Making MayHEM

Interdisciplinary micro-courses emphasize creativity, curiosity, and hands-on projects.
Like much of 2017-18, the close of the year brought something a little different than the usual. Instead of sitting for final exams after Extra-Day Trips, students finished them before they left for the backcountry and then spent the final few days of the year engaged in interdisciplinary, non-credit micro-courses dubbed “MayHEM.” All in all, sixteen courses, each organized by a small group of two to four Thacher teachers from across the disciplines, were on offer, all emphasizing creativity, collaborative work, and the bridging of disciplines—an exciting experiment for students and teachers alike.

“It was a chance for all of us, faculty and students, to experience learning for curiosity’s sake alone, to dive deep into an area of interest outside the confines of a normal academic schedule, and to collaborate and create together across disciplines,” described Director of Studies Alice Meyer.

She continued: “It was a whirlwind of activity: reading, working with guest instructors, sewing, constructing, designing, field-tripping, interacting in new communities, diving into our archives, solving puzzles, volunteering outside the school, sword-fighting, filming, writing, researching, hiking, collecting, finding connections, making connections.”

A Few Examples
In “Multimodal Storytelling: Thacher and the Thomas Fire,” students studied the elements of storytelling and then collected and curated narrative nonfiction writing, documentary film, photographs, and audio into an immersive digital record of the fire.

In “Tracing the Border,” cross-disciplinary readings, videos, and research helped establish a basis for understanding the social and cultural realities of the U.S.-Mexico border before students and teachers headed to the border itself for a few days of cultural immersion in this unique, binational region. From that experience, they produced written reflections, documentary videos, and photo essays.

In “An Eye for Design,” students visited the workshops of local craftsmen before brainstorming, designing, and collaboratively constructing prototypes of chairs, light fixtures, and other practical items for use in the new dining hall.

In “The History of Color and Chemical Synthesis in Art,” anthropology, art history, chemistry and art collided as students explored—and recreated themselves—how ancient civilizations produced the earliest pigments (Egyptian Blue, Han Blue, and Han Purple), which also happen to be the earliest known chemical synthesis experiments in the world.

Sharing What They Learned
Something special also happened when the four days of busy activity came to a close and the community gathered in the Thacher Commons to share what they had learned, produced, and accomplished in just a few short days.

The building was abuzz with thoughtful conversation, the students clearly energized and excited to discuss what they had encountered during the course of their classes. Whether they mentioned encountering a new idea or flexing an unfamiliar skill or having conversations and encounters that challenged or expanded their worldviews, the students all seemed to agree on one thing: A spark had been lit.
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