Featuring the New Electives

Covering the new and interesting elective options that are being offered for the 2017-2018 autumn and spring semesters.

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Filming the world through the perspective of a moving bicycle; learning the secrets of the IC, CIA, and NSA; transcribing music from one instrument onto the guitar. At Stuy, there is an elective for almost anything you can think of. This year, new electives have been created, and each one of them is bound to fill students with a sense of newfound appreciation.

The Physics of Video Production

Informally, The Physics of Video Production class is also known as “Introduction To Screen Studies.” Though it is taught by physics teacher Thomas Miner, the class does not revolve entirely around physics. Rather, it studies how physics is a part of film history and film theory, delving into everything from the smartphones of the present to the cinema screens of the past.

At first glance, it may seem odd that a physics teacher would create a class about film, as physics and film seem unrelated. For Miner, however, this interest in film isn’t random. In college, he also majored in Film Studies. After he accepted a teaching position at Stuyvesant, Miner jumped at the opportunity to teach a class that was oriented toward his passion for film.

Students view film material—from short films to animations, and everything in between—and then create film projects of their own. “I want students to become better practitioners of creating content. I think everyone is in charge of writing and producing [his or her] own films; essentially, if you think about Snapchat, or Instagram, or any kind of social media, we’re all basically the stars of our own films,” Miner explained.

In order to discover what aspects of film theory everyday observations reveal, the class often has group discussions. “We were talking about how the camera sees differently, how it has this alien perspective on us, on the world, and how his camera could see the world spinning,” Miner said. “A student had a film where he attached his phone to a bicycle wheel and it was just a beautiful whirlwind of colors and shapes.”

Miner’s passion for film helps students understand the importance of the moving image and encourages them to think outside the box. “This idea of assembling images that create meaning in the mind of the viewer—the essence of cinema is this montage of two images together. The collision of these two images creates an idea in the head of the viewer; that idea in and of itself is cinema,” Miner said.

History of Intelligence

After taking parental leave, Kerry Trainor has returned to Stuyvesant to teach his History of Intelligence elective during the spring semester. “I believe that, whenever possible, teachers should strive to teach content they are passionate about. I have always been fascinated and interested in the history of intelligence,” said Trainor in an e-mail interview.

Trainor wrote his Master Thesis on Congressional Oversight of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). It was while researching his thesis that Trainor noticed the number of college-level courses on the US Intelligence Community (IC) and later the lack thereof at Stuyvesant. This inspired him to create this elective. “I worked with several historians of Intelligence and Security Studies who helped me put it together. I then went through the process of getting it approved and was honored when our administration gave me the green light on it. I am very grateful to [Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer] Suri, [former Principal Jie] Zhang, and the rest of the Cabinet,” Trainor said.

The curriculum Trainor designed covers the history behind the IC with a focus on the CIA , FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), and the NSA (National Security Agency). In addition to their history, the class will also analyze how these spy agencies work and exactly what this work entails. Regarding what his students will take away from his elective, Trainor said, “Students will come away [with] a nuanced understanding of the role of largely secret intelligence agencies in an open democracy.”

The implications of the world of intelligence are vast: intelligence agencies are integral to foreign policy and the business world. As for whether this class will be continued in the future, as long as there is student demand, Trainor plans on teaching it.

Guitar Appreciation

The Music Department is offering a new class that teaches the same curriculum of the required Music Appreciation course, except with an intensive guitar unit. Guitar Appreciation is taught exclusively by music teacher Harold Stephan, who created the class when he needed to teach one of music teacher Liliya Shamazov’s classes, so she could teach another chorus period. He explained, “We thought it would be a great opportunity. It would be nice to offer something different.”

Stephan has experience teaching students how to play the guitar. “I taught one year of middle school, my first year teaching, where I had a guitar class already going. So it’s something that I felt comfortable doing,” he said. Stephan’s connection to the organization Little Kids Rock allowed him to get a grant for 50 free guitars. “Once I had that piece in place, it was a no-brainer to go ahead with it and create the curriculum to go along with it.”

The curriculum focuses on specific music pieces already taught in the Music Appreciation course, such as Ode to Joy and Pachelbel's Canon, that could be transposed to a guitar key. “They'll play along and hopefully remember it in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily remember it by sitting in a lecture type class,” he said.

Regardless of whether or not they play guitar, students can apply for the class or be randomly selected. He explained how he was surprised by the positive feedback the class received and the collaborative efforts of the students. “One of the nice things is that the kids who play guitar help the kids who don't play guitar to try to get everybody up to speed faster. Actually, I've been impressed by how fast the students have learned to play the basic chord shapes and strum along,” he said.

“The first time that I counted ‘1, 2, 3, C chord,’ everybody played the chord. It sounded like an ensemble C chord. Even if it wasn’t a piece a music, it was part of a piece of music,” he said, recalling his favorite moment of the year. “To me, that was the most gratifying thing, just to be able to hear kids who never played before to be able to participate and feel like they’re part of an ensemble.”

Because of his experience in the music industry, he is passionate about implementing more new classes in Stuyvesant. He is currently working on getting a grant for 30 electronic music workstations for a music production class. “I would like Stuyvesant to be the epicenter of songwriting and production at high levels in a high school environment in NYC, and possibly beyond,” Stephan said. In addition, he contacted the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences to start a summer camp program for Stuyvesant students. “I'd really love to be able to teach electronic music production, contemporary songwriting, classes like that,” he said

Whether your love for learning lies in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, or something completely different, electives give us insight into topics that intrigue those who take them. Maybe you could find yourself in one of these specific elective classrooms in the future.