“Since our experiential trips don't always align, we occasionally have 3-4 days where a portion of the high school is gone,” said Head of High School Jay Huston. “Instead of just showing movies or teaching a mini-unit, pods allow us to do something unique and exploratory for the students on campus.”
[pod] Not an acronym, but a collective noun for the three multi-grade groups of students.
“We wanted to have all the students experience the same day trip, which was embedded in the pods week,” said Jay. “We chose the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco and then built the focus of the pods around it.”
Each pod was assigned a group of cultures to explore: Asian, African, or Indigenous Peoples.
Although the cultures vary wildly, the basic structure of the project was much the same. Each morning, students worked to create a Google slideshow about a particular aspect of their assigned culture.
“I chose to research the Ming Dynasty, because I have had a poster of it hanging in my bedroom since I was really little,” said one sophomore in the Asia pod. “I learned that the Ming Dynasty was responsible for major improvements to China’s government system.”
After a few hours of intense investigating, the students relaxed by watching a movie about or by the culture.
“We watched the movie Smoke Signals, which was created by two people who are themselves American Indians, one of whom is the author of the book we’re reading,” said High School English Teacher John Barnett, who worked with the Indigenous Peoples pod. Smoke Signals screenplay writer Sherman Alexie is the author of The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, which several 9th grade students are currently reading.
Afternoons were dedicated to planning, buying, and cooking a meal from the assigned culture.
“These students need the learn vocation skills like cooking. How do we tie that into academics?” asked John rhetorically. “This was an opportunity for us to get the kids to learn without thinking they were in a class.”
On the last day of the project, all of the students gathered for a culminating event where they ate the dishes prepared by each pod. Following the feast, students were invited to present their Google slideshow to the group.
“The interdisciplinary projects are a lot of work. It requires a lot of communication among the staff, and it’s a mix of structured and unstructured time, which isn’t easy for our kids,” said John. “But I also think it’s really important, and I hope we can continue the tradition next year.”