From Dragonfly Citizen Science to Sacred Places

Dan Condon
Dan Condon

ER 66 classes (the 66th semester in Eagle Rock School’s illustrious history going back to September of 1993) get underway this week. And as you might expect of us, this wouldn’t be Eagle Rock if we didn’t present our students with an assortment of progressive class offerings from which to choose.

As you’ll see, you’re probably not going to find these particular classes offered at your traditional high school, but perhaps — depending on the school’s vision, goals and objectives — the possibility exists. And that’s really the point of blog posts like this one… to inspire educators around the nation with concrete examples of classes aimed at reengaging the disengaged.

With that in mind, what we have for you today is a Part One of a two-part series detailing this trimester’s classes here at the Eagle Rock School.

Come the end of June — the halfway mark of this trimester — I’ll be back to present you with a whole new list of classes that we’re offering for the second five-week stretch of ER 66.

Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of 10 classes being offered right now:

Hip Hop Odyssey

In this class, students gain an understanding of the power of words through exploring the impact of spoken word and hip-hop. Through learning about the history of various forms of art expression (e.g., spoken word, djing, graffiti, mcing, b-boying) students become informed enough to craft their own message as they speak for themselves and those who have no voice. The class includes a travel component where students travel to local and national venues to practice spoken word (sometime called “slam poetry”) and hip-hop.

P1080279Sacred Spaces

In this class students gain knowledge about the significance of sacred spaces for different people and cultures through researching and visiting sacred spaces in our area (Colorado’s Front Range) and observing how these sites are utilized. We read and watch videos on the diversity of sacred spaces in different cultural and spiritual practices, with reflections and journal entries addressing the application and value of sacred spaces in moral and faith development. Activities include creating a personal sacred space, creating or renewing a shared sacred space here on Eagle Rock’s mountainside campus, and traveling to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (located in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border) to extend our experience about sacred spaces recognized and valued by the Oglala Lakota people.

Run for your Life

Running is among the most basic of human functions. It allows us to cover distance at speed, be it for sport or for fitness or out of necessity. Whether students love to run, hate to run, or have never given it a real chance, this class helps Eagle Rock students discover the beauty of movement and tap into that natural and simple piece of your humanity. In this class students learn how their body changes and adapts to stress and work. We track students’ running statistics on a daily basis, analyze running form and learn how to develop a workout plan to help class participants achieve their goals. In this 10-week course, students run almost every day — rain or shine, on or off trail — with the goal of participating in running events ranging from 5k to half-marathon distance races. Students use data from their own running experiences to track improvement, create training objectives, and make predictions about their running performance and future health.

For the Birds

In this introductory ornithology (the study of birds) class, students are learning to identify and count birds in order to participate in an ongoing scientific research project called eBird that’s coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Classroom time is spent mostly outdoors on bird walks, with students visiting popular birding sites here in Estes Park and along the Front Range. Student research includes observing, identifying and counting as many different bird species as possible. In addition to research, students are studying bird families, bird behavior and what the birds tell us about the health of the ecosystems in which they live.

Dragonfly Citizen Science

Mercury is a global pollutant that threatens both humans and animals worldwide. As citizen scientists, Eagle Rock students have the exciting opportunity to be involved in a national project coordinated by the National Park Service by investigating the risk and transfer of mercury around food webs. The captivating dragonfly is the subject of our studies as we research and volunteer in Rocky Mountain National Park. When participating in this class, students discuss what mercury is, where it comes from, and why National Park personnel around the country care about this. Students also become experts on identifying dragonfly larvae (and other bugs or macroinvertebrates), taking water samples and using sampling protocols. Students are outside two or three mornings a week, gathering data, touching bugs, hauling gear/equipment, hiking to some locations, and getting wet.

Courageous Conversations

Building off the series of Courageous Conversations about racial identity that students have experienced so far this trimester, this class gives them the tools (facilitating and digital editing skills) to organize and keep having these conversations. (For the uninitiated, Creative Conversations is a protocol for engaging, sustaining and deepening dialogue about race, and an essential tool for effectively examining organizational culture and addressing racial disparities.) To do this, students develop questions that can help them discuss and record a video diary about a part of their own racial identity. Later, students will facilitate a Socratic seminar around a topic that relates to racial identity in our community. Finally, students will put together all these skills (digital editing, facilitation, learning more about identity) to host a Courageous Conversation for the Eagle Rock learning community.

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Data Analysis

In this class, students explore data sets, looking for patterns and using statistics to answer student-generated questions. Each student explores a question, using research data to help them answer the question. Students analyze the data and use it to communicate that new knowledge using infographics, written articles, and blog posts. Experts in the field, peers and Eagle Rock staff review student work and provide feedback as a means to revise that work.

Sounds in the Movies

Here, students explore how sound plays a role in shaping our response to the movies we watch, and they’re doing it in multiple ways. They start by examining key scenes that fuse movie and sound to create powerful responses. After that, the students move into looking at the process of how movie sounds are made and then research the diverse ways that there are to be a musician. To close the course, students recreate all the sounds (sound effects, dialogue and music) for a movie scene to transfer all the intellectual work they’ve been doing into a creative product.

Hot Summer Sands

In this class, students are working to impress both themselves and their friends as they learn how to create art with two mediums — clay and glass. Students examine and investigate how the relationship between the form and content of a work of art determines whether the art effectively communicates a specific thought or message. Students enrolled in this class learn clay hand- building techniques, and how to work on the potter’s wheel. They decorate their ceramics with a variety of surface decorations including glass. Students make beads with a flaming torch by twisting hot glass. And they’re entering a world of art that relies on sand and heat in order to make their artistic dreams come true.

Gender and Violence

Gender is among the most powerful components of a person’s identity expression, yet we are conditioned to fit into certain molds based on societal expectations. How do students’ perceptions of their own gender identity impact their actions? How do other people’s perceptions of their gender expression impact student opportunities? What about student safety? This class explores the ways violence is used as a tool to maintain control and preserve power at direct, cultural and structural levels. In this class, students use text, multimedia and performance art to explore how violence is used to sustain gender inequality around the world.

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About The Author:  Dan Condon is an education activist who currently serves as  associate director of professional development at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center. Dan’s writing has been featured online in The Huffington Post and in print in the 2014 National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) Yearbook that’s entitled Engaging Youth in Schools: Empirically-Based Models to Guide Future Innovations.

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