Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry, AP Physics, AP United States History, AP BC Calculus and similarly challenging courses are some of the most popular electives at Palo Alto High School. Consequently, non-weighted electives that are not needed for graduation credit such as Kinesiology, Sports Careers, Computer Science (CS) Capstone and Sociology are often neglected by students. While unpopular, these courses give students rare, applicable skills that can be utilized as soon as students leave Paly. For those signing up for courses for the upcoming 2016-17 school year, students should take into consideration these electives which can give them broader skillsets.
CS Capstone is a computer science elective in which students choose a project and spend an entire year transforming their ideas from abstract thoughts to reality. They can be anything from mobile apps to search engines, as long as they are usable by the end of the year.
Junior Jonathan Zwiebel joined CS Capstone because it offered a unique experience.
“You’re not going to [CS Capstone] to learn something, you’re going to that course to do something,” Zwiebel said.
However, this freedom is also one of the reasons why CS Capstone has only one period with less than 20 students. It is daunting to plan out a personal schedule nearly a year in advance, and its untraditional style of learning frightens many students.
For enrolled students, the skills learned in Capstone are directly applicable to careers after high school. In addition to advancing their programming skills, students have the opportunity to collaborate with others and present their work to professionals in the computer science industry.
“[CS] Capstone is a class that gives you life skills beyond computer science in that you have to find people to review your project, you have to look for contacts, you have to do a lot of research and you have to be able to present your project in a professional manner,” Zwiebel said.
Christopher Kuszmaul, a computer science teacher at Paly, started the course to incorporate project-based work into the computer science lane.
“Students needed to learn certain basic skills that had become glaringly obviously lacking when they attempted independent projects in all my CS classes,” Kuszmaul said.
Kuszmaul feels that the skills that CS Capstone teaches are not unique, but universal and essential.
“Perhaps what is unique is that students learn that every problem is valid subject matter in CS Capstone, because virtually every problem has a solution that involves Computer Science,” Kuszmaul said.
Kinesiology studies the movement of the body, the range of motion of muscles and how certain muscle groups are involved in certain injuries. Due to low enrollment, Paly’s Kinesiology course was cancelled in the first semester of the 2015-16 year. However, junior Michel-Ange Siaba took Kinesiology as an independent studies course, and was surprised by its versatility.
“There are a lot of different ways you can go with kinesiology: the opportunities branch out between physical therapy, trainer and teacher,” Siaba said.
Kinesiology is designed to appeal to students interested in sports, injury treatment and injury prevention. It gives focused lessons about certain topics such as injury prevention and diagnosis to help students who want to better understand sports injuries or pursue a career related to the treatment of the muscles in the human body.
“When you go into the [athletic] trainer with an injury, they ask you what the mechanism of injury was,” Siaba said. “A person who has taken Kinesiology knows which muscles were involved in the action and can work with the [athletic] trainer to develop a much more detailed recovery plan.”
Most juniors will ignore Sociology in favor of AP Psychology when signing up for next year’s classes. However, Sociology is a good option if you’re looking for a less rigorous class.
Sociology is the study of how people interact with each other, particularly focused on the interactions between groups of people. Last semester, the course only had one period with a modest class size of 24 students. Senior Allison Zhang attributes the lack of interest in the class to the category which Sociology is associated with.
“There are very few history electives, and social sciences tend not to be a very popular elective at Paly, but the people who choose Sociology tend to find the class useful and interesting,” Zhang said.
In Sociology, Zhang has learned about types of interactions between different groups of people, and applies her learning to real-world situations, such as how the criminal justice system pits groups of people against each other.
“I think what you learn in the course is very applicable to real life,” Zhang said. “We live in a society and it’s necessary to have an understanding of how people tend to interact. It’s like psychology, but more applied.”
Like Kinesiology, the Sports Careers course focuses on students who are interested in a career related to sports. Sports Careers allows senior Nick Cook to learn about what career he might want to pursue and what the required skills are to achieve his desired job.
“Our teacher tries to ask speakers in different professions of the sports world to talk to our class about their experiences, why they chose to pursue their career and how they got to where they are,” Cook said.
In breaking from classroom norms, Sports Careers teaches “soft skills” such as networking and interpersonal connections rather than “hard skills” such as problem solving and literary analysis.
“I’ve learned that it is important to keep your relations strong with everybody because you never know which connections could get you a job later,” Cook said.
Cook feels that low student enrollment in Sports Career classes is due to a misunderstanding of the course’s goal and structure. Regardless, the class speakers and career focus makes Sports Careers one of the most interactive courses at Paly.
“I think if we advertised that cool speakers come and talk to the class and it’s not all classwork it would be more successful,” Cook said.
Ultimately, these courses at Paly focus on building unconventional skills, yet are poorly advertised. However, their soft-skills instruction, project-based learning and field-specific focus help students uncover different career options. While students can continue to take a multitude of AP courses and hone their skills in memorization and problem solving, many would benefit from taking some of the aforementioned courses and broadening their skillsets.