Eclectic electives offered at Menlo Park school

February 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A school in Menlo Park is tossing out its curriculum this week. Instead of the academic schedule, students are learning through a different approach.

This week, students at Menlo School have been encouraged to learn without using books. They must instead reignite their passion for learning. So for some, metalsmithing came to mind.

"It gets to about 1,200 degrees to melt the bronze and we have poured it into a cast and we are about to see what happened," student Kyle Vaidyanathan said.

It was a near perfect lesson in chemistry without being in the lab.

The way it works is 35 courses are offered, but students get to pick only one course for the entire week.

Ricky Walker is an ex-convict, released after proving his innocence. On Tuesday, he spoke to students about the criminal justice system as part of their chosen elective. How to make some of life's biggest financial decisions is another course. Other courses include "Building Personal Computers" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which offers more than dancing.

"There is math in rhythm so they are learning about the calves, syncopation and three beats against two, the Brazilian form of music. They are learning about the culture of Brazil as well," director of courses and teacher Peter Brown said.

During the week, a few of the 550 students travel to other countries. Menlo School has a sister school in Botswana.

"We go there as a community service venture. We work in some AIDS hospitals. We work in an AIDS afflicted nursery. That's really life-changing," school Headmaster Norm Colb said.

Most parents are able to pay for their children's trip or some students work and save up.

Kelly McConnel is working on puzzles and not the traditional ones. She is using equations to solve the harder ones and it teaches her to tackle any problem.

"So not give up and look at things differently," she said.

It's one more example of how they learn outside the box, or in this case, outside the classroom.

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