What is a Selective?

During the recent Q&A sessions that I hold with parents, one of the themes that emerged was a desire to hear more about what students are learning and experiencing in our new programs: The Skills for Tomorrow and Selectives.  For this Notes from the Middle, Selectives teachers have written short updates about the magic that has taken place in their classrooms this fall. The level of innovation and creativity offered by our faculty constantly amazes me. 


In Forensic Crime Scene Investigations, our CSI detectives have studied many investigative techniques and the science behind them. So far students have tested samples for the presence of simulated blood, investigated the difference between blood drops from a standing suspect versus a walking or running suspect, analyzed their own fingerprints, and tested different ransom notes to determine which pen was used and which suspect wrote the note. We just wrapped up studying different hair samples from humans and animals alike underneath the microscope, and we will look at testing unknown powders and simulated gunshot residue to finish up our course. Instructor: Laura Montgomery


In Sports and Society we have reviewed sports’ impact on major social issues in today’s modern society. We have had roundtable discussions about crime, economics, social and racial prejudice, amateur vs. professionalism — as well as gender roles and how both sports and society intermingle when dealing with these particular issues. The students have been challenged to think, assess, and make decisions about our discussion topics and come up with solutions to change the norm within our culture. Students have seen how both sports and society influence each other and how the popularity of athletes and teams can change the way the masses think. We will end the semester with each student leading a class discussion on a particular subject, becoming an “expert” in his or her topic. Instructor: Gerry Cumpiano


Thus far in Revealing Sherlock Holmes, we have been examining the many characteristics of the Sherlock Holmes character as created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Deductive reasoning, the use of disguises and forensic science, the employment of the Baker Street Irregulars, playing the violin to combat ennui, encounters with the notorious Professor Moriarty – all these facets of the Holmes archetype have been considered through a reading of some of Doyle’s actual stories and through viewing of the Jeremy Brett versions on DVD.

We have also begun to see how filmmakers have brought the Holmes character into the twentieth century, primarily in the Basil Rathbone interpretation, in which Holmes attempts to thwart the Nazis during World War II.  In future classes we hope to see Holmes in action in today’s world, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Will Holmes’ sleuthing skills eventually enable him to save the world from alien invaders in outer space? Instructor: Larry Gladwin


In From Polygons to Polyhedra, middle school origamists have been busy exploring the third dimension.  We have folded and constructed a variety of polyhedrons — from tetrahedrons to colliding hexahedrons and stellated octahedrons.  We have also explored interactive origami as we built math puzzle rings for Mrs. Shappard’s class and never-ending holiday puzzles for the Children’s hospital. We will conclude our study with the interactive fireworks, obviously going out with a bang! Instructor: Kathy Heller


In our Global Community Crafting selective, we have been working meticulously on our teddy bears for Cook Children’s Hospital. The girls chose a design and configured the pattern to fit their style of bear. After tracing the pattern and cutting the fabric pieces, we have been eagerly practicing a variety of sewing stitches to create the different parts of our bears. We are making good progress and should be able to deliver our bears right before Christmas time. Instructor: Sylvia Bussey


In Learning to Code through Art and Games, students spend the entire class period writing computer code in the Processing language — a simplified version of Java, a professional computer programming language. After a series of small, directed assignments that guided the students to master basic skills of computer graphics programming like drawing 2D primitives, declaring variables, generating random values, updating values for animation, and handling keyboard and math events, students began to imagine interactive games they wanted to make.  Individualized assistance from upper school computer science students, serving as peer mentors, has helped each student develop programing skills towards fulfilling that vision. Instructor: Dr. Ginger Alford


In How Is the World Connected — Or Is It?, we have discussed graph theory — in particular, Eulerian and Hamiltonian traversals of graphs and their application to logistical problems.  This created a springboard to discuss binary codes that can be examined by graphical analysis.  This foundation was designed to help students see that “problem solving” is often “pattern finding.”  For example, in class this week, students examines one of two scenarios:

1: Should we tax consumers on their use of oil and gas or should our nation give tax breaks to companies who are trying to find more oil and gas?  Provide evidence you would give to support your position.

2: If humans can eventually create “machines” that are more capable than humans, what should a progressive business person do today to leverage this potential singularity?  Provide evidence to support your statements. Instructor: Dr. Gary Krahn


In Ethical Dilemmas, students have learned different ways of deliberating about ethical matters.  Students have considered if, how, and when the consequences of an action bear on the rightness.  They have also considered whether there are absolute moral prohibitions on certain actions regardless of the consequences. Students have discussed ethical issues of war and whether there are restrictions on wartime practices, including types of weapons used, the manner in which they are used, and the targets against whom they are used.  They have discussed under what circumstances violence is justified, if any; when we may defend ourselves; when we may defend others; and the rights of the victim and of the aggressor.  We have considered whether the same principles apply in international conflicts.  Here is another ethical dilemma we will consider:  You are a doctor.  Before you there are six patients.  One of those patients requires all of medicine M to survive.  Each of the other five patients requires only 1/5 of M to survive.  How should you administer the medicine?  Now consider: You have no supply of M, but you may acquire medicine adequate for the treatment of the five by fatally extracting the serum from the one.  What should you do?  Instructors: Jeremiah Russell & Juraj Nevjestic


Trojan Tutors pairs 7th and 8th grade students with second graders at Chapel Hill Academy, a nearby charter school. For two afternoons each month, our tutors work to bolster the skills and confidence of a student in need of academic support. During Selectives, we meet weekly with Kirsten Murphy, our lower school librarian, to choose the appropriate books for our students. We have also met with Jane Cooper, a second grade teacher at TVS, and had the opportunity to ask questions about how to deal with the reluctant reader, the unfocused student, the student who makes excuses about reading, and other concerns that our tutors have encountered this semester. Our students have learned so much about themselves as they have dealt with difficult situations. They have gained confidence in their own ability to impact another’s life and found the rewards of helping someone else achieve success. Instructor: Pat Cooper


This fall in our Ted Talks selective, students have been hard at work creating a speech that shares an idea with the TVS community.  We began the course with games to practice public speaking and are now in the process of preparing speeches each student will present to the middle school in the spring semester.  Here are a few of the inventive ideas our students will be sharing with their peers:

  • “Why Kids Aren’t as Limited as They Think” by Tom B. (presenting at TEDx Houston November 16th).
  • “The Importance of Imagination” by Sarah C.
  • “Search for the Truth” by Kerry M.
  • “Be Open” by Connor H.

Instructors: Tina Harper and Elise Sharpe


In the World Peace Game selective, our world is on a four-layer 4’x4’x5’ Plexiglas model, consisting of layers for the bottom of the oceans, landmasses and oceans, air space, and outer space.  Students’ roles in this world include country leaders, a United Nations Secretary-General, a Head of the World Bank, an International Arms Dealer, and a secret saboteur, and the “God of Nature” (Dr. Roemer) who randomly decides weather, stock market changes, and related financial losses or gains.  All the leaders are provided with the list of 13 existing major conflicts (international and domestic), while the “God of Nature” and the saboteur continue to create ongoing problems, resulting in a true simulation of the dynamic world in which we live.

The goal of the game is to establish world peace and prosperity for all the countries via negotiations and agreements that must be ratified by the United Nations.  In the beginning weeks, personal egos, the excitement of declaring wars, and coups d’état created more conflicts. Now a magical change is taking place among the leaders; it is amazing to see their calmer demeanor, negotiations for peace, talks about consequences, and a move towards coming together as peacemakers to create a better place for all and accomplish the game’s objectives. We cannot wait to see how the world turns out at the end of this semester! Instructors: Dr. Michael Roemer and Satish Tawari


In Look Who’s Talking: The Art of Communication, we have studied key elements of communication: how to listen effectively and take notes in class; how to manage your identity in real world as well as on social media; how to communicate with people from other cultures; how to use verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate; guidelines for appropriate self-disclosure; and how to manage relationships. The students realized that they are sending out messages about themselves through their words, voice, appearance, touch and body movement. They have practiced using facts and behavioral descriptions instead of opinions or conclusions to improve their conversational skills. We have discussed how words such as “often” and “never” can cause misunderstandings and therefore should be avoided, and they have practiced their listening and paraphrasing skills in receiving information and showing their support. To finish the semester, we are working on a case study on conflict resolution by using confirming and assertive language. Instructor: Rachel Davidsaver


Chicken nuggets, fruit, Greek yogurt, granola, water, juice, Red Bull: What ingredients are in these foods and beverages that are good and not-so-good for the human body?  Middle school nutrition students in the Sweet Tooth selective have been hard at work determining the best fuel for their bodies.  Students have uncovered the importance of the nutrients in our foods, what the nutrients are used for, how much food we need, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy choices.  Students have tried new food in class, including steaming their own vegetables at lunch in a steamer bag and creating their own Greek yogurt parfaits.  We have analyzed the importance of hydration and what beverage choices may have a negative impact on our bodies (e.g. energy drinks, Red Bull, Monster, etc.).  With so many restaurants and fast food choices, how do we set ourselves up for optimal success?  Nutrition students have planned a balanced snack that they will prepare for the teachers, for the November 20th faculty meeting after school.  Chef Coble has visited the class as well, and students will be working with him to design a lunch menu for the dining hall when we return from Thanksgiving break.   Instructor: Erin MacNabb


In Communication Arts: What Does Leadership Look Like?, we have looked at how companies and organizations use art and graphic design to brand and communicate their values. As part of our new “house meeting” program in the middle school, all students are broken into one of four houses: Integritas, Mores, Sapientia, and Honor. In our selectives class, we have been working on creating a distinctive brand that communicates these values, based on the symbols of a shield and a compass. Students are also coming up with a plan about how to use the final image. We are excited to debut our designs at the end of the semester!  Instructor: Bill Buck


Musical Theater, The Master Class is comprised of students on many different levels of performance experiences. The first thing we discovered is that as a group, many of the students were ignorant of the great composers of the great songs that have been part of the musical theatre scene since the 1800s. To educate our students on this subject, we added a mini-history component to our weekly hour. We are using a great text, Acting in Musical Theatre, A Comprehensive Course, by Joe Deer. We do weekly reading assignments at home, and then talk about the main points in class. The exercises found in the book are collaborative and truly nurture the creative process and foster integrative thinking. We are constantly experimenting with our voices and delivery of songs. This past week we even started choreography for one of the numbers we will present in our Musical Theater Showcase, coming up in December. This has been a wonderful Selective, as the students have been extremely positive and energetic. Instructors: Alan Buratto & Anna Carlson


In Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey, our intrepid band of explorers began in the ordinary world.  But soon they heard the call to adventure, contemplated refusing the call, encountered a mentor, crossed the threshold, and were tested on the way to their innermost cave. In coming weeks, they will encounter more trials before seizing their reward and taking the road back home. In other words, we have explored the classic model of a hero’s journey through film and discussion, drawing connections between Star Wars, modern films, and our own experiences. Before this journey is through, students will propose their own ideas for how to continue the Star Wars adventure in a way that holds true to the themes that made it so appealing in the first place. Instructor: Dr. Mike Kris


Dr. Mike Kris

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