Project-Based Mini-Courses

Christina & Danielle

At The Stony Brook School, we have set our vision beyond college prep to life prep. Our motto, “Character Before Career,” commits us to prioritizing moral and intellectual formation over test performance and college placement. And the work world is starting to catch on to our founding vision. While most colleges continue to place a premium on content knowledge and standardized test scores, employers are increasingly looking for people of character who can apply critical thinking and creativity to serve the world, for people who can communicate and collaborate across cultural divides to solve complex problems.

How can we prepare students for admission to selective universities while at the same time equipping them to be leaders in the 21st century work world?

That is the question that drove us to create our mini-course program. We have set aside twenty days of the school year to devote to project-based, interdisciplinary short courses in areas of our students’ passion. Now in its second year, the program is starting to bear incredible fruit. Our students did some amazing things in their first week of mini-courses:

  • Aviation: Flying airplanes in the flight simulator lab and at Mid-Island Air
  • Fashion Design: Modeling dresses they deconstructed, redesigned, and resewed from thrift store garments
  • Band: Learning to play new instruments and performing popular rock songs on them
  • STEM Innovation Studio: Designing and constructing low-cost wind-power solutions for Haiti; developing a collection and redistribution plan for feminine hygiene products for the homeless; engineering a solar oven and interior lighting for mud huts in Nigeria, where the current propane-powered solutions are destroying air quality and poisoning children.
  • Film-Making: Storyboarding, acting, directing, shooting, and edition original short films
  • Anatomy: Dissecting fetal pigs and using them to teach their peers about an anatomical system
  • Faith and Culture Service Project: Serving the poor at Lighthouse Mission, the Smithtown Food Pantry, and the Salvation Army
  • Portrait Photography: Setting up a lighting studio and shooting and edit portraits
  • Game Theory: Developing and constructing original board games using game theory
  • Inventor’s Studio: Engineering miniature trebuchets out of popsicle sticks and creating water transport vehicles out of trash
  • Writer’s Workshop: Telling their stories through personal essays
  • Landscape Architecture: Learning about native plants at Avalon Nature Preserve and using that knowledge to develop landscape architectural plans for a part of campus
  • Playwriting: Writing original plays
  • Mandarin and Spanish Immersion: Using their Chinese and Spanish language skills to navigate and order food from native speakers
  • The Civil Rights Movement: Creating documentaries on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Outdoor Education: Learning how to make a fire, pitch a tent, climb rocks, and hike outdoors
  • Ethics Bowl: Debating Ethics Bowl cases like whether Harvard should have rescinded admission to students caught posting offensive memes on social media
  • Chemistry of Food: Applying their knowledge of chemistry to cooking caramel candy, cheese, ice cream, and fudge
  • Music Theory: Learning music theory in our new keyboard lab
  • Nutrition and Fitness: Learning about nutrition at Garden of Eve Organic Farm and creating a personal health plan

This is only a snapshot of all of the amazing work our students did this week. Over the course of our next three mini-course sessions, we will see students developing 21st century skills as they do things like designing and constructing furniture out of cardboard, engineering submarines that can navigate obstacle courses, preparing for Mock Trial, conducting research with professors from Stony Brook University, and applying the latest findings in neuroscience to their own study habits.


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