It’s no surprise that young adults thrive on choice. Choice is a key component in developing autonomy and independence in young minds. Daniel Pink, bestselling author of Drive, says it well, “This is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.”
This is the exact thinking behind the Santa Barbara Middle School’s Elective program. Students at Santa Barbara Middle School experience a total of 11 elective classes each year. Eight of these eleven classes fall into their afternoon Monday – Thursday afternoon class schedule. Students will have a chance to choose different elective classes four times during the course of the school year.
The remaining elective classes take place on Friday afternoons and are creative and athletic classes designed to allow both teacher and student to delve deeper into an area of particular passion or interest.
Personal passion and innate curiosity are the only requirements students need to enroll in these high-interest classes that embody digital arts (Flash animation, photography, music & video editing), music and theater (Rock Jam, guitar, songwriting, drama), community service, arts (print making, 3D art, comic drawing, knitting, drawing & painting), journalism (Teen Press, “The Fire:” school newspaper), science exploration and a variety of both low and high impact sports.
SBMS is currently excited to roll out a new “passion track” of STEM and STEAM elective classes next quarter. Both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) focus new learning on creative problem solving and design projects that utilize mathematical and engineering types of thinking.
The Intro to Robotics class is designed for students that are new to the world of robotics. Students will use new Mindstorms EV3 kits, and will familiarize themselves with the programming software to build robots with unique functions and capabilities.
3D Printing is another one of SBMS’s STEM-related elective offerings. Although, it’s true that 3D printing has been around for a number of years, in recent years it has started to become a standard curriculum offering in science/STEM classrooms.
In the 3D printing elective students will have the ability to print objects for a variety of purposes using a 3D CAD drawing program such as Tinkercad, Sketchup, or Solidworks. These programs enable the young engineers to convert objects to a file the 3D printer can read, and then they just allow the printer to run the job.
“This class is designed in a way for students to study the modeling of scientific concepts, as well as just have fun tinkering and experimenting by creating something new based on student interest,” says Jesse Kasehagen, seventh grade science teacher and instructor for this class.
Doug Whetter, an engineer by trade and parent volunteer at the school, teaches an Arduino Tech class Friday afternoons. In his class student have programmed a blinking LED, replicated a stop light by using a red, yellow and green LED timed to simulate a traffic light, and programmed a 32/64 LED strip. Students are able to choose the colors and patterns of the LEDs. They also use various sensors (light, sound, distance) and potentiometers to control the LED strip.
Whetter says, “Next, I have a Pong program which the kids can change to personalize the game. This will introduce the students to a matrix and how to program it.”
“You get the source code and then the fun begins,” say Samir Beal, a 6th grade student in Whetter’s Arduino class. “We explore and code different programs – like flashing lights and different colors, and that is what is really fun.”
Beal does add, however, “The debugging process is time consuming!”
A favorite STEAM class is the Music + Video Editing class taught by an SBMS alum and local musician, Zach Wallace. This class focuses on the essentials of Logic Pro X for music production and Final Cut Pro for video editing. Students make their own music and match it with existing videos that they think visually capture what their music expresses sonically. Working in teams or working individually, students are excited and proud of their musical engineering feats.
Through music and video composition, arrangement and recording in SBMS’s new state of the art studio, this particular class has generated a creative collection of aspiring young artists who want to take their craft and compositions to the highest levels of production.
This class has been named, “The Phoenix Project” and uses all of the available technologies, intent on inspiring students to explore many other aspects of music production, such as graphic design and layout, video production, web presence and live performance arts!
Marco Andrade, SBMS Spanish teacher and Director of the SBMS music program, envisions the new studio and “The Phoenix Project” itself to be an interactive, collaborative venue for the entire Santa Barbara youth music scene.
More elective choices in creative problem solving and scientific and engineering design is what the already extensive SBMS Elective program is on track to deliver. The goal is a future generation filled with autonomous thinkers, designers, creative visionaries and problem solvers prepared for jobs that are yet to even exist.