Summer reading has taken a new twist at St. Paul's School for Girls in Baltimore County.
This summer, ninth-graders are reading Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park," not because they want to be grossed out by the eating habits of prehistoric predators, but because it's required - for geometry and biology.
Three teachers - known collectively as "the three L's" - teach an interdisciplinary course called "Journey Through Exploration," a curriculum they created to challenge students to test mathematical theories in nature.
"Jurassic Park" kicks off the study session, introducing students to chaos theory, which explains among other things the predictability of an irregular heartbeat or a summer cloudburst.
During the semester, students use mathematics and computers to produce geometric patterns similar to those created by Crichton in his 1990 bestseller, which details the horrific results of genetic mutation in a laboratory.
Teachers LuAnn Blackman, Lydia Iddings, and Lalita Noronha-Blob believe that too many students learn to take tests, not to ponder. So they tried to create a curriculum that would lead students to intellectual growth, not just a better grade.
Their goal was to connect creative writing, science and math.
"I don't think that education is something that you dole out in bite-sized pieces and feed it to them like that," said Noronha-Blob, a biology teacher and writer.
"It's not biology, math and social studies. Students should learn to see the world in its totality."
The teachers' "Journey Through Exploration" workbook includes lessons on symmetry, patterns in genetics, molecular biology, complex numbers and fractal shapes.
It encourages students to complete more advanced homework assignments in math and science for extra credit, even after the class has moved to the next chapter.
That way students who decide they've mastered a lesson can compete later for a higher grade.
"It speaks to real learning," said Blackman, who teaches geometry.
Students write essays and short stories and put together thick portfolios to present to their teachers at the end of the semester, including experiments with beads and a computer program that generates a series of fractal figures in the shape of a dragon.
When the students present findings from their studies to their parents and friends, they get a taste for academic language and presentations that will help them in the future, said Noronha-Blob.
By the end of the course, many students are eager to explore more connections between math and science because they are more confident about their abilities in both subjects, Blackman said.
"It's wonderful when that happens," she said. "Some of them turn out to be real stars."
Information about "Journey Through Exploration": 410-823-