For two weeks, Mirman partnered with USC and its Neighborhood Academic Initiative to create Project Discovery, a multidisciplinary lecture/project hybrid style course for 25 middle-schoolers.
Mirman had a slate of Upper Schoolers who participated in the project, spending two weeks of their summer ensconced in a college classroom where they played community-building games, took in presentations on everything from computer science to modern art to philosophy, and worked on the critical and creative skills necessary to embark on independent study projects.
For gifted learners, the idea of depth and complexity comes naturally. Mirman students and other highly gifted learners routinely look to delve deeper into topics, particularly when those topics translate to passion projects. USC Rossier clinical professor Sandra Kaplan
, an expert on gifted education, is obviously equally familiar with this drive in gifted students. “...We’re interested in developing scholars, not just exposing bright kids to scholarship. We’re not interested in their intelligence, per se, but in developing intellectualism. We’re hoping everybody walks out of here with the skills to be a researcher—how to develop an interest, and to seed it so it can grow,” said Kaplan in a piece written by USC's Diane Krieger
. Kaplan, USC's article states, is "famous for creating the “Depth and Complexity” prompt system for critical thinking."
Kaplan collaborated with USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Leana Golobchik (Alumni parent to Katarina Chen '17) and USC Price School of Public Policy's Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (current parent to Oliver in Second Grade) to design the program. They worked in partnership with Mirman's Head of School Dan Vorenberg and former Mirman educator and administrator Michael Taggart to bring the final product to fruition. Two Upper School mathematics instructors, Kara Luna and Alyssa Wray, were on site during the project to lead certain activities and provide support for independent study.
In one particular morning afternoon in the program, students took in lectures on statistics, computer science, ethics, philosophy, the networking effect of modern artists, and more. They then broke out to work on projects and talk to advisors before decamping for lunch in a nearby courtyard, further mingling and forming relationships across schools and with peers. Following her lecture, Currid-Halkett spoke of the success of the project in its pilot year.
"I think one of the issues of course for gifted children is that do they run out of road when it comes to curriculum. This kind of collaboration allows us to provide higher level education and content. It's an amazing way to maximize the resources of both of these schools," said Currid-Halkett. "I'm so impressed with these students, it's extraordinary to watch them."
Luna spoke about her own interest being piqued by the variety of lectures and topics discussed. She also mused that the experience of teaching in this program gave her "food for thought" when it comes to designing her own curriculum for the various needs of math learners at Mirman. "The experience has given me food for thought about planning interdisciplinary units at Mirman. I have picked up some new ideas, but I also feel affirmed about what we already do at Mirman, and I think that our students came into this experience well prepared and ready to take it to the next level," she said. "It's been refreshing to see our students outside in the world, interacting with others, and meeting new friends," she added.
Wray, her colleague, agreed. "Our students were constantly asking great questions," she said.