New Magnet Classes to Be Offered Next Year

by Maggie Shi '12

In early December, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) approved three new magnet electives for the coming year. The courses include Logic, Organic Chemistry and Entomology. These three pilot courses are the first of their kind in the county. The teachers who proposed each course had to write and submit curricula. Magnet math teacher William Rose will be teaching Logic, Forensics teacher Megan Dieckman will be teaching Organic Chemistry and magnet biology and senior research teacher Elizabeth Duval will be teaching Entomology.According to Rose, magnet coordinator Peter Ostrander has been discussing new magnet electives with the teachers for awhile. “I wanted to teach a logic class for a long time because it was my area of focus in college,” Rose said. According to Rose, there are not that many math electives available to students who want to go beyond the standard high school courses, and that even in college, “a lot of students wouldn’t take [logic] because usually only math majors end up taking logic.”Rose thinks that the logic class is “perfect for our program” because the students are smart enough to handle it. He credits Ostrander for “defending the ability for our program to pilot new classes, and not just carbon copy classes for credit.” As for the class, Rose plans to study the development of logic, as well as “study some of the most famous logical systems of the 20th century and determine their properties.”Dieckman will be piloting Organic Chemistry at Blair, another college-level class. As a chemistry major in college, "organic chemistry was [her] favorite class and sort of [her] passion,” Dieckman said. She came up with the idea of teaching organic chemistry at Blair while talking to Ms. Duval. “She said that the one area that students didn’t feel prepared for in college was organic chemistry,” Dieckman says. “So I asked Ostrander and wrote a proposal.”

"It seemed to be the trend [that organic chemistry] was a ‘survival’ class in college,” Dieckman said. Students traditionally struggled to even pass the class. “I want to change the way that students think of organic chemistry,” she said. “If you take this course, you’ll have the foundations before college.” According to Dieckman, most college organic chemistry courses focus on memorizing reactions. “I want to instill in them that it doesn’t have to be this way,” she says. Her class, instead, will focus on knowing the concepts and reasons behind a reaction, and then using logic to solve problems.

Dieckman notes that many students are confused about the difference between organic chemistry and biochemistry, which is currently offered as a magnet elective. She explains that while biochemistry focuses on macromolecules and biology, organic chemistry focuses on reactions and chemistry. However, she says, taking the two classes together would be the “perfect pairing.”

The final new pilot elective for next year is entomology, or the study of insects. Duval proposed the class to Ostrander because she had experience teaching it in Georgia, and she also studied it. “We’ll be studying big topics: insects and other related orthopods,” she says. “We’ll be looking at taxonomic diversity of insects, their roles and impacts on the environment, diseases [they spread] and how they can serve as crop pests.”

Duval says that her class is for “students who are interested in biology and [organism biology].” A lot of people are repulsed by insects, according to Duval. "Without insects we would have serious problems," Duval said. "To know and understand them is really important.”

Because entomology is an uncommon class, Duval wanted to show that the course was successful in other places. In addition to a course outline, she sent to the county state standards of a class in Georgia as well as examples of college courses.

With the three new pilot courses planned for next year, the teachers will be adding even more to the already-wide variety of electives that makes the magnet unique. Each class will offer students a chance to sample topics rarely taught in high school as well as give the teachers the opportunity to share their passion.