xBlock Electives

Educational experiences enlivened by a spirit of exploration and discovery.

The “x” in xBlock stands for experimental and experiential. These single-term electives revolve around inquiry-driven learning. Together, students and teachers explore topics and projects outside our core curriculum in a spirit of collaboration and discovery. From searching for exoplanets to analyzing baseball statistics to exploring furniture design, the xBlock leads our academic program into uncharted territory.

The learning is not just for students; the faculty uses these classes to test and develop new ideas for courses and teaching methods. Think of it as our faculty’s research and development as we continue to push our academic program to meet the rapidly evolving needs of this century. 

Given their nature, xBlock offerings are the most flexible and mutable aspect of the curriculum. Ideas for offerings routinely spring from current events, strong student interest, or from the expertise of a visiting scholar. The roster of xBlock courses is continuously changing; while the following courses represent recent offerings, future terms will likely feature entirely new course options for students to explore.

A Few Current and Recent xBlock Offerings

List of 20 items.

  • The F-word: A Look at Feminism in the 21st Century

    Feminism. When most people hear that word, they have a strong reaction to it. Some reactions are positive, others negative. But why do we have such differing opinions? Most of us believe that women and men deserve equal rights, so why don’t we all support a movement for that? Or, is said movement not really about equal rights anymore?
  • Advanced Protein Structure and Function

    After developing a solid understanding of protein structure and synthesis, students explore computer programs that enable them to model proteins such as insulin and hemoglobin in three dimensions.
  • Advanced Topics in Astronomy Research

    This is a rare opportunity for high school students to participate in meaningful scientific research as part of an ongoing NASA-funded program. Working in small groups of two or three, students play central roles in projects ranging from advanced data modeling and data analysis techniques, to differential photometry, data visualization, and commissioning the new dome at the observatory.
  • Advanced Wood Design

    Students work closely with faculty to design and build projects for the Thacher community. In the process, they learn how to safely and effective use the tools of the trade—including the table saw, band saw, and miter saw—and discover the pleasure and gratification of mastering hand tools such as chisels and planes.
  • Baseball Statistics

    In the spirit of Moneyball, this course examines baseball statistics and their application toward evaluating players. Students will track the evolution of numbers-based approaches, including the influence of WAR values, and monitor current trends within the sport via websites such as fangraphs.com.
  • Between Your Ears: A Look at Gender in Contemporary Society

    This offering explores the question of how gender functions in American society today. In the aim of developing a better understanding of how conceptions of gender influence ourselves and our communities, the course will examine this construct through the varied lenses of media, art, politics, education, sociology, psychology, biology, literature, and marketing. 
  • Computer Animation

    Using Autodesk Maya, the industry-standard animation program, students will learn the basic principles of animation and how the illusion of movement and weight can bring three-dimensional characters to life on screen.
  • Documentary Film Production

  • Ethics and Global Citizenship

    Through cases relating to current events and readings in ethics and political philosophy, students explore what it means to be a citizen leader. Discussions will be enlivened by guests from off campus as well as members of the campus community, who will share their expertise and perspectives.
  • Ethics and Global Citizenship

    This activity is for those students who wish to join the third cohort of
    students comprising the Marvin Shagam Program for Ethics and Global Citizenship. In our weekly meetings we will identify and discuss issues of international importance as a means of becoming more educated about the world and our roles as "citizen leaders" in that world. As we explore current affairs, the world's most pressing crises, ethical dilemmas, and cultural differences, we will continue to develop the framework for a robust curriculum reaching more students in the future. Guests from the faculty and the student body, along with speakers from the wider world, will share their expertise, help us increase our awareness, and provide us with the basis for thoughtful and deliberate choices about how we plan to live our lives and enhance the lives of others.
  • Home Cooking

    This course will teach students the basics of cooking as well as supplying
    them with the experience of cooking dishes from a variety of cuisines. Students will learn the very basics of cooking in the first few weeks to provide a foundation on which they can build as they learn from visiting faculty who wish to share their favorite dishes in subsequent weeks. Students will keep a record of all skills, techniques, and recipes they learn, creating for themselves a great resource for future cooking.
  • Introduction to Film Studies

    With a focus on American film from 1930-1980, this class considers the major cinematic genres. The group explores the defining conventions and expectations of various genres along with their related cultural and technical implications.
  • Introduction to Programming

    This class approaches computer programming from several angles. By working with Sphero robots, students will gain an introduction to control systems and directing autonomous movement. Design software will expose students to approaches to handling visual information and creating animations like those seen in gaming formats. Finally, students will be able to create their own projects using the School's three-dimensional printers. 
  • Introduction to Wheel Throwing

    Students learn the fundamentals of working with clay on a potters wheel. The focus is on utilitarian forms and gaining practice and competence with cylindrical shapes, bowls, and eventually more complex shapes and various sizes. Students also explore methods of surface decoration and glazing.
  • Life Skills

    This course provides a broad base of skills seminars to help students develop the confidence to solve many practical, real-world problems. Basic wilderness survival, financial literacy, fire making, plant identification, bread making, car and bicycle repair, and the basics of personal investing are all tackled in this hands-on course. 
  • Natural History of the Sespe

    Designed to foster a deeper appreciation and richer understanding of the natural history of the nearby Sespe Wilderness, this field-based course allows students to explore Thachers own backyard. Through classroom meetings, field trips, and camping excursions, students learn about the geology, hydrology, botany, ornithology, and mammology of the area. 
  • Public Speaking

    Effective public speaking—helpful for success in the educational world and absolutely critical for success in the professional world—is one of the most important skills a student can hone. In this course, students learn how to organize, prepare, and deliver a speech or presentation; what works and what doesn’t depending upon the occasion and setting; how to leave their audience educated, uplifted, and motivated; and how to overcome anxiety, develop confidence, lose nervous ticks, and become someone that others will look forward to listening to.
  • Rock Band

    Given the right complement of interested students, our music faculty move the students in this course through the rock 'n' roll fundamentals of chord progressions, harmonic listening, and ensemble playing. The combo learns to cover classic rock songs by the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones; and also jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, in addition to more contemporary artists.
  • Theater Design and Production

    This course introduces the general principles of light, sound, and set design through hands-on application in Thacher's Milligan Center for the Performing Arts. Students come away with firsthand experience in preparing and running an actual show.
  • Wilderness First Aid

    This class fulfills requirements for first aid and CPR training as well as earning participants Thacher B-camper certification. The basic skills covered include: response and assessment, musculoskeletal injuries, environmental emergencies, survival skills, soft tissue injuries, and medical emergencies.

—Blossom Beatty Pidduck

When I think of the qualities that I most admire in a Thacher student, the first thing I think of is an adventurous spirit. And in the classroom that often manifests itself in a willingness to try something different, to be creative, to test out something new. That’s so much the spirit of who we are here at Thacher.

Head of School

Films created by xBlock Documentary Film Production students.