News

High schools to add engineering, AP Chinese

School board also ponders major changes to Jordan, Gunn, Fairmeadow campuses

An AP Mandarin course and a class in engineering design are likely to be added to this fall's class selection at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

The school board Tuesday night reacted favorably to presentations about the new classes, indicating they will vote to approve them at their next meeting April 3.

Gunn teacher Bakari Holmes, who has developed an "engineering pathway" curriculum at the school that he plans to expand over the next several years, said the engineering design course will introduce ninth and tenth graders to the design process, research and analysis processes, global engineering standards and technical documentation.

Holmes's engineering program, so far offered just at Gunn, has received support from Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE), a volunteer-led independent foundation that raises funds for Palo Alto public schools. Holmes's program is aligned with Project Lead the Way, a national organization that has worked with industry and other partners to boost learning in what has become known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The Chinese language and culture course will offer advanced Mandarin to students who already have completed three years in the language. This year's enrollment in Mandarin 3 is 22 at Paly and 20 at Gunn.

Paly World Languages Instructional Supervisor Kevin Duffy said the new Chinese course will be offered at both high schools if there is sufficient interest, noting that some "heritage" Mandarin speakers not currently enrolled in Mandarin 3 may come along to join the AP class.

In other business Tuesday, the board discussed a $2.6 million proposal to retrofit many of the older classrooms at Gunn with air conditioning. Students and teachers long have complained of intolerable temperatures in the 45-year-old classrooms.

Funding for the project was freed up because of a $2.2 million state appropriation to help fund Gunn's new Career Technical Education building, the site of Holmes's engineering program, according to Bob Golton, the school district's co-chief business officer.

The board also discussed "schematic designs" for a $17.9 million upgrade project at Jordan Middle School, where construction is anticipated to occur from June 2011 to March 2013.

The project would add a new "N Wing," with six classrooms, offices and restrooms that roughly will parallel the existing "G Wing" of science classrooms in what is now the parking lot off Middlefield Road.

The parking lot and drop-off configuration will be reconfigured, with a net loss of only eight parking spaces, architects said.

Other upgrades to Jordan will include major changes to the existing cafetorium and adjoining rooms, which will become the new home of the music department and displace two of the existing tennis courts. The courts will be relocated to the field, but still leave room for three soccer fields, architects said.

In other business, the board discussed a "conceptual design" for a $9.3 million upgrade to Fairmeadow School, which includes a new, two-story classroom building and a "naturalistic garden area."

San Francisco architect Lisa Gelfand said the design will "solve drainage and circulation issues and make better use of the space so as we add students it doesn't seem like we're getting more crowded -- just getting better use of space."

Construction at Fairmeadow currently is envisioned to run from December 2011 to June 2013.

The board also voted to confer tenure, or "permanent status" on 36 teachers and administrators, including the principals of Jordan Middle School and Nixon Elementary School. The employees are about to complete their second "probationary year" and have been closely observed by their supervisors to assure they meet or exceed a variety of "teaching performance standards."

The board also discussed the likely elimination of 12 full- and part-time staff positions, six of which are currently vacant.

The positions include that of a data processing clerk, a landscaper, a library cataloging assistant, an elementary school clerk and several secretarial slots.

The staff reductions, estimated to save about $410,000, are part of the fallout of a $3.8 million budget-cutting package approved by the board last month.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by gunnparent1
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:21 am

Does anyone have any experience with, recommendations, etc. on the Engineering Design course at Gunn? Would love to hear from someone who has taken it (or who's child has taken it). Looks interesting, but there are so many great options to choose from - trying to help our daughter gather information to make descisions about next years' courses--Thank You --


Like this comment
Posted by gunn parent also
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 24, 2010 at 11:09 am

It's a new class, yes? So no one yet has experience. However, that teacher is, I believe, generally well-liked.


Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

My daughter took the Digital Electronic class this year and loved it. Mr. Holmes is a great teacher and its a super experience for girls. I guess intro to Engineering should have come first but she will take that next year.


Like this comment
Posted by Capbreton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2010 at 11:52 am

Engineering and AP Mandarin. What's not to like, yes? Sounds great, but it's like having a diet of 100% chocolate. Tastes wonderful at first, but there's no sustenance behind it.

This is classic, populist knee-jerk curriculum modification. Instead of adding the 21st-century version of auto-shop and a class to help already-fluent Mandarin speakers pass a multiple choice literacy test, why not do something actually useful like implement an International Bac program at Paly (or Gunn) and add to the intellectual challenges at the schools.


Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Capbreton,
FYI: Gunn is looking very seriously at implementing the International Baccalaureate program.


Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Chris,

Don't suppose they'd look at implementing it at Cubberly and reduce the overcrowding at the two high schools?


Like this comment
Posted by Capbreton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Chris,

Great news. Now let's see if Palo Alto has the stomach for long-term planning as the IB program has to be up and running for about five years, including teacher certifications and so on, before the program is accredited.

FYI, the IB program absolutely bans the use of multiple choice tests as they are considered an invalid measure of learning because they can be gamed by rote memorization. That's why many of the top universities are increasingly "ignoring" AP tests as meaningless indicators.




Like this comment
Posted by EA
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Project Lead the Way is a national curriculum for engineering and integrates math and science with design. It has achieved excellent results nationwide in terms of improving students' math, science and even English performance. Girls are flocking to it as well as boys. Mr. Holmes is doing a great job and it is great to see Gunn getting involved in this.
-EA, Gunn frosh parent and Engineering professor at SJSU


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Once the word gets out that engineering is fun, the classes will be packed.


Like this comment
Posted by Josh Paley
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Greetings!

I am the computer science teacher at Gunn. I work closely with Mr. Holmes and Bill Dunbar, our wonderful engineering tech teacher on the engineering curriculum at Gunn.

The general idea in the Intro to Engineering Design class is to learn theory and apply it to the creation of 3D solids. We have a 3D printer--think of a smart glue gun that produces plastic pixels and can produce objects with moving parts--so students can prototype real, physical products. The software the students will be using is Autodesk Inventor.

Details on Project Lead The Way (PLTW) can be found at the Project Lead The Way web site (Web Link). The web site doesn't provide details, but it does give a sense of what the program is about. As we understand it, there are over 3000 schools implementing PLTW over all 50 states, so while we think it is great to be bringing this to Gunn--and believe me, we are really excited--we are subdued a little by how far behind most of the country we are, despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley.

We are also in the process of building a web site that will, we hope, answer questions that the community may have regarding our various courses. Right now, it's mostly an information dump site :-( but some of our students are working to make it nice. Web Link is the URL; again, please excuse the appearance and dangling links. We hope to correct these things in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions, please feel free to fire off an email to gunnengr@gmail.com. Questions about PLTW courses will get to Mr. Holmes, questions about engineering tech and the Gunn Robotics Team will get to Mr. Dunbar, and I can field any questions about the computer science courses.

Josh Paley, Teacher
Computer Science & Mathematics
Henry M. Gunn HS (Palo Alto, CA)


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Any plans to add this to the Paly curriculum? I've never quite understood why two high schools in one district are allowed to be so academically different! BTW Mr. Dunbar and Mr. Holmes are amazing, enthusiastic teachers!


Like this comment
Posted by Morris
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I believe that what is needed is a more general purpose "introduction to technology" .. that would introduce some of the details of digital technology, terminologies of networking, computing and engineering. The course would provide a working knowledge of things that people talk about, but probably don't have much depth in the topic. Certainly fundamental Internet technology, with a focus on the NextGen. Issues like authentication, and digital signatures, would be included.

Such a course would not turn out "journeymen" technologists, but would deal with the state of where we are (within the confines of a one-year HS course), and look at the next five years (to the extent that that is possible).

We talk about being an "information society" .. but don't teach our kids the basics in the HS time frame. Certainly this is one of those courses that could be taught via distance learning ..


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:47 pm

The article states these classes will be introduced at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools - that sounds like both schools to me.

Any idea why they announced this weeks after the course catalogs came out and class lists had to be submitted? This is really going to cause problems as people are now going to have to switch class choices.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:10 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

This looks like an opportunity to bring back the excitement of the Homebrew Computer Club of the 70s. If Lee Felsenstein or Gorden French are still alive, either one might give some inspiring "way back then" talks.
Now if they would replay Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" [sic] along with the UK required explanations they might restore my admiration for the local ed scheme.


Like this comment
Posted by PLTW is great
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2010 at 6:56 am

We moved to a southern state from Palo Alto. Our child has been taking an engineering course every year in high school. His first course was Intro to Engineering. This year it is Civil Engineering and Architecture. Besides the course, our child is exposed to architecture,construction and engineering through the ACE mentor program as well. I can attest to the fact my child has been exposed to "general purpose technology" throughout his courses.

Upon learning of this program, I was disappointed the PA school district had not taken advantage of this opportunity years ago. It seems a very natural fit for a Silicon Valley town with an abundance of engineers in the community to assist and become involved. I hope the PA community supports this program and the teachers involved, but not in its usual intense competitive nature. Because there are those students who one may not think have the aptitude, but do indeed excel because it has ignited an interest - the point of these programs.

I disagree with Morris on one point: "journeymen technologists." I do think PA needs to provide programs for those not on the college track. With more and more electronics in autos, auto workshop class could look a lot different.

I can sing praises for the IB program as our other child is an IB candidate. However, I am concerned that a rigorous program such as IB would be introduced into a district that has a such a churn/burn mentality. I say this because while out in Calif during Christmas break, I was outside a learning center and watched many Asian and Indian children ushered into the center. It was Xmas break...only in Silicon Valley.

The pressure cooker of PA and surrounding school districts is really unnecessary given the fact I do not see it where I live and students are marching off to Ivy league schools. I make this point to caution the community that the IB program is intense the last two years of high school.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2010 at 8:41 am

Paly Parent - the Engineering Program, Project Lead The Way, is already being taught at Gunn. There is a one year Engineering elective at Paly, but not the 4 year program that was started this year at Gunn.


Like this comment
Posted by Capbreton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

Just a point of clarification. The IB program itself is only a two-year (junior/senior) program and, as I noted earlier, has to be up and running, observed and certified by IB officials for years before either Gunn or Paly could issue IB diplomas. What the schools do by way of prep in freshman and sophomore years is pretty much up to them.

But the IB program would be antithetical to the engineering shops as the junior and senior year IB curriculum is a vetted global standard with tightly defined options and zero "discretionary" time for other courses. So, an IB student could not take engineering classes in their last two years.

No question in my mind the IB track would serve the interests of far more children in a far better way than additional engineering/tech options. (Nothing wrong with the engineering class idea for non-IB students, budget permitting, of course.)


Like this comment
Posted by PLTW is great
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:06 am

"But the IB program would be antithetical to the engineering shops as the junior and senior year IB curriculum is a vetted global standard with tightly defined options and zero "discretionary" time for other courses. So, an IB student could not take engineering classes in their last two years." This is true.

Yes, "What the schools do by way of prep in freshman and sophomore years is pretty much up to them." is true as well. Our child took AP courses in their freshman and sophomore years and defined electives in preparation for their IB years.

There needs to be consistent funding for the IB program as teachers need to be trained and funds are required to the IB organization. With budget constraints, has the district looked at modeling the two high schools into more thematic themes and removing zoned lines allowing children to choose their school. Make Gunn a science and engineering school with PLTW and Paly a liberal arts school with an IB offering. Or would this just overcrowd one school vs. another?


Like this comment
Posted by Capbreton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:29 am

Interesting ideas but having Paly focus on liberal arts and the IB would be tough as overall the science and math requirement for the IB is much stricter than what the kids take as coursework now (though there is some wiggle room for minimizing that in the IB "hexagon" of choices.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:35 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Why not a teleconference classroom at Paly and Gunn, so that one instruction team could offer a topic concurrently at both campi?


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:51 am

Walter, your suggestion makes a great deal of sense for many courses as well as electives and it just doesn't have to be at high school level, but could help to offer some things at 7th and 8th grade middle schools. It may need an aide in each classroom but could be a better way of offering a wider range of electives to motivated students without having to employ 2 or 3 teachers when one would do.

This is the way education will go and as budgeting and space gets more and more of a factor it will soon become more like the "school of the air" in Australia and become inter-district and not just between two adjacent schools.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Now if I can convince the Council to put next year's travel budget into a teleconferencing studio, and stop paying dues to any association or group that does not allow teleconference attendance at meetings, we could get them up to 20th century standards. I guess we should be glad they don't still sail around the Horn to get to D.C. - or do they?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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