'Positive psychology' to be offered at Gunn High | February 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 1, 2013

'Positive psychology' to be offered at Gunn High

'Literature of comedy,' mobile-device programming among upcoming Palo Alto courses

by Chris Kenrick

"Positive Psychology" at Gunn High School and the "Literature of Comedy" at Palo Alto High School are among new classes students could take this coming school year.

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.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2013 at 10:38 am

I would like to express my gratitude to teachers who have passionately worked on these new courses, and will be introducing these to our students. In my opinion, motivated students + motivated teachers + dynamic, relevant content, make the best formula for education. Thank you!

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

To "member of Gunn High School community":

Well said.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly member
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

Looks like Gunn beats Paly once again. The staff at Paly needs to get a clue.

Short of moving, I do not know what to do.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2013 at 11:45 am

@Paly member: Seriously?! Paly is superior to Gunn in all ways, even down to their football teams where Paly historically beats Gunn. They are even taking a two-year break from playing each other because it's no contest each year. I have never heard of anyone who lives in the Paly area transfering to Gunn. It's usually an issue of Gunn students wanting to attend Paly. Should be easy if you want to change to Gunn. But I suppose complaining is easier.

Like this comment
Posted by Former Gunn Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

"Paly is superior to Gunn in all ways".

Now, THAT is pretty funny.

Web Link

It certainly appears that Paly is superior to Gunn in the quality of dope that some parents are smoking.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

@Former Gunn Parent: If you are looking at solely academic testing, yes, Gunn is ranked higher. And per your link, Gunn's #17 California ranking vs. Paly's #29 ranking is hardly a lead. But I'll allow you to think you've got it better.

Like this comment
Posted by Crindy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I can't believe these comments are from adults! Let's not bicker, guys. Let's be proud of both of our excellent high schools in Palo Alto. I applaud both schools for instituting the new courses and giving our students more relevant choices.
As a Paly parent I am happy to hear about the new comedy course, which my son is interested in taking. Thank you Ms. Fillpu for suggesting it!

Like this comment
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Come on, play fair! Gunn and Paly communities. Let's set the standard here for some awesome behavior and role modeling. Let's look for ways to bridge the "perception" gap here. Cognitive dissonance at play. Both schools are amazing and have their individual charm. But they are stronger united. When Paly and Gunn students partner in city wide projects, transformation happens. Let's work for and toward a Palo Alto centric culture, not so much Gunn v Paly and Paly v Gunn. Once a Titan always a Titan... once a Viking always a Viking - that's a given... but seriously the hero is the one that brings people together to serve a common, larger cause.

Like this comment
Posted by Misha
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I hope that the quote from Melissa Baten Caswell was taken out of context but if not, I do not appreciate the underlying tone of disdain for parents. Many of us do recognize the enormous efforts and great passion of the fine teachers in this community and are grateful for them. Please let's stop bashing parents, especially school board members!

"I don't think most students, or certainly parents, have any idea of the passion that goes into the creation of these classes," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said following the teacher presentations.

Like this comment
Posted by Pointing and Laughing
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I LOATH (many) Palo Alto parents...OMG you people. Have fun with each other.

Like this comment
Posted by just now?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

@Misha are you only now becoming aware of how condescending Caswell is? Where have you been my dear?

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I actually find Melissa Caswell to be thoughtful and not condescending at all. Is it wrong for a school board member to express her appreciation for the hard work of the Palo Alto teachers?

What is of a bigger concern to me is that our middle and high school (particularly the high schools) are allowed to have such a big difference in the courses they offer.

Gunn Electives:
Advanced Journalism African-American History Astronomy
Cold War
Digital Electronics (PLTW) Programming Concepts (Comp Sci 1) AP Computer Science
AP Economics Micro
AP Economics Macro
Engineering Technology Environmental Science
Ethnic Studies
Far East History II
Intro to Engineering Design (PLTW) Law 1
Principles of Engineering (PLTW) Programming Using JAVA (Comp Sci 2) Journalism
AP Psychology
Psychology II
US Foreign Policy H

Paly's Electives:

Advanced Journalism
(including Magazine Journalism)
AVID Senior Seminar
Beginning Journalism
Broadcast Journalism
AP Computer Science A
Creative Writing
Economics ll
AP Macroeconomics
Engineering Technology Environmental Science
Ethnic Studies ll
Foundations of Science
Integrated Science
Introduction to Gender Studies Introduction to Kinesiology & Reh Java
AP Psychology
Psychology II
Science Research Project (H) Sociology II
US Foreign Policy Honors
Web Journalism

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

No wonder there is so much stress in PA schools. Parents....back off, stop bickering, support your schools efforts to help the kids. They are under SO much pressure.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I think it is great Paly added an additional English class but did it have to come at the expense of one of the few honors English classes? Paly seniors have a choice of the low lane of English or AP English - no more Honors English for seniors! This is very disappointing for all those seniors who were looking forward to a more accelerated class for their senior year.

Like this comment
Posted by f
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Its not the schools fault.
There is just a lot of mental illness in this community. The parents tend to be clever and driven and crazy. Goes together. So are the kids, clever, drive (by the parents) and crazy. And its the lack of internal drive and external parental pressure that does it.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2013 at 10:42 pm

> "I don't think most students, or certainly parents, have any idea
> of the passion that goes into the creation of these classes,"
> board member Melissa Baten Caswell said following the teacher
> presentations.

This seems like a pretty condescending comment, from Melissa Baten Caswell. What evidence does she have to back up her statement? Was she actually with each of the teachers who conceived, and cobbled together, the concept plans?

If not--maybe Ms. Batten-Caswell is being just a little too hyperbolic for our common good. It's unlikely that any of these teachers did not use materials from outside the school system's resources to come up with the course ware. And further more--sitting down and designing a course is far more work, than it is "passion".

Did the District post the course proposals on-line, so that the public can get a look at the teachers' suggestions? If not, maybe Ms. Batten -Casswell could be a little more of an advocate for the public than a cheer leader for the teachers.

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