The Berkeley Carroll School
Depth Over Breadth
When students study Human Anatomy and Physiology, they constantly make connections to daily life. “I would be walking upstairs to class,” says Catherine McWilliams’ ‘11, “and be conscious of my knees bending and my leg muscles working, and I’d think ‘I understand the physiological processes my muscles are undergoing!’ And when my stomach growled during my last class of the morning? I’d think, ‘Now I know what’s going on in there, too!’”
Upper School science teacher Jessica Smith loves biology. Her students had always been successful in the AP Bio course, but when Berkeley Carroll moved beyond AP’s, Smith developed the Human Anatomy and Physiology to focus on depth-over-breadth. It used to be that “human anatomy and physiology” was one unit of the entire curriculum; now, says Smith, she can spend an entire semester delving into this area that intrigues students and engages them in a way not previously possible.
Henry Schwab knows this first hand: “I took AP Bio in 11th grade, and I liked it a lot, but now I realize, ‘Wait, we took AP Bio and we didn’t really know what a muscle did. I mean, enough to answer the AP questions on it, but not deeply.’ Now that I’ve taken Human Anatomy and Physiology, you could ask me about how a muscle works and I’d really be able to explain it to you.’”
Another popular elective emphasizing depth-over-breadth is Science in the 21st Century. The course asks students to apply what they learn about science to policy decisions facing us today. For example:
You are building a green power plant. In your search for venture capital, you’ve been asked to prepare a report and make a presentation to your potential investors. These investors will have to decide whether to fund your project. They will choose among coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar.
Science Department Chair Scott Rubin points out that as students prepare their presentations to the panel of investors, they must consider both the science and the economics of energy. What is energy? How does it work? What are the public policy implications of its various forms? The students in this class learn about the science of a problem, then take that problem and expand it to include the pragmatic implications. As the students in this class discover, the trick is learning how to progress from the theoretical to the practical.
Ava Tunnicliffe ’12 puts it this way: “Everyone says they care about the environment, but what does that really mean? I personally didn’t know as much about these things as I thought I did. Like ‘clean energy’—what is that really? In his State of the Union, President Obama talked about investing in ‘clean coal’ and the next day we all came in and Mr. Rubin challenged us: ‘So what do you think?’ In this class, we’re learning about things you see on the news every night, and now I really understand them.”
"In this class, we’re learning about things you see on the news every night, and now I really understand them."
Perhaps the most dramatic change in the post-AP Science offerings is the development of a three-year course called Science Research and Design. By enrolling in this team-taught course, students first learn how to read journal-level articles, then pursue their own original research, and ultimately publish their findings in a BC Science Journal. Anya Katz ’13 is traveling to Rwanda this summer to learn about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in survivors of genocide. “It’s so meaningful to be able to learn about this through research,” says Anya. Her classmate August Rosenthal ’13 adds, “I love how this class basically forces me to be independent—I have to decide what I’m reading next, what the next question is. Your teacher is not going to do it for you.”
These science examples are just a taste of what the Upper School curriculum at Berkeley Carroll has in store for students. The humanities are just as exciting.
In lieu of a traditional survey course, for example, 10th grade History students choose two electives that allow them to focus on one Modern World History topic for an entire term: Modern Mexico, the Modern Middle East, the Holocaust, Modern China, and Modern Africa are among the offerings. These courses feature projects and assessments that emphasize student-directed learning and depth-over-breadth.
Even when teachers employ more traditional tools, such as an end-of-term exam, Berkeley Carroll teachers keep their focus on authentic student learning. In her Reading and Writing Satire course, English teacher Liz Perry tells her students, “This course ends with a final exam that you can’t study for.”
What she means, really, is that there is nothing to memorize the night before—the entire course serves as the “study” students need to do. For the test itself, Perry selects a work of satire from a contemporary source—last year she used something from Harper’s Magazine—and asks the students to read it during the exam period. Then the exam question is simply: “Is this an effective work of satire?”
As Perry explains, “We live in a moment that is saturated with satire, and I want my students to be able to evaluate it—and explain their thinking—when no one is guiding them. That’s a primary goal of the course—literate, savvy consumers of satire.”
Alex Bartiromo ’12, says, “I enjoy writing the papers for this class. And I’m kind of looking forward to that final exam.”