Upper School Curriculum 2018-19

  • History
  • Math
  • English
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Language
  • Arts
  • Non-Core


 The upper school history curriculum begins in ninth grade focusing on global history and geography from the evolution of early man and development of the first civilizations to the global convergence in the 13th-15th centuries. In tenth grade, students examine the formation of the modern world through the lenses of history, politics, the environment, and geography. With this solid background in world history, eleventh grade students are ready to focus on the major forces that have shaped the United States such as political liberalism, nationalism, industrialization, and imperialism. In twelfth grade, students will choose from a series of electives during the first semester based on both teacher expertise and student interest.

While the electives will cover a variety of topics, all of the senior courses are designed to have students apply their historical thinking skills to the modern, global world. The underlying goal of the curriculum is to enhance students’ understanding and appreciation of how forces influence the course of global human history, from antiquity to today. Students learn through projects as well as texts (primary and secondary sources), debate, research analysis, document analysis, written analysis, and discussion. By asking students to apply their knowledge of the past to the challenges of the future in an increasingly “globalized” world, students develop a critical global perspective as well as an understanding of the responsibilities they have as individuals and citizens in a democratic society.

History Course Offerings

World History I – year course
The ninth grade history course examines ancient world history from a thematic perspective. Starting with the evolution of early man in Africa 4-5 million years ago, students examine the political structures, social dynamics, geographic factors, gender roles, economic interactions, and philosophical ideas that have shaped various civilizations from Africa to Eurasia to the Americas. Beyond merely looking at points of similarity and difference between civilizations, the course aims to explore the impact of the interactions between people and ideas that have occurred over the past two thousand years in the hope of gaining an understanding of the modern, interconnected world.

World History II – year course
This course is a comparative survey of major events in World History from the Middle Ages to the present. The first semester focuses on world historical events starting in the 14th century and stresses the importance of intercultural exchange. Students will investigate trade networks, international religions, and the rise and fall of empires as the course moves toward globalization and industrialization. The second semester focuses on revolutions, imperialism and nationalism. Students will engage in discussion about social, political, technological, and religious changes and how these themes have shaped the world we live in. Each term, the analysis of primary print, visual and auditory sources, as well as interactive simulations, are used to reinforce students' understanding of the major themes of the course.

AP World History – year course
Advanced Placement World History is a college-level course that offers motivated students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of world human activity over time. By focusing on selected themes, we will identify, explore, and compare civilizations, patterns of change, and connections within the history of the world from the foundations of civilization to the present. This course offers balanced global coverage of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe, and requires significant reading, intensive essay writing and preparation, and project-based learning. The goal is to effectively prepare students for the culmination of the course, the AP World History exam in May.

United States History – year course
This course covers the history of the United States from the colonial era to the present. It is a general survey of the themes, people, stories, and factors that have shaped the American country. The course moves through the different eras of American history focusing on comparisons, changes, and connections. The history of the United States will be conveyed in this course through primary source documents, texts, music, art, films, photographs, and retellings in an attempt to provide multiple sources and a broader understanding of the American Experiment.

AP United States History – year course
Advanced Placement United States History is a college-level course for students seeking to immerse themselves in the study of the American experience. This fast-paced course uses discussions of readings, essay writing, and collaborative and investigative methods to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful on the AP exam. Students refine their analytical abilities and critical thinking skills and gain sophisticated understanding of historical and geographical context, make multicultural comparisons, and interpret changing historical frameworks.

Human Geography – semester 1
This Human Geography course will explore a range of interdisciplinary topics including geography, culture, politics, agriculture and urbanization. Students will engage in the analysis of problems of economic development and cultural change, impacts of population growth, why location matters for agriculture and urban land development, struggles of minority populations and the impacts of climate change and the environment on how humans shape the landscapes on Earth. The course will use research, writing, discussion and problem solving to engage students in the material throughout the semester.

Know your Rights: Goverment and Civics – semester 1
This course provides students with opportunities to study individual rights provided to them by the United States Constitution and other related laws. Students will deal with the direct and indirect effects the government has on their everyday lives, what rights you possess as an American citizen, and what responsibilities each citizen has to their government on the local, state and national levels.  We will pay particular attention to the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing on landmark decisions that have had a direct impact on the individual rights of high school students.

Introduction to Ethics: A Comparative Study of World Religions and Philosophies – semester 1
What is truth? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? What is your duty to others? This course is designed to introduce students to the concepts of ethics and how these ideas are applied in today’s modern society. Through a study of world religions, both Abrahamic and otherwise, as well as various philosophical schools of thought ranging from Socrates to David Foster Wallace, the course will investigate many of the ideas and belief systems that have helped formulate the modern conception of ethics. Students will learn a practical approach to apply ethics to everyday life through a combination of Harkness discussions, primary and secondary source readings, and films and literature.


The upper school mathematics curriculum prepares students for the challenges of collegiate level work through the mastery of fundamental concepts and skills. Careful consideration is taken to place students in appropriate courses. Progress with geometric, algebraic, and trigonometric skills without the aid of technology is emphasized. Additionally, students learn to harness technology to perform investigations and to solve complex application problems. Advanced Placement courses in calculus and statistics are available for qualified students. 

Mathematics Course Offerings

Algebra I – year course
Algebra I builds on the work accomplished in Pre-Algebra. Students explore increasingly complex linear functions, including the graphs and applications of these functions, and solving multi-step equations. Solving for two variables is introduced through systems of linear equations and students develop a deeper understanding of exponents. The year culminates with students exploring nonlinear functions, such as exponential and quadratic relations, as a foundation for their studies in Algebra II.

Geometry – year course
Geometry introduces and explores logical and spatial reasoning through the use of both inductive and deductive reasoning. Two-column proofs are introduced and applied to proving lines parallel and triangles congruent. Algebra is a necessary prerequisite for this course, as students must have knowledge of linear graphing and frequently use geometric principles to create and solve algebraic equations. Additional topics covered in this course include: the Pythagorean Theorem, similar triangles, relationships in triangles, properties of quadrilaterals, area of polygons and circles, trigonometric ratios, and surface area and volume of geometric solids. Connections are made between the concepts and their applications in the real world. Students learn to use Geometer’s Sketchpad, a computer software program, to enrich their understanding of the topics.

Project-Based Geometry – year course 
Project-Based Geometry provides the foundations of Geometry through integrating a problem solving approach in a real-world setting. While the students may have some traditional classroom days, frequent class meetings will be devoted to carrying out a hands on approach to a year-long project. For the 2018-2019 school year, the students in Project-Based Geometry will collaborate to plan and implement turning a bus into a tiny house. Students will need to think on their feet as they are faced with situations that arise in the wake of a live, ongoing project. This exhilarating course will feed off of the 21st century skills necessary to handle such a unique way of learning and will use geometry skills to solve real world problems.

Algebra II – year course
Algebra II is an in-depth study of linear, quadratic, polynomial, exponential, and logarithmic functions. Students learn to distinguish the characteristics of equations and graphs of each of these functions, and then apply them in a variety of situations, often through the use of a graphing calculator. Through both independent and group problem-solving, students strengthen their skills, both with and without the use of a calculator, that will be the foundation for future math courses in high school and college. 

Algebra II/Trigonometry – year course
This rigorous, fast-paced class essentially combines two courses, Algebra II and an introduction to Trigonometry. Through the fall and winter, the course will focus on an in-depth study of linear, quadratic, polynomial, exponential and logarithmic functions. Students learn to distinguish the characteristics of equations for different types of functions and then apply them in a variety of situations. During the spring, students use right triangle trigonometry, the law of sines, and the law of cosines to solve triangles and in application problems. Periodic functions are used to discover the graphs of the trigonometric functions and their inverses. Both no calculator and calculator active approaches to problem solving are emphasized throughout the course.

Trigonometry and Introduction to Pre-Calculus – year course
Trigonometry and Introduction to Pre-Calculus begins with a review of linear, quadratic, and polynomial functions. Students then cover introductory pre-calculus concepts including logarithmic and exponential functions, conic sections, and basic rational functions. In the second semester, students begin their study of trigonometry by reviewing right triangle trigonometry. Oblique triangles are solved using  the law of sines and the law of cosines. The unit circle is used to introduce radian measure and the periodic nature of trigonometric graphs. Students then solve trigonometric equations with various domain restrictions. Real world application problems are solved by making use of sinusoidal wave modelling. Both no calculator and calculator active approaches to problem solving are emphasized throughout the course. 

Advanced Pre-Calculus – year course
Advanced Pre-Calculus is a fast paced course that begins by focusing on transformations of graphs, function composition, inverse functions, and an in-depth study of both rational functions and conic sections. Students extend their knowledge of trigonometry using an analytic approach to prove complex trigonometric identities. Vectors are introduced and applied to navigation using trigonometry. Students will also explore vector operations, polar coordinate representations, parametric equations, sequences and series, and combinations and permutations. The year culminates with a study of limits and derivatives in preparation for their first year in calculus. The use of a graphing calculator is emphasized throughout the course.

Calculus – year course
Calculus is a course designed to explore topics in differential and integral calculus. Though students will study many of the same topics as the AP Calculus AB course, the pace of this course is less intense in order to allow time for review and depth in mastery. Limits are used to develop the derivative concept and rules are established for finding derivatives of several classes of functions. Applications in differential calculus are studied including graphing, related rates, and optimization investigations. The fundamental theorem of calculus is applied to develop the integral concept and integration is used in solving area, volume, and accumulated change problems. The use of a graphing calculator is emphasized throughout the course.

AP Calculus AB – year course
Calculus AB is an advanced placement course with an equal focus on differential and integral calculus. The concept of the derivative is defined, and rules are established for finding the derivatives of elementary functions. Derivatives are used to graph functions, and applications are made to optimization, related rates of change, and the motion of an object along a line. The definite integral is defined and evaluated using the fundamental theorem of calculus. Applications of definite integrals include finding the area under a curve, volumes of solids of revolution, the distance traveled by an object moving along a line, and accumulated change. Students conclude the year by taking the Advanced Placement test which may qualify them for college credit. 

AP Calculus BC – year course
Calculus BC is an Advanced Placement course that builds upon the foundation established in Calculus AB. Differential and integral calculus concepts are reviewed, and applications are explored at a more rigorous level than in Calculus AB. Numerous new integration techniques are introduced. Solutions to differential equations are approximated using Euler’s Method. The calculus of parametric equations is applied to motion in two dimensions. Students calculate the area between curves using integration in polar coordinates. They apply a variety of methods to determine the convergence or divergence of an infinite series. Students then create and analyze power series, in the form of Taylor and Maclaurin series, to represent transcendental functions. Students conclude the year by taking the Advanced Placement test, which may qualify them for college credit. 

Statistics (with AP option) – year course
Statistics and AP Statistics cover the fundamentals of statistical analysis and their applications to real world data. The year begins with a focus on core concepts, such as graphing, summarizing data, and working with statistical models. Throughout the second half of the year, these topics will be revisited in different contexts to practice producing and evaluating data. Students will use technology (graphing calculators and spreadsheet generators) to aid in and strengthen their statistical analysis. Students choosing to enroll in the AP option will be held to higher standards of depth and mastery through differentiated quizzes, tests, and projects, and will also be required to take the AP Statistics exam in May.


The English curriculum follows a developmental progression of increasing sophistication in grammar, vocabulary, discussion skills, writing, and reading. Emphasis is also placed on the study of Shakespeare, which occurs in grades 9-11. The upper school English department utilizes Harkness Tables, wooden oval tables that allow discussion to be the primary method of learning. In each grade, texts are pulled from the American, British, and World canon to provide a wide range of diversity and are organized by theme. AP English Literature is offered to 11th grade students with solid skills in critical reading and writing. In 12th grade, students are provided with an opportunity to choose their English class from three offerings that vary each year based on teacher and student interest. Senior English will be only a one semester course, as the student will pursue research writing, reading, and reflection in their second semester senior project. 

English Course Offerings

English 9: Foundations of Literature – year course
This is a required yearlong course for all freshmen. We focus on establishing the foundation necessary for upper-level skill progression in English. Students begin this journey with the study of various genres including novels, short stories, and poetry, as well as a performance-based unit on Shakespeare that culminates in our annual Shakespeare Festival. A heavy emphasis on grammar and structured writing skills pervades all that we do in this class so that students are practicing skills that will aid them through the rest of their academic careers. The Harkness Table provides students with opportunities to hone listening and speaking skills, and to allow them the cultivation of their own voices and opinions in discussion.

English 10: British & World Literature – year course
This is a required yearlong course for all sophomores. The tenth grade year in English focuses on the study of British and World texts based in analysis, discussion, paper-writing, and creative projects. The content of the class is based around finding similarities between students and characters regardless of differences in time, culture, and language. Students learn and use grammar skills and a sophisticated vocabulary in order to speak and write articulately, as well as to prepare for standardized tests. The course also contains a Shakespeare component culminating in a Festival at the end of the year. Students leave this course with the ability to participate effectively in discussion, critically examine texts, write interesting and analytical papers, and use correct mechanics to communicate.

English 11: American Literature – year course
This course is one of two offered to juniors, and it focuses on the use of American Literature to cultivate connections to our history curriculum and between students and their cultural roots. We discuss texts that highlight the development of one’s awareness of the individual and society. To that end, we focus on analysis of novels, poems, short stories, and personal narratives, as well as the formal study of a Shakespeare play. Student-led discussion constitutes the primary method of learning in order to carry on the Harkness tradition of strong speaking and listening skills. Students hone their skills in writing personal narratives, compare and contrast essays, and literary analyses with the goal of practicing different organizational techniques and effective communication. Vocabulary and grammar are regular components of the daily work in this class.

English 11: AP English Literature – year course
This is an optional, yearlong course open to 11th grade students who have achieved a high level of success and sophistication in their English skills. Prerequisites must be met for admission into this course. Attendance in this class guarantees a student’s commitment to taking the AP English Literature exam in May. This class will provide a typical VMS experience in English with seminar discussions and in-depth conversations about literature, but will also focus on AP specific skills like multiple choice tests and essay responses. The AP English Literature course title also demands a close attention to grammar, vocabulary, rhetoric, writing skills, and a focus on non-fiction texts, in addition to the typical study of literature found in VMS English classes.

English 12– overview
Seniors have the opportunity to choose between three, theme based classes listed below for semester 1. These courses, regardless of topic, prepare students for college and beyond by expanding their personal point of view through listening, questioning, and defending their stance regarding literature and writing. They work on longer essays, college essays, research, personal narratives, writer modeling, and alternate forms of writing. Emphasis is placed on appropriate and creative use of technology to allow students to become comfortable with collaborative and innovative presentations. Literature is carefully chosen to inspire new perspectives, a moral sensitivity, and passionate as well as compassionate responses. Each year, creative course selections are offered based on the interests of both teachers and students.

12th Grade Senior Seminar: River of Words – semester 1
Throughout the course of human history, water has been both physically and metaphorically life-giving. Rivers provide the tools that we as humans need to survive: we bathe, drink, travel, irrigate, and baptize in the waters that flow through our world. Equally as important, rivers also embody those qualities that are somewhat less quantifiable: enlightenment, quests (both internal and external), fulfillment, sacredness, love, and the sublime. This course will explore the physical, philosophical, religious, and cultural connections between the human and natural worlds through poetry and prose, fiction and essays, and through students’ own analysis and creative writing. This course will incorporate day trips to our own rivers in and around the Vail Valley, and a 3-day river trip in Utah. Possible texts include: Siddhartha, The River Why, River Teeth, A River Runs Through It, A River Sutra, and assorted essays and poetry.

12th Grade Senior Seminar: Fiction to Film – semester 1
This class will explore the ways in which the important components of texts are translated onto the silver screen. You will attempt to answer many of the following questions: What elements of fiction translate well to the big screen? What parts of stories end up getting dropped during production? What truths does literature on screen capture? How can directors manipulate our emotions through flat images and sound? We’ll study widely from different genres, examining how books are adapted to movies. Students will read extensively and critically view films. The class will culminate in a final project where students will have the opportunity to create their own film adaptations, write a screenplay, or critically review an adaptation that we did not discuss in class. Possible text/movie pairings include: Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now; Mrs. Dalloway/The Hours; The Orchid Thief/Adaptation; As I Lay Dying/James Franco’s As I Lay Dying; True Grit/The Coen Brothers' True Grit; Memento Mori/Memento, and Fight Club (Fincher’s Fight Club).

12th Grade Senior Seminar: In Love & War – semester 1
From “make love, not war” to War & Peace, these two concepts seem inextricably linked and an inevitable component of being human. We fight for all sorts of reasons: religion, money, power, freedom, etc., but in the end what we find is that what remains is love. These texts, many with accompanying movies, provide us with insights into the people who struggle through the pain of war and then need to figure out how to live and love in what is often a completely different world. This course will be a study in love, family relations, the natural world, the human mind's ability to see good in a world that sometimes seems like it is falling into despair. War leaves behind death, but also hope and a new vision. These texts and movies allow us to explore all these possibilities as we travel with these characters through hell and often out the other side. Possible texts include: The Things They Carried (summer reading); Atonement; Ceremony; The English Patient; The Kite Runner.


Science courses in upper school offer students a survey of the core sciences through lab-based instruction. In all classes, students design unique and genuine experiments. Ninth graders are taught many practical skills and concepts using the physical sciences to prepare them well for higher-level thinking and communicating effectively as a future scientist in advanced courses. Starting in tenth grade, students can select a traditional route or an accelerated route. Depending on the route taken, students have numerous choices during junior and senior year designed to support any college aspiration. AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, AP Physics C, AP Chemistry, and Anatomy and Physiology are offered to students who have met the prerequisites.

Science Course Offerings

Foundations in Chemistry and Physics – year course
In this course, students will practice thinking scientifically by studying and experimenting with the physical world. Topics in both chemistry and physics will be covered in both classroom and lab settings to introduce students to the upper school course offerings. Interactive labs and demonstrations will be used to strengthen important science skills like collecting measurements and making sense of data. This course will prepare students to think critically about the physical world and give them direction in the science course offerings available to upper school students. 

Biology – year course (Includes EEB and CMB)
  • Evolution, Ecology and Behavior (EEB)
    This course will explore the role and function of organisms in ecosystems. Population dynamics, organism interactions, and the flow of energy will expand our understanding of ecological systems. We will also study how natural selection and evolution of groups and individuals create and affect biodiversity in ecosystems. Students can expect lab-based work, collaborative learning, and rigorous content to prepare them for an AP Biology course. 
  • Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB)
    This laboratory science course takes a molecular approach to the study of life while also acknowledging the driving force of evolution in shaping the foundations of life’s metabolism. Students will learn how life works at the molecular level through numerous lab investigations and will improve their communication skills through well-supported lab analysis and write-ups. Essential metabolic processes will be examined closely including: a survey of biochemical structure and function; cells and membrane transport; cellular respiration; protein synthesis; cellular division; and molecular genetics. Students will be well prepared for AP Biology after completing this class and will be ready for coursework in the biological sciences in college.
Accelerated Chemistry/Cellular & Molecular Biology – year course
  • Chemistry
    This course is designed to give students a rich understanding of how and why matter interacts on earth in an accelerated semester of instruction. Students develop a strong foundation in the language of chemistry and learn how to apply this foundation to increasingly complex reactions. Many lab investigations will be conducted to bring concepts to life as students learn how to report data properly in support of conclusions. Areas of study include: bonding, formulas, qualitative reactions, stoichiometry, acid-base chemistry, and oxidation-reduction reactions.
  • Cellular and Molecular Biology
    This laboratory science course takes a molecular approach to the study of life while also acknowledging the driving force of evolution in shaping the foundations of life’s metabolism. Students will learn how life works at the molecular level through numerous lab investigations and will improve their communication skills through well-supported lab analysis and write-ups. Essential metabolic processes will be examined closely including: a survey of biochemical structure and function; cells and membrane transport; cellular respiration; protein synthesis; cellular division; and molecular genetics. Students will be well prepared for AP Biology after completing this class and will be ready for coursework in the biological sciences in college.
Chemistry – year course
This course is designed to give students a rich understanding of how and why matter interacts on Earth. Students develop a strong foundation in the language of chemistry and learn how to apply this foundation to increasingly complex reactions. Many lab investigations will be conducted to bring concepts to life as students learn how to report data properly in support of conclusions. Areas of study include: bonding, formulas, qualitative reactions, stoichiometry, solutions, thermodynamics, acid-base chemistry, and oxidation-reduction reactions.

Anatomy and Physiology – year course
This course will explore the structure and function of human tissue, organs, and musculoskeletal system. We will use the broad topics of what bodies do to tackle the various systems of anatomy, including bones and muscles, circulatory system, digestive tract, and the nervous system. Where applicable, structures will be compared with other species to provide insight into the various advantages and disadvantages of human systems. Students can expect lab and group-based work (think dissections!), written analyses, and rigorous content.

AP Environmental Science – year course
The AP Environmental Science course is designed to be the equivalent of a one-semester, introductory college course in environmental science. This course is a rigorous science course that stresses scientific principles and analysis and will include a laboratory component as well as issues-based projects. The content of the course follows the AP curriculum and will give students an appreciation for, and understanding of, the complexity of events that have shaped the earth during its 4.6 billion year history all the way to current Environmental issues.

AP Physics-C – year course
This course will be an in-depth, calculus-based look into the theories of Newtonian Mechanics. It is designed for first year physics students and is equivalent to an introductory college physics course in mechanics. In order to address each concept thoroughly and to cater to varied learning styles, the course is taught through classroom discussion, hands-on experiments, problem-solving in small groups, demonstrations, and investigations into real world applications. Calculus AB is considered a corequisite course, meaning it may be taken concurrently. The syllabus of this course will follow the format laid out by the College Board in order to prepare students to take the AP Physics C Mechanics Exam in May. By the end of this course, students will not only know the fundamental laws of physics, they will also be familiar with the origin of these laws and learn to apply them to situations in the world around them.

AP Biology – year course
This course is a college-level biology course aimed at providing an in-depth look at the structures and processes governing life on Earth. Biochemistry, genetics and organisms are the focus of this class. Lab skills are honed through inquiry-based experiments and an examination of feline anatomy during a dissection project to conclude the course. Students prepare for and take the AP Biology exam in the spring. By the end of this class, students will have developed an enduring understanding of the essential interactions that shape life on Earth from the molecular to the ecosystem level.

AP Chemistry – year course
The AP Chemistry course provides students with a foundation to support future advanced coursework in chemistry. Through inquiry-based learning, students develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. Students cultivate their understanding of chemistry and science practices as they explore topics such as: atomic structure, intermolecular forces and bonding, chemical reactions, kinetics, thermodynamics, and equilibrium. By the end of this course, students will have acquired the skills and knowledge to be successful in advanced coursework in college.


Technology classes are designed to offer students experience in different realms of the digital domain. Through computer science classes, students will learn different coding languages and will be exposed to many different applications and techniques. “Maker” classes expose students to design thinking, where, through a series of attempts and subsequent refinements, their ideas will take concrete form.

**Students who are NOT enrolled in a 4th year of language will need to take either The Language of Code (see below) or AP Music Theory (see performing arts section) 

9th Grade Functional Design & Innovation – semester course
In this course, students will use technology tools to analyze the functional parameters of parts, assemblies, and innovations throughout history. They will use this knowledge to create functional, innovative designs of their own. Student teams will be challenged to design and analyze the usability of their creations in a hands-on project based learning environment. They will then execute their ideas using design thinking, drafting and prototyping. Finally, they will pitch their ideas in a form similar to TV’s Shark Tank. After receiving feedback, students will experience the iteration, manufacturing and finally, marketing processes.  

AP Computer Science Principles – year course
AP Computer Science Principles offers a multidisciplinary approach to teaching the underlying principles of computation. The course will introduce students to the creative aspects of programming, abstractions, algorithms, large data sets, the Internet, cybersecurity concerns, and computing impacts. AP Computer Science Principles will give students the opportunity to use technology to address real-world problems and build relevant solutions. Together, these aspects of the course make up a rigorous and rich curriculum that aims to broaden participation in computer science and keep current computer science students engaged. This course will provide a continuum for students who have taken Introduction to Computer Science but no prior programming experience is necessary.

The Language of Code – year course
Computing languages may not be spoken, but knowledge of them is becoming increasingly important in our society. This course will supplement the fourth year of foreign language by introducing students to coding languages and how coding can be used to solve real world problems. This course will cover problem solving, design thinking to help students develop a deep understanding of how software can impact the world around them by developing an idea for an app. 

Independent Study: AP Computer Science A- in Java – year course
Once students have completed AP Computer Science Principles, they have the opportunity to pursue an independent study course through CodeHS. AP Computer Science in Java will build on the skills learned in Intro to Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. This is a rigorous, advanced and fast paced computer science course. Students will be required to work independently with a mentor throughout the school year in order to prepare for the AP Exam.

World Languages

One of the overarching goals of the World Languages Department is for students to cultivate an intrinsic interest in a critical world language that they will carry with them long after they complete their studies at VMS. To accomplish this goal, the department strives to develop high levels of language proficiency alongside an increasingly profound understanding of the cultures in which the languages are utilized. A high degree of emphasis is placed on providing students with scaffolded opportunities for successfully communicating in the target language. The faculty consistently seek to connect the language to important issues of culture, as well as foster an environment in which students come to understand the value and relevance of Spanish and/or Chinese to their own lives and future goals.

Falling under the larger goal of helping students develop a sense of global identity, the department adheres to various pragmatic and pedagogical goals that guide the daily rhythm of the language classroom. The four critical language skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening all represent important components of our classrooms and are implemented across the curriculum in developmentally appropriate ways. All four components are covered through a classroom focus on successful communication, an understanding of the importance of the gradual acquisition of grammar, and a continuous increase of the depth and breadth of vocabulary knowledge. Additionally, the department creates opportunities to gain both linguistic and cultural experience firsthand through enrichment and travel abroad opportunities. 

World Languages Course Offerings

Mandarin I – year course
Mandarin I introduces students to the basics of the language and provides opportunities to learn about the overarching culture of the Chinese people. Students will develop basic communication skills and gain practice recognizing and producing the tones, which are an integral component of the language. Upon completion of this course, students are expected to be able to communicate about the following: numbers, basic greetings, family, nationalities, dates and times, basic foods, interests and hobbies, friends and activities, and making plans for daily events. The course situates all of these topics within potential real life situations, which prepares the students for future encounters with native speakers. Additionally, the course utilizes film, music, and other forms of authentic media to expose students to various elements of Chinese culture.

Mandarin II – year course
Mandarin II is an advanced-beginner level course designed for upper school students who have previously studied Chinese for one academic year. The overarching goal of the course is for students to build upon the foundational language skills covered in their first year of study, and to develop an increased proficiency level that allows them to engage with more complex language across the four language domains, i.e. listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Upon completion of this course, students are expected to be able to communicate about the following: daily activities, school life, shopping, private and public transportation, weather, dining out, and travel. As students become increasingly familiar with the language, they will encounter opportunities to learn about more complex cultural elements of the global community of Chinese speakers.

Mandarin III – year course
Mandarin III is an intermediate level course designed for students who have previously studied Chinese for two academic years. In this course, students will have the opportunity to use the strong linguistic foundation established in previous classes to communicate in more creative and meaningful ways about increasingly complex topics. Upon completion of this course, students are expected to be able to communicate about the following topics: planning social events; personal relationships; health; housing; the role of sports in a culture; travel; and issues of globalization. The introduction of additional abstract vocabulary, as well as more complicated grammar, will also challenge students to use their Chinese language skills to express more nuanced opinions and discuss complex social issues.

Mandarin IV – year course
Mandarin IV builds upon the intermediate level content covered in Mandarin III and is designed for students who have completed three academic years of Chinese at the upper school level. This class will provide opportunities for students to continue developing their ability to discuss everyday topics, however, the focus will shift to enhancing the level of detail and precision with which the students can communicate. Additionally, students in Mandarin IV will develop increased proficiency in navigating complex and abstract topics, gain a deeper understanding of the differences in the language utilized in various forms of media and explore more complicated issues of Chinese culture and history.  

Mandarin V – year course
Mandarin V is the highest level Chinese course available at VMS and provides students the opportunity to further develop their language skills at the intermediate  and advanced low level. Students will gain substantial practice with and exposure to more complex grammar patterns that are necessary to communicate at a higher proficiency level. Opportunities will be provided to significantly amplify the breadth and scope of the vocabulary students feel comfortable using in both written and spoken contexts. The final year of Mandarin will also help students envision what their plans are for language study after graduation and provide insight into skills that need to be further strengthened prior to moving on to further language studies at the university level.

Spanish I – year course
Spanish I is the introductory Spanish language course for the upper school. It is primarily designed for students who have either limited or no previous experience studying Spanish and would like to begin learning the foundations of the language. The course will cover essential vocabulary, grammatical patterns and cultural topics that will prepare the student to communicate in basic day-to-day situations in Spanish speaking countries.  

Spanish II – year course
Spanish II will provide an introduction to and review of the basic concepts and vocabulary of the Spanish language. The students will practice and perfect their use of “agreement” in all of their communication in the target language. To learn a foreign language, one must take a risk and take ownership of his or her own learning. Class participation is an essential and integral component of daily class activities. Students will learn through grammar exercises, games, videos, daily conversations, and popular music.

Spanish III – year course
In Spanish III, there is a focus on expression. By the end of this year, students will have learned how to express ideas in the past, present and future tenses, in both written and spoken Spanish. The instructor speaks mostly in the target language, and students should also communicate in Spanish at all times. The use of authentic materials (newspapers, Spanish-language television, popular music, etc.) helps the students immerse themselves in the culture without leaving the classroom.

Spanish IV – year course
In Spanish IV, students continue to be immersed in the target language. A comprehensive review of previously learned grammatical tenses is followed by an introduction to some of the more advanced tenses such as the perfect tenses, future, conditional, command forms, and subjunctive moods. Students are expected to incorporate more advanced vocabulary and grammar into their written and verbal expression. 

Cultural Spanish – year course
After a review of grammar and vocabulary, this course focuses on understanding culture through classic literature, music, movies, and current events. The class will use the Spanish language to explore the “conflicts” of human nature, political strife, and life along the border. We will view the films “Missing”, “A Better Life”, “El Norte”, and “Tortilla Soup”. The following novels, short stories and poems will provide the students with an opportunity to practice their speaking, reading, writing and oral skills in the target language: El Mancebo, Una Carta a Dios, Nada Menos Que Todo Un Hombre, Un Senor Viejo Con Unas Alas Enormes, and Yo Soy Joaquin

AP Spanish Language and Culture – year course
The AP Spanish Language and Culture class is a rigorous course taught exclusively in Spanish that requires students to improve their proficiency across the three modes of communication; interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. The course focuses on the integration of authentic cultural resources including online print, audio, and audiovisual resources, as well as traditional print resources that include literature, essays, magazines, and newspaper articles, with the goal of providing a rich, diverse learning experience. Students are expected to communicate using advanced vocabulary and linguistic structures as they build proficiency in all modes of communication and prepare for the content and format of the AP Exam in May.

Performing Arts

At the upper school level, the performing arts program is designed to allow students with interests in music or drama to further develop their skills through both exploratory and performance-based courses. Upper school music performance will include Instrumental Ensemble and Theatre, which will meet four times a rotation and explore music in a variety of styles. Instrumental music may include traditional band repertoire as well as jazz and popular works. Students are encouraged to build their knowledge of music theory, musicianship, and notation as a part of these classes.

The goal of the theatre performance programs is to educate and expose the student to a broad range of theatrical styles by presenting diverse performances and productions for cultural enhancement. The theatre department also strives to prepare students for post high school study in theatre performing arts.

Performing Arts Major Course Offerings

AP Music Theory – Full year course
AP Music Theory is offered to a junior or senior student who has taken at least two years of either band, choir or theatre, and who is in good standing with the Performing Arts Department. This course will meet five times each rotation for two semesters. The AP Theory course supports mastery of the rudiments and vocabulary of music including aural skills and composition. Topics will include but are not limited to: pitch and rhythmic notation; meter; scales; intervals; triads and seventh chord; cadences; non-harmonic tones; melody; texture; voice leading; modulations; small forms; and score analysis. Building on this foundation, the course will progress to include more complex and creative tasks such as: melodic and harmonic dictation, composition, implying appropriate harmony, realization of the Roman numeral progression, and analysis of melody and harmony. The curriculum will be based on the AP Music College Board standards and will focus predominantly on repertoire from the Western Canon, but will also include jazz compositions, 20th century works, and world music. 

Standard Theatre Performance Major – semester one course
This major level course explores basic acting skills through the production of a standard play. Students learn the rehearsal process and the performance/staging process of the selected production piece. The three performances are a requirement for all students who take the course. There will be small group after school rehearsals as needed, whereby the rehearsals will be planned around other school activities to give all students an opportunity to participate. There will be full cast rehearsals on selected Sunday afternoons. The student must be available the Sunday through Saturday of the production week. All students will need to sign a contract confirming their commitment to the Theatre Program; class time is rehearsal time and may not be missed except for events previously posted on the VMS Master Calendar.

Musical Theatre Performance Major – semester two course
This major level course explores basic musical theatre acting skills through the production of a musical. The students learn the rehearsal process and the performance/staging process of the selected production piece.  Prior singing and dancing experience is not necessary, but will be required in the course to some extent. Students can choose non-singing or non-dancing roles. The three performances are a requirement for all students who take the course. There will be small group after school rehearsals as needed and these rehearsals will be planned around other school activities to give all students an opportunity to participate. There will be full cast rehearsals on selected Sunday afternoons. The student must be available the Sunday through Saturday of the production week. All students will need to sign a contract confirming their commitment to the Theatre Program; class time is rehearsal time and may not be missed except for events previously posted on the VMS Master Calendar.

Instrumental Ensemble Major – semester course
This class is designed for students who would like to explore and expand their musical knowledge through playing an instrument. Through this major level course, students will build instrumental technique, sight reading skills and will delve into aural training  along with composition and theory curriculum to develop their ability to play independently and with others. Music for this class is student-driven and may include pieces from jazz, popular, and classical literature. This group performs throughout the year as part of VMS’ concert schedule and in collaboration with the Vocal Ensemble.

Theatre Dance Major – semester course
This course is intended for students who have outside dance instruction and are interested in learning how to choreograph for theatre. This is not a technique class, and an audition will be required to join the class. Students in this class will transition into the Musical Theatre Major track during the spring semester and dance lead for the spring show, as well as choreographing select numbers. This class will also choreograph any needed dance numbers for the fall play, if necessary. Please note: A small amount of singing and acting will be required in the musical. There will be small group after school rehearsals as needed, and these rehearsals will be planned around other school activities to give all students an opportunity to participate. There will be full-cast rehearsals on selected Sunday afternoons. The students must be available the Sunday through Saturday the week of the production. All students will need to sign a contract confirming their commitment to the Theatre Program; class time is rehearsal time and may not be missed except for events previously posted on the VMS Master Calendar.

Visual Arts

In upper school, students can take a variety of visual art courses designed to enhance their skills and hone their talents. In the areas of drawing, painting, three-dimensional design/ceramics, photography, and computer art, students take a sequence of classes of increasing skill level to meet the art requirements. Upper school electives combine studio work with theory, aesthetics, criticism, and understanding of the arts. Introductory level courses cover critical skills and concepts such as composition, color fundamentals, and understanding of materials and techniques involved in the specific medium that is being practiced. As students progress to higher level classes, they use these skills and develop more complex techniques, leading to individual and unique styles of artwork. For upper school students who seek more intensive studies, AP Studio Art, Senior Portfolio, and Senior Projects in the arts are possible. 

Visual Arts Major Course Offerings

Foundation Studio – semester course
This course provides ninth grade students with a foundation in studio art. Students are introduced to theories of modern art while experimenting with a variety of materials. Throughout the year, the class will explore numerous mediums including, but not limited to, drawing, painting, sculpture, assemblage, block printing, collage, and mixed media. The course encourages students to think creatively, conceptualize, and practice craftsmanship. Critiques are a vital component of the course. By balancing the study of art history, studio practice, and art criticism, students develop various approaches to art-making and gain insight into the art world.

Photography Major – semester course
The Photography Major will focus on both technical and aesthetic aspects of digital photography. Students will become proficient at shooting with DSLR cameras and editing photographs with the Adobe Creative Suite. Assignments will prompt students to explore various types of photography including portraiture, landscape, action, and fine art photography. Students will consider light, composition, and subject matter, and will develop their artistic eye through the process of selecting images, editing, and thoughtful critique of both their own work and their peers'. This course will also look at the history of photography and consider the work of contemporary artists, as well. Students will produce a printed portfolio of their best work, considering not just the merits of each image, but also its relationship to others and the portfolio as a whole.

Tiny House Major – semester course
The Art Department is excited to collaborate with the Tiny House Project.  This class will explore industrial and textile design in addition to interior decorating.  Offered second semester, the tiny house’s function will have been determined and its form will be taking shape.  This class will focus on the finishings. As a student-driven curriculum, the ultimate design choices will be your own.  The teacher’s role is to guide you through processes and teach you the necessary techniques to accomplish your vision.

AP Studio Art – year course
AP Studio Art is designed for the highly motivated art student who would like the practical experience of producing quality artwork at a college level. Students will investigate the three portfolio requirements: quality, concentration, and breadth. Individuals enrolled in this class are expected to develop mastery in concept, composition, technical skill, and visual communication through committed growth and risk taking. A personal portfolio will be developed and submitted for evaluation the first week of May 2019. Research of art history, artists, as well as contemporary artists and art movements is expected. A sketchbook is to be maintained throughout the summer and school year that is composed of visual ideas/word webs, notes, doodles, plans, quick drawings, short assignments and experimentations of different techniques. Reflection and critiques are a vital part of the ongoing artistic process. 2-D, 3-D, and Drawing AP Portfolio categories are offered.

Senior Portfolio Major – semester course 
Senior Portfolio is a major level course directed toward students who wish to continue to develop a professional quality portfolio or their own personal collection of work. This class is being offered to highly motivated students who, after completing AP Studio Art, wish to continue their artistic studies at a vigorous pace. This major track class is one semester in length, although students may enroll in both semesters. Students create a personal body of work while exploring modern and contemporary art theory and philosophy. Students may work in any medium for their coursework. By balancing the study of art history, studio practice, and art criticism, students develop various approaches to art-making and gain greater insight into the art world and their own personal exploration of art approaches. If unhappy with the AP Studio score received their junior year from the College Board, students may also use this class as an opportunity to create a stronger portfolio for submission in the spring. 

Visual Arts Elective Course Offerings

Techniques in Watercolor – quarter course
This elective course will explore basic watercolor techniques and build upon prior color theory knowledge. Students will learn about different watercolor artists by practicing their techniques and style. We'll take our new skills and put them to the test outside or 'en plein air.'

Arts of the Islamic World – quarter course
In this elective, students will study the arts of the Islamic World through architecture and art making. The term Islamic art describes all of the arts that were produced in the lands where Islam was the dominant religion or the religion of those who ruled. Students will investigate common Islamic themes such as calligraphy, ceramics and fiber arts. 

Sculpture – quarter course
This course explores the concepts behind form and space. Students will be introduced to 3D design concepts and Principles of Sculpture. They will use a variety of materials; including clay, wire, paper, plaster and recycled materials to create their sculptures. This course challenges students to create works out of unusual materials. 

The Mexican Mural Movement – quarter course
In this elective, students will study the prolific Mexican artists José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros and the influence they had during the wake of the Mexican Revolution. Their murals were seen as an art of social and political engagement. Students will have the chance to create a mural that represents the intersection of art and politics.

Yearbook – quarter course
The yearbook elective is a course dedicated to the process of designing and producing the VMS Yearbook. Students learn what is required to design and create a book for publication. This course focuses on photography, page design, typography, and editing. Students will learn the basics of inDesign and Lightroom.

Non-Core Classes

Personal Growth Classes

Each year of upper school, 9th-12th graders are assigned supplemental courses that round out their education. The courses are provided to students to enhance their personal growth and to educate students on everyday topics and ready them for the bigger world. These courses meet one period a rotation and are required. Ninth graders will take three courses: Relationships and Sex Education (a one quarter class), Ethics (a one quarter class), and Technology and Research (a one semester class.) Tenth and eleventh graders will choose from a variety of courses that may include Diversity and Awareness, Physical Health, Twenty Time Projects, Literary Magazine. All eleventh graders will take one quarter of Senior Project Ideation during second semester. Twelfth graders will take a semester-long senior seminar course where they will explore topics that ready them for college. When students are not enrolled in a Personal Growth Course, they will have a free period.

Intraterm – week-long program

Intraterm is a week-long program led by faculty and staff during which all 9th-12th grade students choose a course of study designed to enrich the traditional curriculum and the student’s intellectual curiosity. Course titles from previous years include: Southern California College Tour; Winter Safety Skills; Costa Rica Spanish Language Immersion, Professions in the Art World; Psychology and Film; Science Research in Baja Mexico; Food from Source to Stomach; Discovering Engineering; Space Exploration; and Dog Sledding.

Senior Project – fourth quarter

Rather than traditional coursework, all seniors will complete a project during the second semester of grade twelve. Projects most often fall within the realm of science, humanities, fine arts, and performing arts. Student may choose between research-based or creative project, with a possible internship, all of which culminate in the submission of a scholarly paper and/or portfolio, an oral defense, and a presentation to an audience comprised of the senior’s advisory board, community experts, peers, and the general public. Advanced Placement courses may not be dropped for project work. Projects from past years include: Holography: The Light Train; Lost Color: A Comprehensive Look at Vitiligo and its Treatments; Computer Programming; Discerning Between “Can” and “Should”: Examining the Role of Christian Ethics in End-of-Life Pediatric Cases; Kettle Soups: A Restaurant Business Plan; Causes of the Poverty Cycle in Tanzania: Potential Solutions to Curb Malaria; Oasis of the Soul: Writing River Teeth; Using Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Stop Bullying; An Explication on the War on Drugs In Mexico.