Minicourse: A Marin Academy Tradition

This week Marin Academy students stepped out of the classroom for a bit of experiential learning on Minicouse.  Minicourses come in many styles, but all have the enrichment of students’ lives and expansion of their awareness in the world as the primary goal. Each course challenges students in a variety of ways through environmental stewardship, community service, academic and/or artistic enrichment, or wilderness skills.  In 1992 MA’s faculty approved the following definition of Minicourse:

Minicourse is a time when students and faculty can immerse themselves in an activity of broad educational value to a degree that is not possible during the school year. The experience should enable students, as far as possible, to learn through first-hand experience and thus arrive at the end of the course with new insights, sympathies, skills and knowledge. A major part of the experience is the social awareness fostered by working closely with a small group of like-minded people within the atmosphere of a ‘project’. The intensity and time involved create the opportunity for wide-ranging discussion and cooperation between members of the group. Students’ judgment and initiative should be employed whenever possible in order to build feelings of competence and responsibility. If possible, time for reflection and contemplation should be built into the schedule. In any case, the course should challenge the students physically, intellectually and spiritually, in varying combinations, and should not be open to the charge that it is a ‘vacation’, no different from something that a student might enjoy as part of an ordinary family holiday.

Enjoy this list of 40 Minicourse descriptions from over the years and share your favorite Minicourse memories in the comments below!

  • Bay Area History: As all of you are aware, I am sure, the Bay Area is rich in history of many kinds. Whether it is military history, cultural history, or film history, there is much to see and learn. This Minicourse is designed for the history buff or would-be history buff to seek out and explore this history in a manner that is often impractical in other circumstances. While many of us always say we will visit and learn about the historical sites and sounds of the area, we never really find the time. Here’s your chance! We will spend the week doing a variety of history related activities with a particular emphasis on the rich military history of the area. Areas of interest will include a tour of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet docked in Alameda, a tour of Alcatraz, Travis Air Base, the USS Pampanito (a WWII vintage submarine), the Liberty ship, and the Jeremiah O’Brien.  This will be an exciting, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable Minicourse full of awesome sights and sounds for anyone who is a fan of history!
  • Catalina Scuba Expedition: It is the goal of this Minicourse to develop the SCUBA diving skills of both novices and experienced divers. Participants will have an opportunity to take part in as many as five dives per day and night dives, too. Dives will focus on the diversity of the marine environment – the variety of ecosystems that provide niches for the fascinating flora and fauna of this beautiful underwater environment. We will dive on shore reefs, open water reeds, kelp forests, and open sand deserts. We will all be in close quarters on board the dive boat for four days. This will offer ample opportunity for meaningful group interactions, and the need to develop great consideration for others will be obvious.
  • Classical Music Concert Tour: If you love classical music, but rarely get the time to go to concerts, this trip is for you. If you are serious about any music at all and want to get acquainted with its classical origins, you will also love this adventure. Starting Sunday we will attend five concerts around the Bay Area during the week, all in the evening. Music will include the SF Symphony, the China Philharmonic, The American Bach Soloists, and the stunning Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. We will meet each day at school to listen to recordings and talk about the composers, conductors, and performers. By van we will attend the concerts later that evening. Plan on dinner out together at least twice during the week.
  • Corazón – Good food, hard work, and deep talks in rural Mexico: We’ll be doing community service work in Valle de las Palmas, a small, safe and picturesque town in Northern Mexico. After flying to San Diego we’ll rent vans and drive two hours to our site, meeting up at the border with representatives from the Familia Corazón program. This organization sponsors community improvement projects for deserving families throughout Northern Mexico. We’ll arrive in Valle for dinner, the first of many delicious meals prepared by the local señoras. Starting the next morning we’ll have three full days of service working alongside the people of Valle. Possible projects include painting, carpentry, composting, gardening, and pouring cement. We’ll also spend plenty of time having fun with the local kids, from watching cartoons and playing soccer to making arts and crafts and teaching them about environmental issues. Don’t expect fancy accommodations – we’ll be sleeping on a cement slab floor (unless, of course, you choose to sleep outside under the stars). While speaking Spanish isn’t a requirement, it’s strongly encouraged, since you’ll have many chances to practice throughout the trip. Lastly, we’ll have nightly charlas (chats) on many diverse topics, from the serious to the silly. If you’re ready to work hard, eat well, and bond with some amazing people, then join us for MA’s only international Minicourse!
  • Multi-track Recording: Musician and MA alum Jim Reitzel invites students to learn the modern science and art of recording in his San Rafael studio. Students will operate Jim’s 24-track and learn about all the out-board gear – reverbs, delays, compressors, etc. – as well as gaining knowledge on mic techniques, over-dubs strategies, mix-down procedures and more. The final product will be a tape of the songs you record and take home as a souvenir. Because students act as producers, engineers, musicians and go-fers, there is a tremendous amount to learn and do. But there is also, by necessity, moments when nothing can happen because something else must happen first. Patience and self-discipline are therefore important additional qualities to possess and develop in the process. Singers, players, and those who are strictly interested in the technical aspect are welcome.
  • Fab Five:  Tahoe is a winter play land in late February. With tons of snow and generally mild temperatures, the area presents an excellent chance to learn new things. How about snowboarding? Downhill skiing? And what about cross-country skiing? Certainly ice-skating. But that’s only four. When we return to our communal house you will also have the opportunity to learn international cooking and culture. Five fabulous things! We’ll leave MA early on Monday and return Friday afternoon. Each day we will take on a different winter sport and each evening we’ll cook a different international meal and watch a related film. We will plan the cooking and films together ahead of time and rely on the strengths of the group. Remember: you don’t need any prior experience in the winter sports since lessons will be provided. All you need is an open, adventurous attitude.
  • Get Crafty: Find your inner crafter while we do projects including making shadowboxes from books, photo image transfers on wood, bookbinding and making other cool stuff out of paper. This course will take place here on campus and will be taught by two guest artists. Supplies provided. No experience necessary. Sign-up and get ready to get your craft on!
  • Songwriting by the Sea: Four nights and five days (Sunday-Thursday) of creative work and fun, songwriting and performing at the Jughandle Creek Farm near the town of Mendocino, and only a short walk from the beach. This Minicourse is for singers and at least intermediate musicians who want to learn the craft of songwriting, or improve their skills writing and performing songs. We leave Sunday morning and as soon as we arrive in Mendocino, begin creating. To support newcomers to the craft of songwriting we provide exercises that teach basic song structures; then we quickly move on to independent lyric writing and composing music in different styles. For each block of time students choose whether to work alone or with one or two others. In the evenings, depending on the energy level, we may have jam sessions or watch movies about songwriters or concert videos. Between sessions we take breaks to ramble outside for inspiration and refreshment, and we enjoy delicious home-cooked meals together.
  • Visionquest: The heart of this Minicourse is an eight-day trip where participants live together in community and also spend three days and nights alone. “Spend three days and nights alone in the wilderness, you say? “Sounds crazy – what’s the point?” The point is that this Minicourse  which is far more than a wilderness experience, gives families the opportunity to celebrate an extremely important moment in life: the transition from childhood to adulthood. In addition, it provides the individual with the time to experience the fear and exhilaration that can result from risking the unknown; to explore one’s reactions to community living in base camp and to solitude at one’s solo spot; to learn skills needed to be a valuable group member and soloist; to experience minimum-impact camping in a fragile environment; to explore the wisdom in stories; to make choices, to experience the consequences of those choices; and, to discover the mystery and beauty of the desert. **This mini-course begins five weeks before departure with four two-hour weekly meetings in addition to the two meetings during school hours. These meetings are MANDATORY** Much time is spent during the pre-trip meetings and in the wilderness discussing the practice and skill of contributing to a group. We introduce the meaning inherent in the three phases of this rite of passage–severance, transition, and incorporation — and in helping students to focus on and celebrate, with the help of self-generated ceremony, what this passage means to them as individuals. During the sacred time of the Vision Quest students follow in the foot-steps of the heroes of many cultures, seeking insight into who they are apart from their parents, discovering their individual strengths, and preparing to rejoin the world they left behind with a clearer understanding, or perhaps only a hint, of the direction they wish to pursue during the next part of their lives. The Minicourse concludes with a reunion dinner (parents included) two weeks after our return.
  • Woodworking 101: You’ve all walked by them. You’ve wandered among them, skied past them, even flown above them. You may have swung from one or climbed up one or even may have cut one down. Yup. We’re talking about trees. And when they’re not majestically rising above us or standing at the center of our campus they can serve as the material for amazing art and beauty. This Minicourse will be one where we explore and experiment with woodworking. From sculpture to furniture we will learn some basic skills and techniques. By the end of the week we’ll have a tangible piece of our work to show.
  • Zion Outdoor Leadership:  Zion. Variously known as the promised land, the world to come, the place from which reality emerges. It is a place of reflection and forward-looking possibility. A place to connect with those things that are most important in you, to shed the facades of the common life, and to emerge into the person you know you can be. This Minicourse will be about canyons, desert, exploration, water, leadership, reflection, skills, and self-realization. The ancient, carved canyon country of northern Arizona will be the seven-day setting for our desert exploration of minimum impact backpacking, expedition dynamics, basic wilderness first aid, and outdoor leadership. We will fly to Las Vegas, Nevada, and then drive to Kanab, Utah, where we will begin our mostly student-led trek through canyons and over mesas. The curriculum for this trip is outdoor skills and leadership. So students will learn and be involved in all levels of trip planning, menu planning, outdoor cooking, route finding, critical decision-making, risk management. Students will also be engaged in the personal aspects of leadership through discussion, focus groups, debriefings, and reflection. Additionally, students will learn how to make fire with friction – what most people mistakenly call “rubbing two sticks together” and some of the basics of backcountry first aid. Astronomy, tracking, weather systems, and desert arachnids are also in the queue, given appropriate opportunity.
  • Breaking Away: Pedaling, pedaling, and more pedaling over hill, valley, hill, valley, hill, etc… for miles and miles. This is your opportunity to break away from school, your parents, old routines, and feel the freedom of the road. We’ll start on Monday morning at MA and end on Friday at MA, using the power of our own legs to loop through Marin, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Calistoga, Napa, and Sonoma. We will ride 20-50 miles each day, and then we will recover in the evenings in comfy beds at various hotels along the route. There will be some opportunities to learn about basic cycling etiquette, techniques, bike repair and maintenance. Additionally, there will be time to relax together at restaurants for our meals, play games, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Each day, all of our stuff will be transported by van so we can focus on the ride ahead. This will be a community-based Minicourse where all participants will support and encourage fellow cyclists. You don’t have to be a superhero to do this ride—we’ll pace the trip to accommodate all people-powered travelers – but, you need to be just a little, teensy-weensy bit crazy, and willing to push yourself on the road. After all, you’ll travel 150 –200 miles by your own leg-power, and February and March can be super cold and rainy; you’re guaranteed to acquire some saddle sores… and have a lot of fun!!!
  • So you want to be a Writer: Come join us and explore the writing and publishing world of the Bay Area. Together we will explore writers of the past and present, touching on all aspects of writing and publishing. Think bookstores, literatures, readings, and fun. Think writers, publishers and workshops. We will share some literature in common as well as our own writing and we will learn how one gets published or not!
  • Marin AIDS Project: Do you ever feel hopeless when you think of a tragedy like AIDS? We all know it is the fastest-growing fatal disease in America and in the world. If you would like to do something to help, then this is the Minicourse for you. You will spend your week working with the Marin AIDS Project, Project Open hand, and Meals of Marin. You will participate in a panel discussion involving people with HIV in which you will be able to ask anything you would like to know about AIDS. WE will be working in the kitchen preparing meals for people living with AIDS, in a warehouse putting groceries together for people coming to take out their bags of food for the week, and we will spend time working to educate the public by putting together sage sex information packets for a health fair.
  • Community Service in the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica: This Minicourse will offer students a chance to combine service and adventure. We will be traveling to the lush, green, mysterious jungle of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Biological Forest Reserve. Tucked into the shrouded highlands near the center of the country, Monteverde meaning “Green Mountain” is one of the most unique wildlife sanctuaries in the New World tropics. The diversity of plant, bird, and animal life is staggering. Students will be involved in the ongoing task of trail building and maintenance. It is vital for the preservation of the park that trails are maintained to prevent damaging erosion caused by the abundant rainfall and tourism. This activity will comprise 3 or 4 of the days, but will leave afternoons free to explore nearby treasures such as the butterfly gardens, the “Serpentino”, and a local women’s artist cooperative. We will also do an overnight hike into a rustic cabin inside the Reserve. We may be lucky enough to spot some of the more than 100 species of mammals, more than 400 species of birds and more than 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles that are native to Costa Rica!
  • Archaeology in New Mexico and Utah: Have you ever thought about a career as an archaeologist? Have you ever wanted to learn more about the Native American past? We will visit and study Ancestral Peubloan (Anasazi) archeological sites which were occupied by the people who lived in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest between 2,500 and 700 years ago. Stops along the way include several modern Pueblos (the homes of the descendants of the people who constructed the archeological sites that we will be exploring), the Navajo (Dine) Reservation, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park in New Mexico, rock art sites on Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah, and the remote and seldom-visited Moki Canyon in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We will be joined by professional archeologists who will teach us about archeological research methods and theoretical approaches as well as talk to us about current theories and debates still raging amongst Southwest archeologists.
  • Building your own Website: Do you enjoy surfing the ‘net? Do you like creating artwork that integrates different media? Do you want to have your words and images viewed by people from all over the world? Then sign up for this Minicourse and learn how to build and maintain your own website! This course takes place on-campus and will expose you to web page design software as well as programming using html. You will learn how to insert images, create links, place text and gain confidence with both computers and the internet! No computer experience is necessary, so climb aboard the information superhighway!
  • Common Earth’s Writing Retreat: Writing is about taking risks in expressing oneself and about making connections. This week-long creative, intensive course will explore both. Each day will include creative writing exercises, discussions, instructions, and readings. It will be important to create a spirit of support and community in which to share our writing, so we will begin our week by building group unity on a one-day ropes course in Marin. We’ll also attend an evening reading. On Wednesday we’ll depart for a beautiful retreat center in Mendocino County where we’ll have the use of a lodge for three exciting days of writing and outdoor exploration. On Saturday night we’ll present a final reading of our work at Marin Academy for family and friends.
  • Raku Ceramics using Paperclay: The Japanese symbol for Raku means “enjoyment – a conscious return to the direct and primitive treatment of clay.” The process of forming and firing clay has been a Japanese ritual and tradition since the 16th century. The goal of this course is to combine ancient processes with modern technology by using the strength and versatility achieved by using paperclay with the dynamic and unusual firing process of Raku: the glazed piece is placed in a red-hot kiln with tongs. The glaze matures in 15-20 minutes. At that time it is removed and reduced in a combustible material, then quenched in cold water.
  • “Art In – Art Out” for visual artists and musicians: Each day we will experience a different artistic event – a theater production, a visit to an artist’s studio, a special musical concert, an avant garde film and more… Afterwards we will make our own art and music in response to the experience. We will express our emotions, ideas, and reactions to each event, both through our own creations and in conversations amongst ourselves, and also sometimes with the artists and musicians who have inspired us. There will be individual as well as collaborative work created as we bounce idea off of each other or blend different visual media and musical forms in exciting new ways. A magical mystery tour for the creative spirit!
  • Women’s Havasu Grand Canyon Backpacking and Native American Culture: The Grand Canyon forms a timeless landscape of sun and color. Enjoy backpacking along a panoramic of spectacular rock formations created from ancient sand dunes and ocean floors! Unlike the rest of the Grand Canyon, Havasu Canyon is on reservation land and is inhabited by the Havasupai Native American tribe. On our 10 mile hike into base-camp, we will pass through the Supai village (8 miles in) which is only accessible by mule, helicopter, or foot. We’ll spend 6 days and 5 nights, just two miles beyond Supai, in the midst of three 50-100 foot waterfalls that cascade into blue-green travertine pools. Travertine is an ancient mineral in the surrounding rock that gives the water its Mediterranean color. With the splendor of the canyon as our backdrop and the Havasu River as our music, we will learn of the local natural, geologic and cultural history.
  • Cuisine of China and the Caribbean: FEAST, eat your heart out, and experience the cultures of China and the Caribbean in this five-day extravaganza of food, drink (non-alcoholic) and multiethnic, intercultural vibes. We will partake in cooking seminars and excursions into the heart of “el Caribe y la China” (which means the Bay Area’s Latino and Chinese neighborhoods. You will learn to cook basic scrumptious spicy Chinese and Caribbean dishes, eat until you drop, AND experience first-hand what it means to live “Chinese” and “Caribbean” through field trips and cooking.
  • The Basics of Baking: Want to learn how to make a Devil’s Food Cake or Black Bottom Cupcakes and then eat them? We will bake our way through cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, and breads. A fun-filled week of home baking that’s sure to set you on the right track to keep you making yummy treats for all occasions. Days will be spent learning about ingredients and how they work when combined in a delicious array of recipes including: strawberry & cream cake, devil’s food cake with chocolate frosting, black bottom cupcakes, espresso shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate, rudalah, biscotti, egg bread braid, focaccia, whole wheat bread, seasonal fruit pie, strawberry tart, and scones.
  • Relationship Compatibility – Learning Essential Skills for Creating Great Relationships: This course focuses on who you are beneath the surface. Learn your own individual compatibility profile so that you can spot similarities and differences with others – learn how to match up with people you are truly compatible with. We will teach you the skills of harmless truth-telling and practice the concept of creating Common Neutral Ground so important in all relationships, including friendships, business partners, family relations and romantic partners. Aligning yourself with compatible partners will be a major focus, but also learning to adapt to differences in others is important. Come and find out how to create great relationships.
  • Theater in Ashland: A 5 day trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. While in Ashland we will also take advantage of theater tours, lectures and workshops as well as the latest offerings at the Oregon Cabaret Theater and Southern Oregon State. There will also be some form of physical activity (such as hiking), depending on the weather. Before leaving we will read and discuss the plays we will be seeing, then critique them after the performances.
  • Stained Glass: For those who love light, colored glass, patterns and designs, and who don’t expect easy, instant masterpieces, this course is a challenge that offers intimate satisfaction. Success in stained glass involves a balance of creative imagination and self-discipline. Although prior experience in art is not required, students must understand that this course is demanding, and that the process of cutting out pattern pieces of colored glass takes concentrations and work. Each student will create his or her own design, cut out the pieces of the glass, fit the pattern together with lead, solder it, and complete an original stained glass window. The crescent window above the front door of the Administration Building (now known as the BBLC) is an example of one student’s expertise. He finished that window entirely on his own. In addition to the sense of individual accomplishment and the pleasure of the aesthetic result, the course also affords an opportunity to make good friends. There is a special feeling of well-earned success on the final day when, one by one, windows are completed, washed, and debuted before admiring classmates and friends.
  • Documentary Filmmaking: Are you interested in telling stories? Do you want to learn how to construct your own short film? In this Minicourse you will: watch and discuss successful documentary films; choose a topic important to you and explore it; work with a partner to create a film documenting your exploration; learn how to use a camera; learn fundamental editing; and present your film for public viewing. It is demanding and exciting work to create a film. It will be a fun and intense week!
  • Animation and Music: This exciting Minicourse is for the student with a serious interest in animated films. We will focus separately on the two main ingredients of animation: pictures and sound. Those students interested in music and sound will create soundtracks (original compositions and improvisations, sound effects, dialog, etc) and coordinate them with visual images. Those interested in the visual action will be introduced to the main techniques of cell animation and will work on the Macintosh computers using Macromedia’s program, Director, to create animations. Special guests will act as resources for our projects and show us how professional animators work.
  • Yoga Marathon…. Detox, Destress, Defrost: The one Minicourse guaranteed to make you sweat! Participants will learn and practice two types of yoga during the week – Bikram yoga and Power yoga. (All sessions are taught at off-campus studios.) Bikram yoga is an intensive yoga practice which relies on high temperatures to both increase flexibility and cleanse your body and mind. Power yoga is practiced at more traditional room temperatures and aims to increase spinal flexibility and overall strength. To enhance our weeklong focus of centering body and mind, participants should expect to begin (or end) some days with a hike. This course – open to sophomores and juniors – is appropriate for beginning to advanced students of yoga and is perfect for those looking to commit to a challenge.
  • BAAM!!! Bay Area Art Museums: We will spend five days exploring art museums throughout the Bay Area. Our trip begins with a tour of the SFMOMA’s permanent collection, beginning with the question: What is Art? The next day will be spent at the Asian Art Museum to view the awe-inspiring Terra Cotta warriors, which are traveling from Beijing, China. Another day will be spent at the fabulous Di Rosa Art preserve in beautiful Napa Valley, where we will see an astonishing regional contemporary art collection. The following day will be spent at a glass blowing studio in South San Francisco and conclude that day with a visit to the Mission district to learn about the rich cultural history of murals in the area by the Precita Eyes Mural Organization. Our final day, we will visit different galleries in the downtown SF gallery district to learn about Contemporary Art practices from different art gallery owners.
  • Nobody dies in Death Valley (Sophomore Course): From 282 feet below Sea Level at Badwater Basin to sunset in the sand dunes at Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley holds some of the most amazing sites in California. We will depart early Monday morning from SFO and spend the week exploring, hiking, stargazing and soaking in all the desert has to share. This trip is open to all sophomores interested in the great outdoors, especially those with a passion for hiking and fun; no prior experience camping is required. We will be doing some challenging hikes, so those with questionable fitness and bad attitudes need not apply. This is an outdoor trip. Each day’s activities will be filled with time out and about in Death Valley and each evening we will return to camp to share meals, stories, and more time together.
  • Service Learning: Barack Obama said: [This change] cannot happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. In this Minicourse we will answer the President’s call to service and we will work with children in a local public school in San Rafael. Every day we will be with elementary school children in their classrooms working on reading, art, math and other aspects of school. This Minicourse is for you if you like kids and want to work in a classroom setting.
  • The Baja Lagoons – Close Encounters with Gray Whales: This once in a lifetime trip will commence with a journey down the Pacific Coast to the Baja Peninsula. Along the road we will investigate the desert iguana and their habitat, local cuisine and culture, and enjoy the natural riches of this complex and exquisite habitat. Our adventures will take us camping on the beach, visiting the sea turtle recovery program in the Sea of Cortez, and getting up close and personal with gray whales. The breeding / calving lagoons of San Ignacio are the only place on earth where we can have close-encounters with these highly adaptable creatures. This course is designed to be exciting, demanding, and not to be missed. Students will be required to prepare information on the flora and fauna of the region and share their expertise around the campfire.
  • Nature Awareness, Foraging, and TrackingExploring the Abundance of Wild Marin: A few hundred years ago, before roads and buildings and markets and technology, the native peoples of the Bay Area lived a life of great abundance. They had access to nutritious food, good medicine, and lots of information from the living beings all around them. And all without any of the amenities of our current times! Their secret? A deep connection to and understanding of the place they called home. Join us for a wonderful week of wandering and wondering through the open spaces of Marin. We’ll begin by learning to read the landscape of the local hills, following watersheds and finding out what grows where. When we have a general sense of place, we will work with a naturalist to discover the many uses of the plants around us, from edibles to medicinals to textiles. We’ll do some crafting, too, gathering reeds to weave baskets or berries for dyeing. Adding bird language and tracking to our skill set, we will better understand how our animal friends communicate and navigate, and what they can tell us about an ecosystem. At the end of the week, we’ll spend two days and a night in West Marin, deepening our connection with nature and practicing our newly developed skills. We’ll come away from the week rejuvenated by our time outdoors, more knowledgeable about local plants and animals, and grateful for all the abundance of wild Marin.
  • Exploring Marin – Getting to Know Marin’s Environmental Diversity: As Bay Area residents we have a luxury that many in the world do not have – we have a world-class set of national and state parks literally on our door step. How familiar are you with the trails and sights of Marin County? How much do you know about local foliage, fauna and wildlife? This Minicourse is designed to give you an up-close understanding of the environment that surrounds us. Each day we will be exploring a different facet of Marin’s environment – by foot, by bicycle, and by board. We will spend three days hiking in different areas of Marin County, possibly ascending Mt. Tamalpais; exploring the Headlands and visiting the Marin Watershed. We will also take a mountain bike excursion along Rush Creek to explore the wetlands of Marin County. We will end our week with a surfing excursion in Bolinas including a beach clean-up. During our adventures we will learn about our local eco-system, protection of water and soil, prevention of erosion and water pollution, wildlife conservation, how public access is protected, and the general history of the area. This Minicourse will also include time for self-reflection and sharing with the group, as well as some significant exercise. You will need a daypack, broken-in hiking boots, rain-gear (which we hopefully won’t need), and a good level of fitness for this Minicourse.
  • Cast, Carve, Bend and Build – An Introduction to Sculpture: This Minicourse is an introduction to sculpture, exploring several processes and materials to create forms. Students will have the opportunity to explore working with plaster, wire and cardboard using the processes of casting, bending, gluing, assembling and carving. Class projects will be a combination of individual projects and group projects, giving students the opportunity to work new ways. Students will create forms through bending metal wire, casting plaster forms in sand, shaping plaster forms through carving, assembling planar forms using cardboard, and a few more projects including a whole class project to be determined. Additionally, I hope to make a mid-week trip to a local artist’s studio. There will be regular critiques to discuss strengths and weaknesses of projects, incorporating student feedback in the learning process.
  • Asian Treasures in the Bay Area: This Minicourse is designed for those who enjoy rigorous structured-physical activity and learning about people and culture at the same time. This year we will concentrate on exploring some of the Asian Treasures in the Bay Area. If you live in Marin, we will take Golden Gate Transit daily from San Rafael Transit into San Francisco. We will then walk and gather at the Shaolin Temple for a morning packed with two hours of Shaolin Kung Fu. After our morning practice, a reflection and meditation period will follow so we can contemplate our health and wellness. After stretching and exercising our minds and bodies we will embark on excursions to nourish the body and the soul. After exploring and sampling Asian cuisine we will immerse ourselves in the culture. We will visit the Chinese Culture Center in Chinatown, do a walking ghost tour, and visit some of the oldest stores in San Francisco. We might do a workshop at The Asian Art Museum or visit the exhibit in season; we’ll meditate at the Japanese Tea Garden, and weather permit, we’ll end our week by exploring and learning about the Asian immigration into California by taking short trips through the various Asian neighborhoods. Every day we’ll take the ferry back from the Embarcadero to Marin, Larkspur Landing. Warning: This is not a food tasting, shopping, or a tour of San Francisco Minicourse. Martial arts is the main component so you must be in good physical condition. Bonus: learn how to use the transportation system.
  • Angles of Vision – Great Filmmakers on Film: Do you love going to the movies? Is your idea of a fantastic Saturday catching a double feature, dashing out for a quick bite, and then heading out for a midnight movie? Do you make your own films – or dream of doing so someday? Ever wondered how all the elements of a movie – the script and story, the light and sound, the settings and the scenery – all come together to create the illusions that captivate us so deeply? Then this might be the Minicourse for you… This Minicourse will provide a rare opportunity not only to see some fantastic films, but also to discuss them with some extraordinary filmmakers. Each day, a visiting professional filmmaker will join us to present a film that inspired them at some stage of their career. We will open each day with a preliminary discussion followed by a screening of a movie of their choice, and then after a break for lunch, we will reconvene for a conversation with these master filmmakers about that film and other aspects of their craft. If you have ever thought about film school – or if you just love movies and want to know more about how they get made and the ins and outs of the industry, you won’t want to miss out on this course! All screenings will be held in the MA Performing Arts Theater. Please know that this Minicourse will involve much more than just watching movies for five days. We will do that – but participants will be expected to do some readings in preparation for the texts, to be fully engaged in discussion, and to be prepared to do reflective writing and other activities to get the most out of our experience. It will be a lot of fun — but if you sign up, be ready to be challenged to think hard, to watch carefully, and to come away with a new level of appreciation for just how much you can learn at the movies.
  • Backpacking in the Condor Wilderness: Our adventure will take place in the Condor Wilderness, part of the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara. It’s named the Condor Wilderness because in 1937, a portion of the area–chosen for its inaccessible terrain–was designated as a sanctuary to the California Condor, which is currently on the “critically endangered species” list. A sighting of a California Condor is rare; if we do spot one of these majestic birds, however, we probably will know what we are looking at: they are one of the largest birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet! Though we are not guaranteed a sighting of a California Condor, we are definitely guaranteed beautiful, rugged, and inspiring scenery. An adjacent region we will be hiking through, the San Rafael Wilderness, contains within it the highest peak in Santa Barbara county (county seat: Santa Barbara) at 6,800 feet and a POSSIBLE peak ascent for us. We will also be traveling along winding river valleys, through meadows, over hill and dale, across mountainous landscapes, or in other words, through some of the most gorgeous wilderness in the world. In addition to the joy of being in the wilderness with ample friends, we will also take time each day (in different ways) to reconnect with nature and to reflect. Meditation, yoga, nature art, journaling, and rock-stacking are just a few of the possibilities that each explorer could choose in order to create a daily practice for themselves for the duration of the trip. No experience with any of these things is necessary: curiosity and excitement highly encouraged! So! Those who are physically fit, positive in attitude, and willing to be an honest and open member of our tribe are most welcome. A journey full of beauty, great food, laughs, reflection, and camaraderie is sure to ensue.

The 2012-2013 school year marks 40 years of education at Marin Academy.  Throughout the year we will be commemorating this anniversary with on-campus events for students, special publications (including this on-going series of “lists of 40″), and a community celebration at Bimbo’s in San Francisco on Saturday, April 20 (for more info and tickets visit: www.ma.org/40).

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