In the fall, middle and high school students in Boulder Valley will have the option to take new classes that include learning about birdwatching, quantum computing, Spanish graphic novels, and scientific research.
Recently, the school board signed-off on 15 new elective classes. Most were requested by teachers, though some were developed at the district level in response to new initiatives, such as the expansion of middle school bilingual programs and the Grad Plus effort to better prepare students for college and careers after high school.
For the bilingual program expansion, the district is adding electives taught in Spanish that consist of a mix of new classes and existing classes that were taught only in English. The new options include Graphic Novels in Spanish, World Music in Spanish, and Art and Social Change.
Melanie Crowder, a teacher at Boulder’s Manhattan Middle School, said teachers at the three middle schools with bilingual programs collaborated to develop the new electives. She proposed the graphic novel class, stating that students at her art-focused middle school “are just voracious consumers of graphic novels.”
“It’s putting drawing and reading together into an academic class they can get really excited about,” she said. “It’s really exciting.”
For Grad Plus, the district is adding three new classes. Two are work-based learning classes that allow students to earn credit through a job, one with an in-classroom component and one with an online work-study component. The third is an internship seminar class.
The fall will also introduce a new option for bird watching, with classes developed by teachers at both Broomfield’s Aspen Creek K-8 and Boulder High School.
Aspen Creek technology teacher Jason Cole, a birdwatching enthusiast, expressed his intention to share his experiences and knowledge with students. He noted that the class will not only cover science standards of the middle school but also get students outside and introduce them to what could become a lifelong hobby.
“It’s an opportunity to connect with nature, to increase mental stimulation and engagement,” he said. “What’s even more important than the educational side is what it can do for kids’ social emotional well-being.”
The plan for the class is to teach students to use avian classification, anatomy, and ecology to identify birds and understand their importance to the environment. Additionally, students will find and observe birds in the wild, as well as have the opportunity to record and submit data in support of scientific studies and conservation efforts.
Cole used a grant to buy ornithology books and will use binoculars the school already owns. He’s planning a few field trips to birdwatching spots in Boulder County, but students mainly will look for and observe birds at parks near the school.
“You can bird almost anywhere, he said. “It’s going to be so much fun. I’m hoping to keep everything exciting for the kids.”
At Boulder High School, teacher Julie Thompson proposed a high school birdwatching class after taking a three-day professional development course given by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She tested a few lessons this year in her biology and environmental science classes and found students had a genuine interest in birds.
Thompson wrote the class proposal with help from Erin Greenwood, Boulder Valley’s science coordinator, as well as assistance from community experts. The class aims to introduce students to bird biology, behavior, evolution, ecology, and conservation.
“I plan to include classroom lectures and activities, field observations on campus, field trips to local birding spots off-campus, and guest speakers,” she said. “Students will gain an introductory understanding of ornithology and develop practical bird-watching skills using the Merlin and eBird apps, to help with ID and to keep a life list.”
Along with aiding in Boulder’s High’s birdwatching proposal, Greenwood developed a middle school version of the high school science research seminar.
At the high school level, students in the course enter a research project in the regional science fair. With fewer junior entries from the district’s middle schools, Greenwood said a middle level class is a way to increase access and participation while exposing students to science careers.
“Students can learn about STEM careers and science and engineering concepts,” Greenwood said. “They can tap into a passion project and see if STEM is something they might enjoy.”
Greenwood explained that the class can help students learn skills they need in their core science classes, as well as providing more advanced students with additional opportunities.
“The course could meet students all across the spectrum,” Greenwood said.
Another Boulder High teacher, Jessica Klauzer-Zimmerman, was hired in 2020 to revitalize the computer science department, which was disbanded during the pandemic. Alongside traditional classes such as robotics and coding, she added artificial intelligence and quantum computing as remote learning options taught by college professors through Qubit by Qubit.
“I am not a quantum expert by any stretch of the imagination, but we still were able to add this amazing content to the Boulder High computer science department by outsourcing the niche content knowledge to real experts,” Klauzer-Zimmerman said.
While students can enroll in the Qubit classes outside of school, she included them in Boulder High’s course catalog in the fall of 2022 as an independent study option. With the district’s formal approval of the classes, students can take them as regular classes and other high schools could offer them.
At Boulder High, Klauzer-Zimmerman serves as a course facilitator, with the classes offered through a hybrid model that includes a mix of in-person and remote learning.
“The hybrid model allows me to use my teaching expertise to supplement the lessons, labs, and homework problem sets to help clear up any gray areas and ensure mastery,” Klauzer-Zimmerman said. “I want to arm my students with the skills that they will need not only for the jobs that exist today, but also with skills and knowledge for tech industry jobs that will be out there in the next five to 10 years.”