“Teachers in departments work together about an interesting idea for a course... It could be anything from an eleventh grade course or a senior elective,” said Dean of Academics, David Harpin. “The department discusses the class together and determines the ways in which it aligns with its mission as a department.”
Once an idea has been formed, it progresses to the next level of inspection. “It goes to the Academic Policy Committee, which is made up of all the department heads, and they look at it from the perspective of the school’s mission,” said Harpin. The Academic Policy Committee will then recommend suggestions to strengthen the course or reject the proposal.
One recent elective that was debated by the Academic Policy Committee is a new history elective called “Human Rights and the Politics of Music.” Some thought that its proposed curriculum was close to the also-proposed art elective called “The Roots of American Popular Music.” Both of these courses are interdisciplinary-they include elements of both art and history. “We found a way to make it work, and I think it has been very successful,” said Harpin.
Once a proposed elective has the committee’s support, it is voted on by the entire faculty. “In November, we have a faculty meeting to discuss all the proposed new courses, and it is often a pretty heated debate,” said Harpin. If a class is approved, the department develops a specific curriculum and works out the logistical details to put the class into motion. History teacher Richard Thornburgh said, “The curriculum for Human Rights and the Politics of Music came from creative historical and musical research on my behalf, but I also had help from some faculty members. My interest in musicology provided me with a good foundation for possibilities.”
One elective that is currently in development is Design Engineering. This new interdisciplinary elective will be team-taught by both a science teacher and an art teacher. “Students can either take it for a science or an art credit, which could be a big help for students that are not quite as artistic and have more of a knack for science,” said Physics teacher Christian Multunas, who will teach the class with Architecture teacher Derek Byron. “Students will be given opportunities to build and design things that will hopefully become an actual model involving not only scientific thinking, but also a beauty aspect,” said Multunas. “Some schools try to separate art and science as being incompatible, but there is a lot of overlap, especially in the professional world.”
Sometimes, the addition of a new class causes the termination of a different class. For example, this past year, the Hopkins Authentic Research Program replaced BioChemistry. However, swapping is not always the rule. “We do make exceptions if we think it is in the best interest of the school and the students,” said Harpin. “With high level language courses, it used to be that if you got up to Level Five, then you had to ask a teacher to do an independent study, but then we added a seminar, so that there’s always a class in language for students to take.”
Advanced Placement Computer Science is another example of a course that did not replace an old one. “I really like how we learn by creating projects and solving tasks. I really enjoy it because we code different things: a credit card verification system, a game, Mario,” said Dunia Habboosh ’17. “Being able to program is a skill that’s going to be very important to have in the future so it’s great that it’s offered in high school. I definitely think I’ve strengthened my coding skills in this class and am better at solving complex problems.”
Among other new electives to be piloted next Spring is the Humanities Symposium: African-American History and Literature. This class will be team-taught by both an English and History teacher, but students will receive credit in both departments and the class will be taught during two different blocks. “The course will be discussion based, reading works of literature from the African American community and tradition as well as studying and discussing the history surrounding the literature,” said Harpin. “It is a truly interdisciplinary course, and one of the most innovative ones that we have.”