Lake Norman & Mooresville

Davidson Day tries out new mini-term

Imagine a week riding mountain bikes through the park, rocking out to the Beatles or watching the movie "Love and Basketball."

No, it's not the typical holiday break for Davidson Day students.

It's what they're learning in school.

During the second half of November, students got a rare opportunity to explore their interests between regular trimesters.

This fall's so-called mini-term, which ran for seven days just before Thanksgiving Break on a pass-fail system, was the first of its kind at the school. Instead of calculus and English, students could sign up for classes such as the history of rock 'n' roll music or sewing.

They're the kind of subjects that usually are offered only at the collegiate level.

Headmaster Bonnie Cotter said she feels it's important to explore subjects outside the core study areas.

Bonnie Cotter and physics teacher Chad Metzler came up with the idea of a mini-term while brainstorming new ways to challenge students academically.

"It's energized students about learning," said the headmaster, who taught a business class during the mini-term. "They're engaged. They're not just looking at the clock and waiting for class to end."

The school encouraged everyone from teachers to school administrators to lead classes on subjects that were of particular interest to them.

The mini-term gave students the opportunity to learn from school employees they might not normally interact with, said John Tobias, the school's public relations director.

Chris Graham, the school's director of facilities, worked as an architect for several years before coming to Davidson Day. This fall, he taught a small group of students about the principles of architecture, including building foundations.

Using Google SketchUp, a program he downloaded for free from the Internet, Graham had students create 3-D models to reinforce his lectures.

"I get to walk in the faculty's shoes a bit. It's helped me become more of a team player and have more empathy for what they do everyday," he said.

For students, it's a way to explore a career before they make a commitment in college or professional life.

"I've thought about being an architect before, but I didn't understand everything that goes into it," said sophomore Hunter Iocco. "This is like a preview of different occupations you can have."

Other classes, such as yoga or cooking, teach students life skills that encourage wellness, teachers said.

Junior Erik Robinson, who plays on the school's soccer team, said taking yoga has improved his flexibility and strength. Many students voiced enthusiasm for learning skills they aren't usually exposed to during the school's regular trimesters.

"It's been a nice time to relax - I've been so stressed out," said junior Tommy Bruce while using his mother's sewing machine to make a pair of shorts in sewing class.

Photography teacher Paul Cotter, headmaster Bonnie Cotter's husband, said a fellow teacher described the mini-term as students "cleansing the palate" for the next semester.

"When I was in school, I felt like my teachers just wanted me to memorize facts and spit it back to them," he said. "Our school is really trying to develop critical and creative thinkers."

Paul Cotter taught a class called Think Tank during the mini-term. The course encouraged students to develop new ways of thinking, which included techniques such as stream of consciousness, clustering and 180-degree thinking. These techniques, frequently used in the professional world, try to get individuals out of the rut of strictly linear thinking.

"Your ability to solve problems creatively is going to make or break your success in life," he said.

Paul Cotter encouraged his students to use their newly formed thinking skills to solve practical problems such as how the school could improve hallway congestion.

Bonnie Cotter said the mini-term is a bit unconventional, but she considers any knowledge gained by students between trimesters a success.

"We're always looking for better ways to reach our students," said the headmaster. "Part of the school spirit is to continuously find new ways to make education relevant and exciting for students."