69 Trimesters Later, Eagle Rock is Still Offering Diverse Courses

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One of the many things at Eagle Rock School for which we’re recognized is the diversity of our classroom offerings. For instance, you won’t find many traditional high schools that offer a class in the politics of music. Or how about a class that explores the notion that our educational system is inequitable, and then empowers students to do something about it.

ER Blog Post Image June 2

Below, we present the first of two blog posts listing and describing the unique class offerings for the first half of ER 69 — the 69th trimester since Eagle Rock’s founding in the early 1990s:

Deeper Learning & Equity

Our educational system is inequitable, and there are numerous structures and tools that people use to address that fact. In this class, Eagle Rock School students are looking closely at these structures. That includes those “No Excuses” schools that are exceptionally strict and teach a traditional curriculum, as well as the “Deeper Learning” concept — where students study topics in depth and often do projects to make a change in their communities. Students plan and facilitate a retreat for educators who want to improve equity in their schools, and our students have the opportunity to support those schools next year through the work of our own Professional Development Center. The retreat will take place during the second five weeks of the summer, so students will have responsibilities after the five-week course ends. But it’s a window to making a real difference in education and gain amazing real-world skills.

Music Politics

How does Beyonce fit in the succession of powerful Black divas that preceded her? What does it mean that Justin Timberlake is producing a country album? In this class students are learning the history, economics, politics and cultural context of the music we all listen to. Popular music is more than just beats and lyrics. It is one of the best ways to understand the values, prejudices and fantasies of our culture. Students listen, analyze and discuss songs, thinking critically about race, gender, genre, technology, money and the stories of the artists behind the music. Each student is expected to create an audio project that reflects how a piece of music speaks to them using cultural context, politics and message.

The Unknown

Why study algebra? Is it to discover deeper truths of the universe? Or maybe prepare to increase skills necessary in the 21st century? Is the objective to do well on the SATs? This class focuses on social issues around math in the United States. Students are interviewing Eagle Rock staff, fellow students and community members, asking them how they use math in their day-to-day lives, and how they think algebraically. They are exploring the idea of math literacy as an important issue for communities to tackle together. And they are diving into the concept of algebra as the language and the building block of all higher mathematics. Algebra represents a major change in human thought — an increased level of abstraction that opened doors to discoveries in science and technology. Algebra allows a greater efficiency in communication. Equations, graphs, tables, and words are all used to tell the same stories and solve the same problems. Students hope to determine which is the most efficient.

For the Birds

In this introductory ornithology class students are learning how to identify and count birds in order to participate in an ongoing scientific research project called eBird. The classroom setting for this course is mostly outdoors and includes . Students are visiting popular birding sites along Colorado’s Front Range, including our own backyard here in Estes Park, in order to observe, identify and count as many different bird species as possible. In addition to that data collection, students are studying bird families, bird behavior and what these behaviors tell us about the health of the ecosystems in which they live. As a result of this class, eBird will be able to provide more rich data for information on bird abundance and distribution from our part of Colorado.

Living Off The Land

What did people 100, 200 and even a thousand years ago do to survive? How do people who currently live off of the land make it work? In this class, Eagle Rock School students are exploring primitive fire-making techniques, tool making, edible plant identification, creating primitive pottery and basket making. This class explores the notion that self-sufficiency in wilderness leads to personal empowerment. Class members are learning that they need all their senses to survive — and even thrive — with minimal modern equipment.

Physics Of Motion

How does a mountain bike work? What physical forces are at play while biking? In this class, students are experiencing how to ride a mountain bike, the proper maintenance of that bike — and also learning about the mechanics of cycling through math and physics. Our riders are learning Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, and it’s an on-the-job education. Half of the class time is spent completing labs that investigate forces, motion and the laws of physics as applied to the sport of mountain biking. The other half of the class is outdoors, riding the trails of Estes Park and learning how to take care for an optimal riding experience. The class is challenging to both the mind and the body.


In this class, students pick a field of research and then diligently investigate the topic, steadily progressing from a novice to an expert about that particular field. As a result, students are learning how to find and evaluate both print and digital sources, examining the main arguments, as well as the purposes and biases within them. They pull key ideas and details from the sources in notes that support the emerging research questions and claims. Then they synthesize and represent their growing body of knowledge in an organized way, eventually developing a thesis statement and writing a traditional research paper. Students are finding they need to be prepared to read carefully, write, rewrite and give and receive feedback on a daily basis.

Function and Form; 3-D Design

Is that table in the cafeteria a work of art? Is the mug you drank from this morning an example of craftwork? What about the handmade sweater you found in a thrift store? In this class Eagle Rock School students are exploring the differences between art and craft and ways to define those terms. Participants are creating projects using five craft materials: wood, glass, ceramics, fiber, and metal. They work with their hands in this class, using physical skills to build amazing artwork — and sometimes craft. In this sampler class, students make both sculptural and functional objects, and learn basic skills that can be fine-tuned to build even more complex projects at Eagle Rock in the future.

American Sign Language

In this class, students are becoming proficient in American Sign Language, building their vocabulary, hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate without speaking. Skills in sign language are being learned through games, fun activities — and hours of practice, with most classes operating without sound — no speaking! Students also learn about deaf culture and are communicating with various members of the deaf community in order to practice their new skills.

Dragonfly Citizen Science

Mercury is a heavy metal and not in a good way! It can be a global pollutant that threatens both humans and animals worldwide. As citizen scientists, our student participants are actively involved in a national project that is investigating the risk and transfer of mercury around food webs. The captivating dragonfly is the subject of study and the research takes place in Rocky Mountain National Park. We are discussing what mercury is, where it comes from and why national parks across the country are concerned about this element. We’re becoming experts on identifying dragonfly larvae (and other bugs or macroinvertebrates) and using sampling protocols to ensure the data we collect is accurate. Students are outdoors two or three mornings a week, touching bugs, hauling gear, hiking to some locations and getting wet. And so far, everybody’s enjoying the class.

Check back in early-July for a new rundown of classes being offered this trimester.

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Dan CondonAbout 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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