When you get right down to it…all learning is exploration. Exploring what was discovered or will be discovered. What happened or will happen. What happens when I combine these numbers this way? Or those chemicals that way? What possibilities will open up to me if I learn this technology? Who will I reach if I express these thoughts? What beautiful sound will we create together if we ring these bells in this sequence or beat those drums in this rhythm? And what will I discover about my own possibilities? What hidden talents, natural inclinations, budding interests? Yes, all learning is exploration and all exploration is thrilling. It’s learning for the sheer joy of it (even if sometimes it’s also a little scary; the unknown always is). The NDP Middle School understands and embraces the concept of exploration. In fact, they think there is no better time than middle school to do just that. So, in addition to their regular core curriculum, they have added the aptly named Explore Courses. Throughout the year, every girl in the middle school takes a total of 4 Explore courses (each lasting approximately a quarter of the school year). The purpose of the courses is to extend and enrich the academic program and are non-graded, so there’s no pressure. They are offered as a means to expose the girls to arenas they might not otherwise be exposed to, to help them discover latent talent in themselves and awaken potential interests they didn’t know they had, as well as to develop skills they’ll need throughout their academic careers without taking valuable classroom time to do so. It’s a win-win strategy for everyone involved and the girls have taken to their Explore courses like ducks to water.
“The girls are absolutely on fire in these classes!” exclaimed Middles School teacher, Melinda Berger.
“It’s turned out to be an incredible service and support,” added Middle School Director, Sue Eisenhart. “It’s a chance to give them more. More of what they need in their graded classes, more opportunity to discover and develop interests, more chances to dip their toes before diving in.”
Take information literacy as an example.
“There’s always a tension between technology and class instruction,” explained Sue Eisnehart.
When the girls arrive at NDP as 6th graders, their information literacy skills are understandably under-developed. These are skills they’ll need throughout their academic career, however. Skills like how to research, how to discern what sources on the Internet are reliable and which aren’t, how to do presentations, etc. One of the Explore courses offered is technology/information literacy for 6th graders (Digital Magazine Design for 7th and Digital Imaging for 8th). Making this a non-graded course takes all the pressure off of the girls as they learn skills they’ll need for life and, as stated, saves time in the classroom during their core classes for concentrating on the material at hand. But some of the Explore courses are just pure fun and meant to enrich the girls’ overall school experience.
Sue explained: “Some of the course are just a way for the girls to discover what interests them…”
“Or to help them discover talents they didn’t know they had…” added Melinda with signature NDP enthusiasm.
The Hand Bell Choir is a perfect example of just that. The eighth graders learn how to play the hand bells and under the guidance of music teacher, Mr. Jerry Smith, have formed a Handbell Ensemble, which performs for the school on a regular basis.
“The girls love it! They can’t believe they can create such a beautiful sound together!”
“And it’s surprising how seriously they take it….”
“…Oh yeah! It’s not play time!…”
“You can practically see the smoke coming out of their ears,” laughed Middles School teacher, Mary Margaret McClurg, “their concentration on pitch, and posture, and timing is so focused.”
“It’s true. They have learned how interdependent they are on one another to get the sound just right,” added Sue. The athletes in the class really love it! It’s not something they would have ever been exposed to otherwise. It gives them an appreciation for art and music and it makes them more well-rounded.”
Another popular course is Ms. Susan Cahill’s Forensic Science Course in which the girls learn about such exciting and provocative things as observation skills, fingerprinting, and microscopic examinations.
Other Explore courses include Chinese, African Drums, Speech, Shalom, and Engineering & Architecture.
“But,” explained Sue Eisenhart, “Each year we look at the program and re-evaluate. We may add and subtract based on what we discover is important to their overall educational well-being or what interests pop up.”
“For instance,” Melinda said, “next year, we are looking at adding a course in Logic.” Pretty impressive for middle school, if you ask me. But another example of how NDP is always thinking ahead.
“We like to keep it fresh and relevant,” Sue confirmed.
Not to mention challenging, thrilling, and loads of fun! Just the way school should be…when you get right down to it.