A parade of teachers presented their ideas for courses before an enthusiastic Board of Education Tuesday night, Jan. 29.
"The rationale for this Literature of Comedy class comes straight from the mouths of teens," said Paly English teacher Lucy Filppu, recounting the questions she gets from students — "'Is this another tragedy? Who dies in the end?'" — as they launch into reading another tragedy.
Proposing a course in which students will read Greek and Shakespearean comedy, Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, Filppu said: "These authors demand an understanding of taste, nuance, inference, absurdity, subtext — the very high levels of appraisal that we want to bring out in our students.
"I suggest that students can laugh and learn simultaneously," she said.
Gunn teacher Ronen Habib said he's already been sneaking bits of positive psychology into his teaching of economics and other subjects.
"For many of those students, it's really been an incredible transformation. I've seen the power of it," Habib told the board.
"I had one student tell me some lessons she learned actually saved her life. As a teacher there's no better compensation."
The positive psych course will focus on research as well as on "practical tools people can use to lead happier lives," such as remembering daily what you are grateful for; meditation; acts of kindness toward others; and retaining a "growth mindset," Habib said, referring to having an attitude that change is possible.
Students will be required to keep daily journals, write papers analyzing different points of view and take assessments to make sure they understand the theory.
"I don't want students to grow just academically — I want them to grow as people," he said, noting that a college course on positive psychology had been a transforming experience for him personally.
Other proposed classes are a short course in communications for sixth-graders at Jordan Middle School developed by Sue Morosoli; ceramics and sculpture created by Jordan art teachers Leslie Goldman and Paul Gralen; programming for mobile devices, developed by Gunn math and computer science teacher Chris Bell; and "Senior Projects," a research-methods class proposed by Gunn librarian Meg Omainsky.
Ideas for new classes "originate from different places," Director of Secondary Education Michael Milliken said, including teachers, students and the school administration's desire to provide a fuller sequence of programming.
Bell said the mobile-devices programming course stemmed from his personal interest in learning to develop apps.
"Teaching computer science and looking at student needs, I thought, 'Oh, this might actually work.' I spent a lot of time over the summer going online, looking at textbooks and I took a class."
The programming class will make Gunn's computer-science program, which has seen growing enrollment, more comprehensive, Bell said.
"Currently we have one year of basic courses and one year of an AP course, and that's it."
The new class would cater both to students who have completed the AP class and to those who have completed the first-year course but whose skills are not yet ready for the AP sequence, Bell said.
Board members were enthusiastic about the teachers' proposals, all indicating they will support them when it comes to a final vote at the next board meeting Feb. 12.
In other business Tuesday, board members indicated that at their next meeting they will vote to authorize issuance and sale of $70 million in bonds under the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond measure approved by voters in 2008.
It will be the third in a projected series of six "Strong Schools" issuances, which are funding new building and expansion to accommodate enrollment growth on all 17 Palo Alto campuses.
The board also voted unanimously to redraw the boundary between the Addison and Walter Hays elementary school attendance areas, moving about 20 blocks from Addison to Walter Hays. Over time the new boundary will ease persistent "overflow" problems for Addison families in recent years, which have resulted in children attending schools farther from home, officials said.