by Mark Blekherman, Summer EXPLORE Extern
Academy classes are at once engaging and educational. While sitting in on three classes two weeks ago, I was surprised by the instructors’ hands-on, student-centered approach to learning. Academy students arrive at conclusions through discussion and inquiry; rather than feeding the class answers and formulas, Academy instructors give students room to explore and discuss concepts. Coming from a boarding high school that emphasizes a collaborative, inquiry-based approach to learning, I was impressed to see classes with younger students using the same pedagogy.
Due to the interdisciplinary and interactive nature of these classes, students are able to apply what they learned to real-word scenarios, from using chemistry to prepare food to making video games in Java and Python. During a Primary Geometry class, for example, students learned about shapes by creating their own mini-boats out of foil and straws and testing them in a tub of water. The instructor used the most buoyant boats as a segue into a discussion about 3-D geometry, helping students visualize the intersection of geometry and the outside world. If you missed out on Primary Geometry, check out our new offering, Math Magic: Numbers up your Sleeve, a class offered in Summer Academy Session III.
In a Rocket to Calculus class, the instructor asked students to predict the path of a rocket using mathematical formulas before going outside to test their predictions with their own handmade rocket. Rather than plugging numbers into equations, the instructor helped students understand the origin and meaning of the formula. In both classes, the instructor made sure that each student had an equal opportunity to ask questions; due to the small class sizes and instructors’ approach to teaching, each student felt included and comfortable speaking up.
Although each Academy class has a structure and purpose, instructors are open to students’ suggestions and are there to engage their curiosity. On the last day of a Robotics class a few sessions ago, students were testing their robots when one came up with the brilliant idea of attaching pins to the front of the each robot and balloons to the back, then pitting the robots against each other. An eccentric way to test their robots, indeed, but the creative activity made for a memorable end to a Robotics class!
Classes are still open for Session II and III, so if you missed out on previous sessions, check out our offerings for this summer. In addition to our classic offerings of Video Game Design and Microbiology, we are excited to announce a handful of new classes, from Improv 101 to Creative Writing. Summer is only getting started, so we can’t wait to see you at Academy in the coming weeks!
Mark is an EXPLORE extern this summer at IEA. A Los Angeles resident, Mark will be a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy this fall.