Past Mini-Course Lesson Plans

Below is a sampling of mini-course lesson plans submitted by past GRASSHOPR participants:

    Watch Your Mouth! 

    This mini-course simultaneously introduces students to (1) some branches of linguistics, and (2) the dialects of English. By studying examples from English dialects, students will develop an understanding of the sounds of language (phonology), language use in social contexts (sociolinguistics), language change (historical linguistics), and other topics. At the same time, students will gain an active familiarity with the distinctive characteristics of some English dialects.


    My goal with this mini-course is to teach the students the basics of the nearby sky through hands-on demonstrations and projects.  I focus on topics they can directly observe like the phases of the Moon, why the sky is blue, and what causes the seasons.  One lesson involves “building” a model of the solar system using volunteers to represent each planet and the sun. The students will get an idea of the vast distances in space by noting how far away from each other they are as well as an idea of how the planets differ by holding objects of differing sizes. Other lessons teach them the evolutionary process 
    of a star’s life and the difficulty of maneuvering a rover on Mars.

    Puzzles and Games of Chance Explained

    This course is intended to motivate abstract thinking while playing games of mind. The 
    focus is on understanding probability and graph theory by means of challenging and 
    entertaining examples. A more rigorous presentation of the theory most solutions rely on 
    should make the subject of a follow-up class.

    Poetry & Play: How to Splash Around in Sound

    I hope in this mini-course to combine the study of contemporary poems with exercises of creative writing, so that 
    these fences (delineated above) between the students and poetry might diminish. I plan to incorporate various creative writing exercises, to reveal all the ways in which poetry can be provoked, derived, and inspired, and then relate those acts to select poems, as well as talk about sound and lyricism, in a way that makes students realize poetry is not so far from their often closer comrade, music.

    One World

    The grade 1 New York State social studies program focuses on helping students learn about their roles as members of a family and school community. The students explore self, family, and school-different kinds of families that have existed in different societies and communities. Students also begin to locate places on map and globes and learn how maps serve as representations of physical features and objects. This mini-course is designed to introduce students to these concepts and reinforce them with fun activities derived from their community.

    What Can We Learn From Medieval Stories?

    This course is primarily aimed at cultivating basic literary analytical skills, so most of the hour-long class periods are to be taken up with discussion—the material can be presented in a comparatively short amount of time. Each class period is anchored by a story (or two), accompanied by a modest amount of historical background, medieval vocabulary, and occasional visual and audio aids. Most of the discussions begin with typical assumptions that the students might have already formed; then those assumptions are challenged with reference to the story that the students have just heard.

    Like Father, Like Son

    This mini-course is focused fundamentally on genetics. It contains six sessions: 1) DNA replication, 2) transcription, 3) translation, 4) gene regulation and recombinant DNA, 5) cell division, and 6) genomics. First, the central dogma is emphasized with the three sessions of replication, transcription and translation. They introduce the three very 
    essential mechanisms that transfer genetic information from genes to proteins. While so many genes are expressed in a single cell, how are they interconnected? This draws our interests to the topic of gene regulation. At this stage, we also aim to briefly introduce a typical application of genetics: recombinant DNA technology. Cells undergo different mechanisms of division and several biological activities accompany each stage. Finally, on a global level, we add a session of genomics to make students familiar with the current progress and decoded genomes. 

    Your Brain’s Illusions: Why Scientists Love to be Tricked 

    In this mini-course, we focus on the exploration of perceptual illusions of a variety of sorts.  We don’t, however, look at these illusions in isolation or for the interest in the illusory experience; this course attempts to use these illusions to explain the physiology and neural workings of your brain and perceptual systems. For example, in a lesson about Art and the Visual system, students are introduced to various cues that our visual system uses to deduce depth of objects in a very simple picture or schematic and then they are challenged to find these same cues in real-life art.  They are asked, how did the artist 
    create a sense of depth (or fail to create a sense of depth as the case may be) in this painting?  In the case of tactile illusions, the students will measure the sensitivity of various parts of their body (e.g. arm, leg, finger, cheek) to touch and then compare their measurements to the neural representation of your body in the brain.  They observe that their hands are very sensitive compared to other parts of their body and the brain areas devoted to your hands are disproportionately large in your brain, stimulating discussion about how the two relate.  This process attempts to expose the creative and explorative 
    nature of scientific study while also communicating the main findings in cognitive science.  

    Exploring Ethics

    What is ethics? What are moral values? What does courage require? Why are friendship and respect important?  In this course, students will engage with these questions and sharpen their understanding of basic moral concepts and how they apply to real-life situations.  Although there will be significant continuity between lessons, the course addresses a 
    different topic each lesson.

    Einstein for Everyone

    The theory of relativity is one of the most important developments in the history of science, and also one of the most interesting.  Who isn’t curious about Einstein, black holes, and time travel?  Nonetheless, these subjects are rarely covered in any detail in the high school curriculum.  Most people grow up feeling that the theory of relativity, and astrophysics in general, is “too hard” for them to understand. 

    Introduction to Programmable Digital Logic

    In the first few class session the students are introduced to the MAX+plus II or Quartus II design software. Specifically they are shown how to enter logic designs using the schematic editor and how to test the designs using the built in simulator. The middle sessions are used to introduce adder and subtracter circuits and sequential logic (flip-flops). Finally, in the last few classes all of the components are combined for a final project in which the students create a high/low guessing game using the CPLD/FPGA development boards. For most of the sessions about half of the time is devoted to presenting new material and explaining the software and the other half is left for the students to try the ideas using the hardware and software.

    From Soil to the Stomach: Adventures in Agriculture

    We began the first lesson with a very general question – what is a farm? The lessons that followed included seed anatomy, 
    photosynthesis, plant requirements for growth, the scientific method, soil, leaf anatomy, food from all over the world, and a visit to the Cornell University student farm. For each lesson, I tried to connect the new material to previous topics to create some continuity throughout the mini-course. The lessons can easily be rearranged, according to what fits best with an individual class. Other lessons involving agriculture can also be easily incorporated – I tended to focus more on plants because of my own research experience in plant physiology. The course could easily be adapted for more advanced grade levels, as well.