PDS Middle Schoolers Creatively Explore Passions in Da Vinci Electives

Photo: Garden Coordinator Pam Flory with students during a "Cooking in the Garden" Da Vinci class during the 2019-2020 school year.

Princeton Day School's Middle School Da Vinci program was already well known for its innovation approach empowering students to explore deeply in areas outside of the traditional academic curriculum. This year, with COVID-19 inspiring even more creativity in program delivery, the Da Vinci program continues to be a prime example of education best practices and successful engagement for on-campus and at-home learners.

Through the Da Vinci quarterly elective courses, students in Grades 5-8 are offered a block of time per 7-day cycle to focus each year on four non-traditional courses they elect from an evolving roster of choices. These quarterly electives create student ownership of the work through their student-driven, hands-on, multi-disciplinary, grade-free design, many of which culminate in presentations. The offerings bring together diverse groups of students and faculty to conduct research, solve problems and create original solutions. Offerings this year also incorporated synchronous and asynchronous options for students, allowing for full participation in the experience for on-campus and remote students alike. 

Da Vinci Program Coordinator and MS science teacher Annemarie Strange and colleagues continually collaborate while also incorporating feedback from students, to shift and refine the course offerings throughout the year.

"Da Vinci teachers have been really creative about how they structure these classes without going beyond the hour block that they have while also building in flexibility for moving between virtual and in-person learning. They have truly made the process seamless, which has allowed students the opportunity to remain fully immersed in their course whether remote, in-person or a combination of both," Ms. Strange explained. 

A recent example of this creativity and depth of experience is the Panther Media and Entertainment Committee (PMEC). The PMEC produced a PDS Middle School News program, which was recorded and broadcast for classmates during multiple MS Focus Assemblies over the winter. Under the supervision of MS and US Computer Science teacher and UPENN fellow Toni Dunlap, PMEC students used green-screen technology and produced scripts to report the news, weather and more. In addition, students presented teacher video interviews as well as stories on current events and student interests, all of which were student-produced. View this six-minute video from a PMEC MS News show:

As the final quarter of Da Vinci courses begins, course offerings are richer than ever. "Now that teachers and students have seen what works best and what doesn't work as well this year, through three quarters of classes, there is a greater sense of comfort and an increase in student-led ideas for new courses. Students have expressed more interest in a variety of options and teachers have matched their excitement level with even more course offerings. The program has come far tin this exceptional school year and we are all looking forward to a great final quarter of the year!" Ms. Strange stated.

This year's fourth-quarter Da Vinci course options include: 

  • Acting with Shakespeare
  • A La Carte
  • Art as Therapy
  • Art in Nature/Nature in Art
  • Becoming a History Buff
  • Book Club
  • Chainmaille Making
  • Creative Problem Solving
  • Cross-stitching
  • Da Vinci in a Box
  • DEAR
  • Drawing and Documentaries
  • Engineering and Design
  • Field Trips - Physical and Virtual
  • Genius Hour
  • Human Bodies and First Aid 101
  • Life in Sketches
  • Marsha's Place
  • Minecraft
  • Mock Trial
  • Panther Media and Entertainment Committee (PMEC)
  • Photography
  • Space Math
  • Stock Market Game
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Yearbook
  • Yoga and Meditation

Interested in learning more about Da Vinci programming? Here's a related story from this September about the program's goals entering this year and first quarter offerings and another story about how the program embraced a "virtual hands-on" approach during Panthers Online this past spring.

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