The love of high school students for J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit in book and movie form is unmistakable.
Long lineups of teens flocking to the movies and the dog-earred novels always out on loan at the D.P. Todd secondary school library are evidence enough for Glen Thielmann students can't get enough of Tolkien's fantasy world.
So Thielmann, a D.P. Todd social studies teacher, came up with idea to delve into the classic author's fictional universe, Middle Earth, to tap into the creative minds of his students in a new course that starts in September.
"Students often have a lot of passions and interests we don't give them time to explore in regular classes and sometimes [have] almost neurotic fixations on things they're really excited about, and for some of those kids it's fantasy and sci-fi literature," said Thielmann, whose course proposal was one of three approved Tuesday night by School District 57 trustees.
"Tolkien approached his creative works with the crafts of a writer, a poet, a sketch artist, a cartographer, a medieval scholar and a linguistic specialist, and that kind of curiosity and diligence is a really neat model for students."
Middle Earth students will use the works of Tolkien to complete assignments in a cross-curricular approach to learning that utilizes literary and environmental themes in a course that combines fantasy writing, literature, language development, history, geography, earth science, sociology, anthropology and architecture.
"We'll do something like taking benchmarks of historical thinking and geographical thinking and apply them to an imaginative landscape and problems that exist in literature," said Thielmann. "We might take self-awareness skills in an English class and apply them to a subject that might come right out of a philosophy textbook or a geography textbook."
The Middle Earth course will be either a single-course elective program for Grade 12 students or a two-course blended program that will allow Grade 11 students to earn credit in both English 11 and Geography 12.
The project-based course will be flexible to reflect the interests of students and will encourage job-related skills such as collaboration, social learning, self-reliance, self-assessment and time management. Rather than simply testing what they know, student achievement will be measured by their ability to show through their work on four major projects they've developed creative critical-thinking skills and work habits that support learning outcomes.
Students will maintain a digital portfolio that will give parents a chance to see their work online.
Also at Tuesday's school board meeting, College Heights secondary school received approval for a new peer mentorship course for Grades 10-12 students, who will offer their services in an outside-of-normal-school-hours course to help junior-aged students make the jump from elementary to high school.
The student mentors will help their younger peers develop tools to succeed academically, will help them deal with teen social issues, and will encourage their younger peers to take on volunteer projects in the community. Senior students will visit neighbouring elementary schools to spread the word about their outreach programs and tutoring services, creating an inclusive environment once the younger ones move up to high school.
The course is designed to encourage senior students to improve their own study habits, time management skills and increase their level of confidence as they develop leadership and critical-thinking abilities, and social responsibility. Students will work in partnerships with non-profit groups to plan and conduct volunteer activities.
"Because we're talking about social, emotional and academic support, we'll be encouraging our most well-rounded students who are already solid citizens to take the course," said College Heights vice-principal Dave Holmes. "It's a chance to get outside of your comfort zone as a mentor and try to support somebody else and figure out how to motivate them. Any time you're out of your comfort zone, that's when you grow as individuals."
The course will be similar to an existing peer mentorship program at Valleyview secondary school in Kamloops.
Trustees also approved a rock 'n' roll history course for Grade 12 students at Valemount secondary school, also to start in September. The course delves into the evolution of rock and its blues roots, focusing on the cultural, economic, political and social influences of pop music beginning in the 1960s. Study units will be devoted to the protest songs of the '60s and '70s, a comparison of the regional influences of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, the punk movement, Generation X, the politics of censorship, and a section on Canadian rock.
Course developers hope to make it available throughout the district to online high school students and adults in the continuing education programs.
"The whole idea of being able to blend music and bring the experience that kids know to the classroom, you just know they are going to be engaged because that's a world they live in," said SD 57 chair Sharel Warrington. "I can see it being used in other schools as well. It will be a great opportunity for kids."