In new electives, students learn Japanese, train for half marathon or program apps with JavaScript

Anna Frankel
Sophomore Sam Buck creates a game during the Mobile App Design elective.

Japanese, Marathon Running and Mobile App Design are three new elective offerings in the high school.

The Japanese elective, taught by math teacher Patricia Jacobsen, focuses on the language and culture of Japan.

Its goal, Jacobsen said, is to have the students “fall in love” with the language and culture the way she did in high school.

Jacobsen lived in Japan for six years.

She said she first lived in Tokyo as a junior in college. She was later hired by the Japanese Ministry of Education and stationed in Towa-son, a small mountain village.

She lived there for four years, working in a local government office.

Later she moved north to Aizu-Wakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken, for a year before moving back to the U.S.

Jacobsen said she hopes to give her students enough knowledge of the language to be able to communicate on a possible class trip to Japan over Spring Break.

“I’d like them to know what to expect at a typical Japanese hotel or restaurant, how to order food, how to buy tickets for the train, etc.,” Jacobsen said.

The course has a wide range of ability. Two students, juniors Nina Dym and Atsuo Chiu, are native Japanese speakers, and both attend Japanese school. Jacobsen said that her knowledge of the language is not as strong as Dym’s or Chiu’s.

Both students are teacher’s assistants (TAs) for the course.

“Ms. J and I have been talking about having a Japanese elective for about two years now,” Chiu said.

The TAs help Jacobsen prepare material, correct worksheets and add information to the lesson plans.

“We have very different experiences with Japan, (but) I think we complement each other well,” Jacobsen said.

The course uses material that Jacobsen creates herself, as well as “Genki,” a Japanese textbook. There is no homework because the class is “based on the individual’s motivation to learn,Jacobsen said.

“I really like how we are able to learn useful words and phrases without feeling pressured or stressed,” sophomore Emily Hayes said.

(Photo used by permission of Sonja Hansen)
Junior Sonja Hansen, sophomore Mehdi Lacombe, seniors Austin Talamantes and Avi Bhullar, and marathon elective teacher Patricia Jacobsen pose for their traditional post-workout picture.

The Marathon Running Elective, also taught by Jacobsen has up to eight runners. The course has been offered in previous years but has been changed.

This year students in the elective run after school on Mondays, Wednesdays  and Fridays, because elective time is busy for many students.

“We will start off with 2-to-3-mile runs and then increase gradually,” Jacobsen said.

Senior Austin Talamantes said he really enjoys the class.

“I did it last year, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the half marathon but I did,” Talamantes said.

“I feel like I definitely learn a lot about how much I can challenge myself and where my boundaries really are rather than where I think they are,”

They are training for the Berkeley Half Marathon, which will be in Berkeley on Saturday, Nov. 20.

Some students may also participate in a full marathon this spring.

The  Mobile App Design elective is taught by Elissa Thomas, new computer science and math teacher. Ten students are learning how to use the basic principles of programing to make simple mobile apps.

The course doesn’t require any previous knowledge of app design or coding, Thomas said. Beginners have the option of using simple drag-and-drop boxes to create their programs, while more advanced students use JavaScript, a programming language.

The students use the website

“I enjoy using the website because it teaches me how to do basic coding in a very simple and streamlined way,” freshman Anu Krishnan said.

Thomas has included some app development in her previous high school’s Web Design and Computer Apps courses, but has never before had the opportunity to teach a class in which she fully covers the topic. Therefore, she said that when head of high school Brooke Wells suggested this elective, she was very excited.

Thomas said that the first few weeks were used to teach the students how to write algorithms and turn those algorithms into functions.

After the students learned the basics, the class divided into groups in which students are developing their own gaming apps.

By Anna Frankel

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