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Previous Courses

Please note: Courses occurring prior to Fall 2016 were part of a different program model than those held beginning October 2016.

Fall 2016

Recommended for Grades 7-8

Investigating Criminal Law

Students in this class will consider the complex and ever-changing facets of criminal law. You will learn about basic legal rules and concepts (like the difference between robbery and burglary), variations in criminal defense strategies, rules for evidence, and court procedures. You can look forward to fascinating discussions about controversial topics, real court cases, and a taste of debate through mock trial. While we won’t administer the bar exam, by the end of this class you will know a bit more about the practice of law and what it means to think like a lawyer. Business attire not required.

Psychology of Memory

In many ways we are defined by our memory, which is why memory and psychology are inextricably linked. This class will provide an introduction to how memory functions in the brain and how scientists are able to study it. After examining a number of famous experiments, you will design and run your own experiments in a team-based environment. Then, as time allows, you will use the same format and tools as professional researchers to write-up and present your findings. After a day in a psychologist’s shoes, your understanding of memory could be altered forever.

Animal Movement and Landscape Ecology

Humans require an incredible amount of natural resources to persist, often at the expense of the local environment. Here we will investigate how humans and their animal counterparts coexist to sustainably utilize the land. In a laboratory environment, you will access techniques and tools ecologists use to understand the ways animals utilize their fragmented habitats. You will learn how to measure and quantify a forest landscape, analyze your data, and run computer models to postulate the effects of land-use on the long-term stability of these ecosystems. Time allowing, you will have an opportunity to work on your own research question and practice the essential skill of presenting your scientific findings to a general audience.

Nuclear Containment Engineering

What to do with nuclear waste is a real and growing problem. In this lab, you will gain a basic understanding of how nuclear power works and the methods environmental engineers use to dispose of used nuclear materials. As budding engineers, you will design your own model containment structure, build it, and test it for stability and integrity using different analytical techniques. How do you dispose of something that could be harmful for centuries to come? Sand, soil, cement, and your own ingenuity! 

Recommended for Grades 9-10

Female Criminals in the 19th Century

Historians are like detectives on the hunt to recover the voices of people who lived centuries ago. Archival sources provide the clues and evidence that lead researchers to fascinating interpretations and discoveries about the past.  In this course, students will engage with archival sources to learn about the experiences of female criminals in the 19th century United States. Together, we will examine the evidence found in the documents to understand how criminal women interacted with the legal and prison systems in the United States as well as participate in the historical research process and hone skills utilized by historians every day.

Pathenogenic Microbiology

This lab is for students who have a thorough understanding of cellular biology and are ready to take their knowledge to the next level. If that sounds like you, then don your safety goggles and put on your gloves, because you are about to get up close and personal with some bacteria (mild strains of course). Pathenogenic microbiology is the study of how bacteria interact with human cells. In this class, you will work in a Vanderbilt lab with a research scientist to gain a deeper understanding of how pathogens affect human health; you will learn what it takes to run a study; and you will see how professionals share what they have learned with each other. Classtime will consist of lecture, lab time, and practice writing and constructing a professional publication.

Genetic Epidemiology

Vanderbilt University is at the forefront of the new Precision Medicine Initiative, a nationwide project to study the genomes of over 1 million people in order to better understand how diseases work in different populations. Students in this laboratory will get an introduction to how scientists make sense of all that information. Using some open-source statistical analysis software, and a bit of computer programming, you’ll participate in the tools and procedures epidemiologists are using to try to understand the relationships between genetic variants and human health. The next great breakthrough in human health may not happen inside a lab, but at a computer, maybe with you at the keyboard.

Spring 2016

Grades 7 & 8

Cancer on a Molecular Level

Did you know that cancer cells can “talk?” They use molecules to create a kind of information network between cells, and these signals inform the way different cancers attack the body; thus, researchers are increasingly looking at how cancers progress at the molecular level. When we better understand what cancer cells are “saying” to each other, we can develop more targeted treatments. This class will focus on the signaling networks that are often implicated in cancer and explore some of the latest basic research that is going on in the field. It is a perfect course for future doctors, biologists, and biomedical researchers who want to begin to understand cancer on molecular level.

Creative Writing and Pop Culture

This course explores narrative structure in a wide array of story arcs—everything from songs and videos, to movies, books, and even internet memes—to figure out how the “big picture” of the story you want to tell informs character, dialogue, imagery, and tone. Through investigation into emerging media, writing exercises, workshop, and revision, students will hone their writing craft with clarity and purpose.

Literature and Cognition

The human mind has a tremendous capacity for crafting, reading, and remembering stories and poems. Cognitive theory can help us understand both why and how our brains accomplish such feats. This interdisciplinary course embraces the fields of literature, psychology, science, and expository writing. Students will read cognitive theory texts along with novels, poetry, and short stories. We will also conduct psychological experiments and evaluate the contributions of cognitive science to our understanding of the human desire to create and read literature. We will focus on how we can use cognitive theory to make academic writing compelling, memorable, and persuasive.

Grades 9 & 10

Over and Over Again: Fibonacci Numbers and Iteration

The Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, . . .) is one of the most famous sequences in mathematics. In this course, we’ll use the Fibonacci sequence as a launching pad to study recursive functions and iterative processes. For example, how many ways can you line up Alice, Bob, and Camilla in alphabetical order, but without placing anybody next to their alphabetical neighbor (i.e. Alice next to Bob, etc.). Or (in electronics) how to find equivalent resistances of resistor ladders. In this class you can look forward to challenging and non-standard problems like these, collaborative problem solving, and the effective communication of mathematical ideas.

The Art of the Argument

It’s a fact of life: you want to change things for the better, but you can’t do it alone. You need to explain, persuade, and get the right people on your side. An effective argument is one of the best tools in your arsenal, and this course will teach you how to craft one! You will learn how to discover the possible lines of argument on any topic, and create and deliver a policy presentation on a topic of your choosing. You’ll leave this course with rhetorical tools to start changing the world, one argument at a time.

The Human Microbiome

Where are the latest medical breakthroughs happening? Your gut! And no wonder! For every human cell you have, there are ten microbes living in your stomach and intestines–the human microbiome. The bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi living in, on, and around your body can make you sick, but they are also essential for your health and development, potentially affecting everything from autoimmune disorders to depression. We will study the human ecosystem in this course, paying close attention to the overuse of antibiotics, its impact on the microbiome, and the consequences for human health.


Fall 2015

Grades 7 & 8

Geospatial Ecology

This is not your typical ecology class. You won’t be traipsing through woods and fields gathering samples. Instead, you will be in space! This class is not about bugs and butterflies, but the interactions between human and natural systems (such as agriculture, natural disasters, infrastructure, urban sprawl, and so on). Utilizing satellite imagery and geospatial technologies we will examine how urbanization, globalization, climate change, and technological innovation shape, and are shaped by, the natural world. Students in this class will learn to analyze social and environmental data to make critical decisions about the root causes of–and possible responses to–global environmental change.

Literature and Comedy

What makes us laugh and why? At least as far back as ancient Greece, authors and philosophers have attempted to understand how comedy operates within the larger social framework and its role in promoting and even subverting social norms. In this course, we will review comic literary works and philosophical pieces dealing with the nature of comedy. We will pay careful attention to the way culture, class, and stereotypes might influence the way comedy “works” on us as well as how comedy has and can be used to bring about social and political change.

Theory and Research in Emotion Psychology

In this class, we will learn about theories and research in the psychology of human emotions, paying close attention to how different emotions affect attention, cognition, and motivation. This will also afford us a chance to review some fascinating studies and to better understand how experiments and research methods can give us insight into the human mind. You will come away from this class with a better understanding of how the experts think emotions might work in the human mind and the tools and methods they use to test their theories.

Grades 7 – 10

Crafting Your Story: A Creative Writing Workshop –

Do you have an idea for a great story? Maybe you already know the main plot points, or maybe the kernel of your story begins with a dynamic character or a captivating place. How do you take a good idea and turn it into a fully developed story? In this class, we’ll explore how writers find inspiration and the different approaches they use to begin crafting their stories. Through exercises, group activities and peer workshops, students will generate story ideas and create plans to develop those ideas into full length stories (or novels!). At the end of the course, each student will have a confident start on his or her writing project and a plan to bring it to completion.

Grades 9 & 10

Biophotonics

Scientists and engineers continue to innovate better technologies to solve some of the most challenging problems in medicine. One of the areas that focuses on developing these technologies is biophotonics. This field of study utilizes light to understand biological processes and systems, diagnose and treat various diseases, and investigate the development of more efficient laser instruments. We will discuss the properties of light and its interactions to learn how to apply specific imaging and spectroscopy techniques. We will then apply our new understanding of biophotonics to current challenges in medicine, examining how light can be used to tackle these issues.

Non-Standard Geometry

Standard geometry courses will teach you about obtuse angles, parallelograms, and the Pythagorean Theorem. But there will be none of that in this class! We throw out all the things that make school geometry insufferable and focus on some highly engaging, but rarely explored problems, like how M.C. Escher created his famous optical illusions, or what happens when you shine a laser beam in a room full of mirrors. Two-column proofs? Forget about it! Topology, tessellations, and Tetris! Oh my!


Spring 2015

Grades 7-8

Literature and Cognitive Theory –

The human mind has a tremendous capacity for writing, reading, and remembering stories and poems. Cognitive theory can help us understand both why and how our brains do this. This interdisciplinary course embraces the fields of literature, psychology, science, and expository writing. Students will read cognitive theory texts along with novels, poetry, and short stories. We will also conduct psychological experiments and evaluate the contributions of cognitive science to our understanding of the human desire to create and read literature. We will focus on how we can use cognitive theory to make academic writing fascinating, memorable, and persuasive.

An ideal course for philosophically-minded book lovers.

Slave Revolts, Rebellion, and Resistance –

Through the analysis of firsthand accounts and other historical documents, lectures, group discussion, documentaries, and manipulation of the statistics in the Slave Voyages Database, we will uncover the many different ways in which enslaved people across Africa and the Americas fought for their freedom. We will examine all forms of resistance and revolts, including slave ship insurrections, runaway slave communities in Brazil and Jamaica, slaves in the legal system, and the armed uprisings of the enslaved in places such as Haiti, Cuba, and the US in order to better understand how resistance and rebellion shaped the experiences of enslaved Africans and their descendents.

An ideal course for history buffs with a highly-developed sense of justice.

Straight Ahead? Non-Standard Geometric Explorations –

We throw out all the things that make school geometry insufferable and explore some non-standard problems in geometry. WAVU math lovers of any grade (7-10) are invited to participate in this workshop-style, highly differentiated course. No two-column proofs here! Tilings, topology, and tetris? Oh my!

Math-lovers who are ready to go beyond the textbook.

Grades 9-10

Apocalypses in Pop Culture –

The apocalypse is everywhere in pop culture. You see its themes in books, movies, video games, television, and graphic novels. But the seeds of apocalyptic can be found in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and other semitic documents. It was a favorite genre of those engaged in socio-political critique. In this class, we will seek to uncover the identities of those who shaped apocalyptic literature, discover why they were writing, and consider why this genre continues to be so popular in the modern world.

An ideal course for lovers of history, literature, and human culture (vivid imaginations required).

The Human Microbiome: Its Implications for Health and Disease –

Where are the latest medical breakthroughs happening? Your gut! And no wonder! For every human cell you have, there are ten microbes living in your stomach and intestines! Scientists call it the human microbiome. Yes, you are an ecosystem!  The bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi living in, on, and around your body can make you sick, but they are also essential for your health and development, potentially affecting everything from autoimmune disorders to depression. We will study this human ecosystem in this course, paying especially close attention to the overuse of antibiotics, its impact on the microbiome, and its consequences for human health.

An ideal course those who want to venture into the hidden worlds of the human body.

Straight Ahead? Non-Standard Geometric Explorations –

We throw out all the things that make school geometry insufferable and explore some non-standard problems in geometry. WAVU math lovers of any grade (7-10) are invited to participate in this workshop-style, highly differentiated course. No two-column proofs here! Tilings, topology, and tetris? Oh my!

Math-lovers who are ready to go beyond the textbook.