TRAVERSE CITY — Brittany Wright lined up six bananas and hooked them up to her computer using a special circuit board and connector wires.
Then, with the help of a computer piano program, the 10th-grader used the bananas instead of computer keyboard buttons as a touchpad to ‘play’ the piano.
“She tricked the computer into thinking the bananas are keys,” said science teacher Kristi Galoci.
The creative technology exercise was part of “LABitude 045,” one of 15 Six-Week Electives offered in November and December at Grand Traverse Academy. The Friday morning electives are offered to secondary students once per-semester at key times, such as before school breaks or when students and teachers are ready for a change.
“We have a smaller high school and junior high than some of the other area schools, and our day-to-day elective selection is smaller,” said guidance counselor Stephanie Patrzik. “This breaks up the year and adds some high-interest fun learning.”
The electives are less structured than other courses and allow students freedom of movement. But learning is a major goal, said principal Allyson Apsey.
In Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, students explore literature, learn ancient Greek and Latin roots through charms, delve into chemistry and conquer the team challenge of Quidditch. In Trivia Competition, they research and study different topics, then take part in six-round competitions complete with snacks, music and prizes.
“One of the benefits is that these classes are three hours, so we can do things like labs, projects and field trips,” Apsey said.
Julia Halvorson is participating in ¡Vamos a Movernos!, which combines aerobics, stretching and toning, choreography and dance — taught almost entirely in Spanish. The seventh-grade athlete said she chose the course to help keep her in shape for the coming track season.
“It’s a lot of fun and it immerses them in hearing the language,” said Spanish teacher Jennifer Belmar. “Even the music is in Spanish.”
Patrzik said the Six-Week Electives also allow teachers to break out of their mold and to offer courses like 3D animation, gymnastics, and studio art. That's where senior Morgan Lammers recently worked on an acrylic-on-wood-panel graphic painting of a deer head, in seafoam blue and coral.
“I’m kind of obsessed with those colors right now,” said Lammers, 17, who studies graphic arts at the TBAISD Career-Tech Center.
This semester’s electives were based on a student interest survey, and it shows in the students' engagement, said art teacher Isaiah Kline.
“This course is like a totally different dynamic because in traditional art classes you have some students that are motivated and some that just want an elective credit and don’t want to take robotics,” said Kline, who created the Studio Art I elective to allow students to explore their own artistic skills. "Here they’re all really interested and self-motivated.”
The electives will culminate in a Dec. 20 assembly during which students will demonstrate or perform what they learned in their classes.