the classroom where the Big Issues class is held.

Out of the ever changing list of Village School electives, 2016’s spring semester features a Village favorite: Big Issues. Taught by Jeff Bernstein, students learn about some (big) issues happening in the world. This year, we started by learning LD (Lincoln Douglas Debate), a technique that helps us argue our points of view with supporting facts. The topics we discuss in class are chosen by students. For each topic, we are introduced to several examples, hold class discussions, and then complete writing assignments. The class is purposely set up in a way that forces students to depend entirely on the facts, rather than our opinions or personal biases.

A Village school senior, Jared Gomberg, who is currently enrolled in this class and has taken it before, says it is his favorite social studies elective. So far, his favorite part of class was an LD debate about whether or not violent crime against an oppressive government is okay. Other topics he is looking forward to exploring in debates are controversial issues such as abortion, gun control, the criminal justice system, the death penalty, and police brutality.

Class Profile: AP Environmental Science

Most of the AP Environmental Science class on a field trip to a sewage treatment plant.

Most of the AP Environmental Science class on a field trip to a sewage treatment plant.

By Jonah Wolmark

This year, Tobias Hatten has had the honour of teaching the first AP class to ever be offered at the Village School, and he’s done an amazing job at it so far. The AP Environmental Science class is an extremely difficult, yet extremely fun and interesting 2-semester course on anything anyone could want to know about the environment, and some more! Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview Toby about the class and his thoughts on it.

Jonah: What gave you the idea to teach AP Environmental Science?

Toby: The students. They needed a challenge. They needed to have a taste of college classes.

J: Why Environmental Science instead of any other AP?

T: It allows students to see the impact we can have in a negative and positive way to sustain the future.

J: What was the reaction from the rest of the staff when they heard that you are teaching an AP course?

T: Curiosity. (After asked to elaborate, Toby kindly declined.)

J: How difficult was it for you to prepare to teach the class?

T: Difficult. It took a lot of summer time. I’d say it was about 10 hours a week.

J: What topics have been covered in the class so far?

T: Ecology, water resources and pollution, economics, geologic hazards.

J: What has been your favourite topic to teach in the class?

T: I liked energy. I like to see the environmental impact that all our small actions make and I love to quantify it.

J: Do you think the students are well prepared to take the AP exam?

T: Yeah. I’m not too worried about that.

J: Do you have plans to teach any other AP courses in the future?

T: I think I’d need to discuss it with the faculty, but yeah.

Class Profile: Street Law

Interview by Max Cruz

This is Jeff.

This is Jeff.

One of the classes that Jeff teaches is Street Law. This a class that will really have an impact on students even when they graduate from school (hopefully assuming that they all graduate). Being in this class, it’s rather curious how the minds of the students are blown every lesson.

Once you think you know something, another student’s view could flip the way you think about that topic. I had a chance to interview Jeff this week. Note that Jeff is a very busy man. This interview is completely unaltered and unedited.

Max: Jeff, what do feel is the importance of teaching this class?

Jeff: To teach students how to understand how the law works.

Max: Do you think students will be applying what they learn in this class to real life situations?

Jeff: Yes.

Max: Do you think these lessons will have an impact on the way people think of the law?

Jeff: Yes.

Max: What subjects will you be covering in the class?

Jeff: The law.

Max: Thank you Jeff.

Jeff: You’re welcome.

 

 

Class Profile: Anti-War Literature

Sam Yellis has been teaching a class that has caught the attention of many of our students. This class, Anti War Literature, has been an interesting experience for its students. I decided to find out a little bit more about this class, so I sat down with the man himself to ask him a few questions.

Sam Yellis, instructor of "Anti-War Literature".

Sam Yellis, instructor of “Anti-War Literature”.

James: What is this class all about?

Sam: It’s using books and poems and other forms of literature that have a distinctly anti-war theme that point out the folly of war.

James: What literature have you been examining?

Sam: So far we have been reading “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trombo and we have used that to Segway into the song “Marching to Waltzing Matilda”

James: Is any of the literature examined fiction?

Sam: Yes, Johnny Got His Gun is a novel.

James: Are there any particular wars you focus on?

Sam: So far World War I, it was a particularly noxious event that has been focused on by a lot of writers. But we will move forward not just into World War II, but Vietnam and our forays into Iraq.

James: What does a typical class look like?

Sam: There are times when we read from books aloud in class and discuss, as well as times where we just discuss various themes.

James: Does it ever get intense?

Sam: It’s always kind of intense… When you hear people singing about getting their legs blown off, it tends to leave an impression. I want it to be intense because I want to impart the idea that war is so intense that it needs to be avoided at all costs.

Sam’s students enjoy the class and actively participate in discussion. Many have strong opinions about the topic, and it becomes an interactive learning experience for everybody. Through this class, Village School students have been enriching their knowledge and understanding of the nature of war.

Class Spotlight: Sports Physics

Interview by Dustin Schwartz

Sports serve as a great jumping off point for the study of physics.

Science teacher, Tobias Hatten, is teaching Physics through the lens of sports.

For this week’s Class Spotlight, I sat down with Toby to speak to him about his new class, Sports Physics, a new science elective he is teaching this semester.

D: What inspired you to teach this class?

T: I wanted to make physics really interesting and in engaging. I think a lot of people watch sports whether it’s the main four, or different sports. They’ve all seen sports and kind of take what they know already and use it to show them how they can apply it towards physics and expand their basic knowledge from physics as they go to college.

D: What kind of activities do you plan on doing with your class?

T: Oh! I definitely want to start with races, then we’ll go into hopefully shooting some basketballs [to demonstrate] projectile motion. We may get into momentum with a pool. That would be pretty fun.

D: Are you planning any big projects or field trips?

T: I am planning big projects and that’s going to definitely come towards video analysis using the tools we have towards recording some sort of sports movement and trying to break it down from a physics stand point. Trips, I’m not sure if we’ll be doing any trips. We’ll be doing trips around [the Village campus] but I’m not sure about trips outside of here.

D: How is your class going so far?

T: So far, it’s going really well. I think that the students are taking to the math problem solving and hopefully giving them a taste of [a typical] first semester college course, when they get to college and take physics.

D: Thank you for your time.

Class Profile: Sports Literature

By Jared Gomberg

MV5BMjA5NDMzNjg2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQ4MzI1MDE@._V1_SY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_At Village School, there are always interesting electives offered each semester. Since my time as a student, there have been electives focusing on ornithology, car engineering, and even the history and culture of China. This semester, a new English elective caught my attention.

While my schedule didn’t allow me to take this class, I was able to sit down and speak with  Lauren Gengo—the teacher of Sports Literature—about this new offering.

Lauren summed up her motivation to teach this class by saying, “Some of the things I wanted to explore why we play sports, why we watch sports, why they’re such a major part of American culture.  I’m also interested in looking at sports hero’s through the lens of literary themes and lenses like the tragic hero and the American Dream”.

The class will explore these topics through literature and films, which is an interesting way of looking at sports. Some of the books they will sample from are, It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, and despite Lauren’s “slight bias” towards one of her favorite athletes, it is an interesting story.  They will also be reading parts of Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis, and, The Natural,  by Bernard Malamud. Some films they will view are Remember the Titans, The Armstrong Lie, and 42.

One of the main questions that will be asked in this class is, “Is it an athlete’s responsibility to be a role model for a society?”  In this day and age, we tend to elevate professional sports players to god-like levels. Is the pressure that comes with being a pro- football player, an Olympic runner or a NBA Champion in addition to the pressure to serve as a role model for everyone just too much?

What Would You Do?

By BrittAnnie Spuhler

Students at work in Jeff Bernstein's 'Ethics' class at Village School

Students at work in Jeff Bernstein’s ‘Ethics’ class at Village School

Imagine you are driving a trolley and you see five workers on the tracks ahead. You try to stop but the brakes aren’t working. If you continue straight you will kill all five workers. Then, you notice a sidetrack to the right with only one worker on it. Do you continue straight and kill all five workers or turn right and kill only one? Most people might say to go right and take only one life rather than five.

​Now, imagine you are standing on a bridge. You look down and see a trolley, unable to stop, heading straight toward five workers on the track. You notice next to you is a very fat man leaning over the edge to get a better look too. If you push him off of the edge of the bridge and onto the tracks, you will stop the trolley from killing the five workers, but at the cost of the fat man’s life. Do you kill him? Is it still ethical to take one man’s life over five?

​This is just one of the many hypothetical questions that are discussed daily in Jeff Bernstein’s “Ethics” class. The class is based around what YOU would do, and why.  ​“This is not a typical history class where you’re looking at the past and there’s a set of facts,” Jeff points out, “this is the kind of class where you have to constantly ask yourself, ‘Hmm, what do I think about this and why’, and it’s the ‘why’ that’s really important.”

​Currently, the class is watching an online Harvard course, taught by Michael Sandel, that raises a lot of abstract philosophical questions. In each section they talk about real-life situations, and as the class progresses they will start applying the philosophies they discuss to real current events and political decisions.

​The class has become quite popular. Some students who are not in the class will ask Jeff if they can sit in and participate. Students often chat with their friends about the hypothetical situations, philosophies, and moral standpoints, bringing class discussion outside of the classroom.

This exciting class is not new to Village. Jeff has taught Ethics three times. Jeff regards it to be a very thought provoking class for both the students and himself, and it’s a class he can enjoy teaching each time.
“One of the things that fascinates me about this class is, every time I teach it, I find that I begin to look at things a little differently and ask myself different questions.” said Jeff.

It’s very rare to have a high school class where your participation counts more than tests, and homework assignments are for you to write your own opinions. Being a class based around debate on topics that generally have no right or wrong answer, you might wonder how class discussion doesn’t turn into real arguments.
“So far, there has been less arguing then I’ve experienced in the past,” Jeff said as he recalled the first time he had ever taught Ethics. There was a situation where two students were having a debate in class and one student ran outside, grabbed a handful of dirt, and then threw it at the other student. “People can get emotional when we talk about specific situations.”

Although debating can be a big factor of the class, most of the students can agree that it is their favorite part of Ethics.
“We debate, we argue, we interrupt each other, we fight. It’s fun,” said senior, Laura Li.
Another student, Henry Merritt (senior), said his favorite part was getting to voice his opinion and getting to hear his classmates’ voice theirs. “You get everyone’s point of view of how they perceive the different situations, and sometimes you completely disagree with the person. But then, you understand and relate because they say why they have that opinion and the moral principles behind it. It really makes you think.”

Even though the class is mostly students arguing their opinions, that isn’t the point of Ethics class. According to Jeff, the primary goal of the class is for students to become more reflective about how they make decisions and evaluate situations.  “It’s about getting students to look at larger questions of morality and how to make decisions that people have to make in life, both at a personal level and a policy level because, after all, one of our jobs as teachers is to educate you to be a good citizen in this democracy. When you graduate and become a voter, you’re going to constantly be asked to evaluate political decisions, policies, and candidates. And, hopefully, you’ll develop a way to think about these things.”

Eleventh grade student, Christopher Helms, said he has already seen a change in how he processes situations, “I was wrong about how much knowledge I would gain from the class. I learned a lot more than I anticipated I would.”
When it comes to opinions, everyone has their own, and in this class, everyone is willing to share. There are no right or wrong opinions when it comes to Ethics class. It’s just a matter of getting people to think beyond their initial reactions and, most importantly, begin to understand other peoples’ point of views regardless of whether or not you agree.