At Millennium, each six-week academic term revolves around two Quests - deep, interdisciplinary projects that our faculty craft based on student interests, trends in the world, or special opportunities for learning. With each Quest we weave these "emergent" interests, which capture students' attention, together with our underlying academic curriculum. Recently a reporter asked us to share which Quests we've undertaken so far this year, and it was a fun exercise to draw these together in one list. Each Quest is formed around a driving Question, which students answer through their work and then present in some form to an external expert audience as a culmination. Here they are, eight Quests so far this year:
- Are we alone? An investigation into the math and physics of the search for extraterrestrial life - what are the chances other life exists in the universe, and how would we know? Students gave a final presentation to a panel of scientists and community leaders about calculations of probability and whether it would be worth spending public money on the search.
- Do our voices matter? An exploration of the local ballot propositions, the quest for the right to vote during the Civil Rights movement, and the democratic political process. Teams of students drafted legally correct ballot propositions they would like to see on a future ballot and presented them, in City Hall, to the San Francisco Youth Commission.
- How do I get to empathy? Responding the US Presidential election, we explored how worldviews develop and how to accommodate more than one worldview at a time, developing our capacity for empathy, reading related literature, and exploring the phenomenon of bullying. The quest culminated in each student audio-recording a "This I Believe" style essay on what they've come to believe about empathy.
- How do our bodies transform? We explored systems thinking and the transforming systems of our own bodies, opening the space for discussions of puberty on a personal level, while studying puberty and evolution scientifically. Culminated in students renting and setting up an art gallery space for a 'gallery opening party' in which they presented original artwork representing their experience of puberty and their scientific insights.
- How do we transcend our limits? We learned about the envelope-pushing stories of rocket engineers, and dove into the design and engineering process by building our own air- and water-pressure powered rockets, continually iterating on and improving our designs while learning and applying Newtonian physics.
- Has America dealt with slavery? Emerging from our discussions of civil rights and voting, we followed student interest to explore the roots of slavery and to what extent our society has dealt with the scars from this period. Through deep reading, seminars, role-playing and other tools, we explored these experiences and wounds, culminating in student team presentations attempting to answer this question, presented to a panel of African-American community leaders.
- How do I learn? Working with neuroscientists at the University of California - San Francisco's educational neuroscience lab, we explored how our brains work and change, and how we learn. We tested different learning methods, wore mobile EEG bands to measure our brain activity in real-time, and developed an appreciation for how much our efforts and choices can change our brain.
- How do I bring an idea to life? We researched the entrepreneurial process, exploring how entrepreneurs come up with an idea that relates to their passions or interests and then attempt to bring that concept into reality. We dove deeply into the mathematics of money, creating balance sheets and investing real money in the stock market to calculate basic market economics. As a culmination students will present business "pitches" for a for-profit or non-profit concept of their design to a panel of investors and philanthropists.