One of my roles as Director of Academics is to continuously monitor the ways in which we can modify and revise our curriculum offerings. This year we have, through the agency of our student-led academic council, listened to student requests and tried to respond to their interests where we think there are pedagogical reasons and resources to match. Consequently, there is a new course in “Design Thinking and Principles” being taught next year by Mr. John Luna. Creative and critical thinking skills will be very much to the fore in this course as students seek out the threads that link many of our decision-making processes when form and function are considered, whether in architecture, fashion or automobile manufacture.
Students were also keen to experience the broader sweep of history, civilization and world religions. Out of this came the decision to launch a World History AP elective to be taught by Ms. Robyn Amiel. Mr. Oliver Amiel will also be restructuring the Biology 12 framework to teach it from a kinesiology perspective, bringing exercise physiology into the research and labs that students explore. This was in response to students who expressed interest in a “sports science elective”
In a small school such as ours the challenge of having too many electives can be that class sizes drop below a critical threshold. By adapting an existing course such as Biology 12, however, we can provide a strong university-recognized mark, fulfill Ministry of Education requirements, and give students a flavor of courses that they can look forward to experiencing beyond Brentwood. If these courses are as successful as this year’s newcomer on the block, Law 12, we will be very pleased indeed. The law students wrapped up their very “hands-on” and scenario-based course last week with a mock trial. Teacher Neil Bryant writes of recent activities in that course: “Less a performance and more of a fast thinking ordeal, the students spent two hours acting as witnesses, accused, Crown and Defense counsel, judge and sheriff in the murder case reenactment of R. v. Irving. As a culminating project for the year-long Law 12 course, these students had spent nearly a month preparing for this evening. The witnesses had to learn their roles, prepare carefully worded answers to questions and assemble costumes. The lawyers had to find enough holes in the evidence to tip the scales to their perspective, prepare their witnesses, and learn the subtleties of cross versus direct examination as well as how to address a judge properly. The judge had to prepare statements instructing the jury of what their burden was and also had to learn how to handle the various lawyer objections such as hearsay proffered in court.”
As teachers it is often difficult to find ways to have students internalize and become conversant with new information they learn in a course; this is the purpose of final projects which can include posters, collages, tours, group problem solving and, traditionally, challenging tests. Law offers a readymade final project in the form of a court case. The students must be able to assemble the salient portions of the law, apply it to a specific set of facts, and massage it all within the framework of courtroom protocol – not an easy task for anyone, let alone a teenager.
They did an excellent job. In front of juries of their teachers, house parents and peers, the students in two courtrooms worked through the entire case and both juries came back with the same verdict – manslaughter. This was also the conclusion reached in the real case from which the pro forma facts of this mock trial were drawn, which supports the validity of justice being found using this time-honoured adversarial system. We hope that some of our students will not only consider the law as a future career option, but in doing so help remove the stigma of mistrust that the profession seems to have incurred in some circles – these students were truly representative of the best learning and critical thinking I could imagine in a high school context.