Best of both worlds: merging two educational spheres into one class

Sara Yang

World Studies offers sophomores interdisciplinary opportunity, combines core classes




History teacher Hilary Maxwell currently teaches five sophomore World History classes. Next school year, she and literature teacher Jackie Kolbeck will be collaborating to teach two World Core class periods. Photo by Kevin Tsukii.When he was in high school, history teacher Nick Bonacorsi took AP US History. His teacher forever impacted his outlook on teaching—Bonacorsi vowed that he would never be as boring a teacher. But in a traditional classroom setting, he admits that there is minimal wiggle room when it comes to cutting out the “boring” lectures. Fortunately for Bonacorsi, the new World Studies class that he is teaching next year does not equate to a traditional classroom setting.

In the coming school year, sophomores will be enrolled in the recently-introduced World Studies and World Core courses, offered in addition to the current World History and World Literature options. Similar to the junior American Studies class, both World Studies and World Core focus on integrating the standard world history and literature curriculum. Although the core World History and World Literature classes will continue to be offered, World Studies has already proved to be in high-demand.

Both courses are based on similar themes—one set of classmates, two teachers, two consecutive class periods, and two subjects blended into one curriculum. But in terms of class set-up, World Studies emulates the American Studies model with 64 students in one classroom, whereas World Core maintains the traditional two separate classrooms and periods.

The school decided to pursue both course options at a joint-department meeting with assistant principal Trudy Gross in November 2010. Yet according to history teacher Nick Bonacorsi and literature teacher Matt Brashears, who will be teaching World Studies, the idea of combining subjects had been discussed between departments within the last few years as teachers noticed natural connections between the two disciplines. The success of the current American Studies class and the sophomore World Core class, which has been offered at Cupertino High School for the past 18 years, influenced the final decision.

Gross reported that given the nature of these pilot programs, the departments decided to organize one class’ worth of students per course. World Studies was publicized at the course selection fair; because the World Core periods would theoretically appear like any other classes, the course was left unmentioned for the time being.

Yet an overwhelming five sections of students signed up for World Studies during March 2011 course selection, and one class would only accommodate two of the five sections. Though Gross had initially planned to load the two World Core class periods as she would with any other classes, she instead pulled students from the remaining pool of World Studies sign-ups via lottery system.

Twelve students did not initially receive either World Studies or World Core on their sophomore schedules. Students were informed of the arrangements through School Loop messages. According to Gross, as of May 6, two students had requested to be dropped from World Studies, and nine students from World Core. She plans to fill the remaining spots for World Core with the wait-listed students.

“I know that World Core is not World Studies because if kids really did want that blended group, two-teachers-in-one-room [atmosphere], it’s not that,” Gross said. “But I feel like it’s a nice option because from the standpoint of a blended curriculum, you are getting that.”

World Studies will be taught by Bonacorsi and literature teacher Matt Brashears. World Core will be taught by history teacher Hilary Maxwell and literature teacher Jackie Kolbeck, who both happened to take the course at Cupertino High School as sophomores. Despite their separate classroom environments, the teachers have been collaborating during the planning process and the underlying concepts of the two classes remain the same.

For example, both courses currently feature a unit including ‘Lord of the Flies’ and the Enlightenment philosopher period.

“Talking about what it means to govern ourselves and different philosophical viewpoints… that sort of lens can then be applied to ‘Lord of the Flies,’” Kolbeck said. “Understanding how the boys failed to govern themselves and how they reacted in a sort of mob setting and how that kind of represents society as a whole.”

According to Maxwell, the teachers hope to foster an in-depth sense of learning amongst the students. World Studies will include several collaborative group projects; World Core will assign dual assessments like essays requiring an integrated display of history and literature information.

“Hopefully it’s a higher level of thinking… not just, ‘Okay, this is my history mode, this is my literature mode,’” Maxwell said. “We’re trying to help them develop skills as an overall student, not just as a student in history or literature.”

World Core teachers Maxwell and Kolbeck will follow a more chronological progression in their course, while World Studies teachers Bonacorsi and Brashears are designing the class to be more thematic in nature. Their current lesson plan includes, for instance, a revolutions unit spanning from the origins and development of uprisings in colonial America to modern Egypt and Tunisia.

Both teaching teams aim to incorporate more current events into lesson plans in order to add a more relevant, worldly-application aspect to the course.

“There’s not something you can interpret just using one set of information,” Brashears said. “Like the wave of revolutions in the Middle East, you can’t just look at that from a history perspective and say, ‘Oh this is what’s happening’ … You’re missing out on some of it.”

Despite these changes, both World Studies and World Core curricula remain variations of the original World History and World Literature classes—the same content, but repackaged.

“It shouldn’t be any easier, it shouldn’t be any harder, it should just be different,” Bonacorsi said. “Hopefully that attracts those types of learners that learn best in that environment.”
 

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