Students get a deeper knowledge

New academic program provides alternative, enhancement to existing advanced placement classes.

May 20, 2011|By Britney Barnes,
  • Scott Beaver, 17, makes a point during a discussion in the cornerstone International Baccalaureate class, Theory of Knowledge, at Newport Harbor High School on Monday.
Scott Beaver, 17, makes a point during a discussion in… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

NEWPORT BEACH — The campus stood nearly empty after dark, save for a few students trickling into an older classroom in a far corner of the school.

About 30 juniors took their seats around tables. Sets from past plays and the old masters' artworks were privy to the conversation — a debate on what makes art.

Photographs of Velázquez's "The Maids of Honour," and Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" were shown before questions were posed.

"What is art supposed to represent?" asked teacher Joe Robinson about the Velázquez. "Is art real or is what art is trying to reflect real?"

Those questions were debated Monday as part of Newport Harbor High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program, an internationally recognized curriculum in nearly 140 countries that's centered on critical thinking. It is a challenging alternative to honors and Advanced Placement coursework.

Harbor, which began its program in the fall, is the first campus in Newport-Mesa to offer an IB diploma, and one of 16 in Orange County.


"As a school, we have always been about critical thinking and about going into depth on topics," said Principal Michael Vossen. "The IB programs allow you to do that."

The centerpiece of the program is the Theory of Knowledge class, which on a recent evening touched on everything from expressionist painter Jackson Pollock to current pop singer Rebecca Black. Debate was engaging but there was little consensus.

All semester long, the students in their twice-weekly meetings learn, debate and question the four ways knowledge is acquired — language, senses, emotions and logic — and expressed in math, history and science. The year-long class will continue in the semester of senior year.

"We look at each and ask, 'How valid a source of knowledge are they?'" Robinson said. "What are their weak points? What are their strong points? How valid is history? It's a step back and it's looking at all the courses together."

Program enhances AP courses

The rigorous two-year program with six courses, including the Theory of Knowledge class, culminates in IB exams and a 4,000-word research essay submitted straight to the IB organization.

Diploma candidates also journal and reflect on their completed community service and physical activity, said Robinson, who also serves as Harbor's IB coordinator.

The high school didn't create all new IB classes, but built them into existing AP courses, Robinson said.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles