The Immersive Experience

What can happen in three weeks?


In taking one course, students have time to engage deeply with the subject matter, sit with questions, and apply their learning daily so concepts and skills are layered and reinforced. Consistent feedback between students and teachers allows for the continual refinement of ideas.  

Immersives are designed by our faculty to take advantage of the format. Science courses are driven by labs and fieldwork, social studies classes spend time learning within communities, literature and writing classes have time for deep analysis and a rigorous writing process. Browse the courses listed below to see the variety offered in this program, and download the 2024-2025 course catalog to see what's on deck for next year.

On the last day we hold Exhibition, where all students present to the Bay community on topics that they have researched in depth. Podcasts, video journals, short films, detailed infographics, lab reports: the final projects display incredible variety. By their senior year, Bay students are adept at research, synthesis, and public presentation of complicated ideas.

    Immersive Courses 2023-2024

    9th Grade 

    This course focuses on immigration and the impact of economics, politics, geography, and society on a family’s decision to emigrate from their home country. Through the book Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, students learn about the benefits and drawbacks of immigrating to the US, from the harrowing journey itself, to the separation of families, to finding one’s way once an individual arrives in the United States. Students also learn to better understand the immigration experience through in-depth research, conducting an interview, and writing a narrative. Through listening to and recording (both audio and written) the stories of others, we learn that diversity begins with the experiences of individuals.

    In this field-based physical geology course, students explore the rocks, hills, and waters of the greater San Francisco area up to Point Reyes. Fieldwork includes hiking and camping. At each locale, essential observations will progress from the micro of rock identification to the macro of formation type and forces. With their growing skills in physical observation and understanding of geologic forces, students will write detailed field reports and create a final project that explains an aspect of the unique geology of the Bay region.

    How can we use current biological research and our own data studies to understand physical and mental health and well-being? This course focuses on how exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress affect biological processes. The class reads current research and biology texts, and students collect data on themselves using FitBits issued for the course by keeping detailed journals. Students gain skills in experiment design, data collection and analysis, and the creation of mathematical models.

    To learn how culture influences thinking and behavior, students begin by reflecting on their own personal narrative around culture. They also learn how to carefully observe and analyze human interactions in order to recognize and remove assumptions connected to culture, ethnicity, nationality, and other identity markers. Students visit several Bay Area neighborhoods and hear from residents and historians. Final projects explore the question posed within different contexts, including religion and ethnic identity.

    This course explores the artistic traditions that emerged in Islamic art with the absence of figural representations, which are generally considered forbidden in Islam. Geometry, calligraphy, and biomorphic design are all disciplines of Islamic art. The class studies constructions, symmetry, and tiling groups in order to better understand the ways that geometry can be used to create works of art, and the ways in which art can help us understand geometrical relationships.

    How can mathematics help us to model characteristics and phenomena we observe or imagine? How does the iterative design process relate to both our work in mathematics and the creation of a digitally animated film? Using Pixar films as a starting point, students learn about the stages in the digital animation process, from character development to fine-tuning animations. The class takes local field trips, hears from professional animators, and does a workshop at the Disney Museum. Using digital animation tools, including Tinkercad and Pixar in a Box, students learn to create their own animated figures.

    10th–12th Grade 

    This class seeks to answer the question, “Why do we still read Shakespeare?” Each section studies various adaptations of two plays, from classic renditions to pop-culture takes. After close study of the text, students collaborate to create their own short adaptations—from writing the script to creating the set.

    Students step into a laboratory-kitchen to analyze the science underlying fundamental cooking techniques. Principles we study include thermal energy transfer in browning reactions, the intermolecular forces involved in emulsions, and the chemical reactions underlying bread, cheese, eggs, and pickles. Students will also have the opportunity to design and execute dishes of their own choosing. 

    Click here to learn more about the chemistry in this course, from teacher Julie Spector-Sprague.

    We can understand creativity in our society by looking at how “artists” are defined in other cultures. Is everybody an artist, every citizen a contributor to a culture’s expression? In this course students explore different societies through the lens of local museums, with a particular focus on the de Young. Through close observation of actual artifacts, discussions with curators, and presentations from visiting lecturers, students will learn about how culture drives creation, and how it gets represented within the context of a museum’s curatorial choices.

    Students get to live as professional astronomers while using the Tuolumne Skies Observatory near Yosemite. The course will start at Bay learning the basics of how to run our research-level observatory, and then spend at least four nights at TSO. We sleep during the day and work at night, learning telescope operation skills, astronomical data collection, image processing techniques, and data management skills. Students will run at least two types of projects: one as individuals with their own data and one in a group using archival data from public data sets. Students search for exoplanets and look for novel projects to do with our equipment. For Exhibition, students present some aspect of their work from the observatory; examples include creating a light curve, studying and discussing a scientifically interesting object, or creating a polished astronomical image. 

    This Immersive studies the atmosphere by launching high-altitude weather balloons to the edge of space. Students make predictions about measurable characteristics of the atmosphere, then put together the hardware and software that will test their hypotheses when the weather balloons are launched into the stratosphere. Launching and retrieving the balloon payloads is a day-long endeavor, rewarding and frustrating. Before launches, students collaborate to prepare and execute a single-opportunity experiment, and try to plan for and mitigate unforeseen complications in the field. Essential questions guiding our work include: How can we study (and refine our study) of the atmosphere? How do weather balloons work? What things can we study in the atmosphere? How can we study them?

    The Bay Area is home to an amazing food scene, from the variety of farms, to the diversity of restaurants. There are also a lot of questions about how and what we eat, as well as what's happening for the people who grow and prepare our food. In this course, we seek to understand where our food comes from, how it gets to us, and what the future of food might be. Students will visit with people and places engaged in the modern food chain as we look at questions of sustainability, identity, nutrition, food politics, and taste. What is factory farming? Is there any future for the family farm? How did science and modern food change our palates? What defines a "nutritious meal," and is that available to everyone equally? What is the role of food in identity? In "othering?" The course culminates in a food symposium where students will share their research and position on an essential Bay Area food question. 

    What is it like to work in a biotechnology research laboratory? How can the skills that students learn in Bay’s core science courses be applied to the “real world” of scientific research in a rigorous lab-based setting? Students in this course undertake a deep investigation into molecular biology and into the professional skills required to work in the technical field. On Day 1, students enter one of Bay’s science labs to find the classroom space transformed. Welcome to the Bay Biotechnology Laboratory! Lab benches are set up with pipettes, table-top centrifuges, PCR thermocyclers, incubators, electrophoresis apparatuses, and so on. Students then follow a brisk training schedule in a research laboratory environment, beginning a series of preliminary projects to test and extend their laboratory skills. More specifically, they work on cloning and analyzing the gene GAPC from a plant of their choice, using modern methods of biotechnology. The GAPC gene codes for the key metabolic enzyme glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), an enzyme present in all known organisms.

    The essence of Buddhism is to awaken, to be free in the midst of this changing world. Buddhism has a long and rich history from ancient India to the Bay Area. We study that history with an emphasis on how Buddhism has impacted the West, revolutionizing disciplines from neuroscience and psychology to education. Topics include Buddhist ethics, the Two Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, and the profound teaching of Dependent Origination. To understand these concepts, students spend time practicing mindfulness meditation, reading primary sources and practitioners’ perspectives, visiting local Buddhist communities to hear from practitioners, and applying their understanding and knowledge to academics, personal experiences, and the everyday world.

    Students explore the forces that create the grand features of California: the Cascade range, the Sierras, the Central Valley, the San Andreas Fault, the Coastal Ranges, and the Salton Sea. Through this course—much of which is spent camping—students build an integrated, live understanding of these regions, the formations they are made of, and how these formations interact with one another. Assessments will include regular quizzes, a comprehensive field trip guide, and a visual representation of the California underground. Essential questions framing our study include: How do geological regions relate to one another? How far can a rock formation extend? What are the sources of volcanism in the state of California? Why is there so much gold in the Sierras?

    This course is a historical and socio-cultural analysis of some of the significant people, places, and events of America’s Civil Rights Movement. At the center of this Immersive is the notion that “place” is vital to understanding. Therefore, we teach the course largely in the South, learning from the historical sites that generated and propelled the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the locations we may visit include Martin Luther King Jr’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where the late John Lewis led Civil Rights protestors across the bridge in 1965. The course will provide a foundation for the academic study of the Civil Rights Movement, with a particular focus on the historical and contemporary implications of the movement within the context of social justice and community-building. Students will be able to contextualize other social movements of the 20th century and recognize the importance of those movements in today’s society. 

    Poet Rainer Maria Rilke encouraged readers to “be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Live the questions.” This course will explore film as a modern medium through which to love and live timeless questions. Students view, write about, and discuss a selection of fictional and documentary films, analyzing the techniques that filmmakers use to tell their stories through sight and sound. Students will produce a brief video essay in which they describe how filmic techniques advance inquiry of an essential question in a film of their choosing. 

    This class goes through all the stages of filmmaking: pre-production, production, and post-production. We spend a week on location learning how to shoot from a script. During this time, actors gain firsthand experience on a set and in front of a camera, while crew members learn what it takes to be part of a film team. After the shoot, students return to school to edit the footage into a cohesive film. This course explores essential questions such as the role of the three-act structure in telling stories in film, why film is the best medium for telling certain stories, the aspects of the filmmaking process, and how style, mood, and emotion can be conveyed through film.

    Fire Ecology covers the role of fire in fire-adapted western US forests, at the scales of individual trees, communities, and ecosystems. Through field trips, lab exercises, and student-led projects, we will learn the essentials of different fire regimes and fire behavior across California. The class will also critically examine current management practices to reduce the negative effects of fires on communities and ecosystems. We also discuss climate feedback loops that are changing fire patterns and the implications of these on forests and communities across the west..

    Flying cars? Mars colonies? How did people in the past imagine the future? Why did they get things so absurdly wrong? What did they get uncannily right? This class explores the history of the future through literature, film, and other cultural artifacts. Students visit places where formerly cutting-edge technologies are being kept alive; examine the connections between technologies like the wine press, loom, printed book, and computer; and engage in the process of “strategic foresight” to make predictions about the year 2056 and beyond. Areas of inquiry include AI, food systems, and energy.


    Learn about the structure of and the organisms that reside in the Bay Area Estuary, as well as the Pacific from Marin to Monterey. Along with this survey of the varied life we find, we will look at the diverse processes that support this life, from the oceans to the intertidal to the deep sea. Beginning with the smallest organisms, students investigate the life cycles and evolutionary connections among different phyla of marine organisms, including humans. Special topics incorporated into the course include current issues in marine environmental management and conservation, and how these are connected to climate systems. Lab and field work is an integral part of the course; possible dissections may be included in the lab portion of the course. 

    This interdisciplinary course examines family structures and dynamics through American visual art, literature, television, film, and various forms of nonfiction. Students explore how gender roles have changed throughout history and examine different interpretations of family to understand their own family makeup and their place in it. During this course, they will study different forms of memoir, and within small writing groups, they will follow a disciplined process of writing, critique, and editing to produce their own memoir in just three weeks. 


    Do you like the movie or the book better? In this course, students examine how stories change over time. In the first part of the course, students watch a movie based on Mythology and then find the oldest source material for the myth. How did the story change and why? Students then retell the story using the artistic medium of their choice. In the second part of the course, students choose a text that they like that is based on a myth and research the source material. In their final projects, students make a piece of art—music, dance, painting—in order to show what the story means to them.

    Why do we read? In today’s fast-paced, data-driven, screen-dominated world, how do we read? To help us answer these questions, this course trades classrooms for campsites and heads outside with novels in our packs. Students read two novels centered on a common theme while building backcountry skills, including hiking and camping. Without technology, our days provide space for students to engage deeply with full-length novels, learning to pace our reading to build a more sophisticated understanding of a text over time. Back on campus, students dive into writing projects, and learn to craft meaningful, well-supported arguments about literature.

    Why are some people wealthy while others are homeless? What can be done to solve the homelessness crisis? In this course, students will investigate the causes and consequences of wealth inequality. Focusing on homelessness (or houselessness) in the Bay Area as a case study, students become more familiar with the economic and social structures that exacerbate an increasingly dramatic gap between rich and poor, while reflecting on their own relationship to economic class. Students spend several days engaged in solidarity service learning in the Tenderloin neighborhood, and have opportunities to meet and learn from a broad range of experts.

    Students are introduced to the theories and practice of argumentation and competitive debate. This course focuses on the construction of arguments from the research to presentation, exploring different models of competitive debate, including policy debate, public forum debate, congressional debate, and Lincoln-Douglas debate. For Exhibition, the class holds a long debate on an issue, with students taking positions on either side of a proposed law.

    Using local literature as a vehicle for exploration into San Francisco’s diverse communities, students compose fictional short stories that construct creative counter-narratives to develop a more complex understanding of the human experience in San Francisco. The class studies a variety of genres and participates in workshops and discussions. Students learn how to center their own stories with a clear sense of place and identity, and present their works at Exhibition. The class takes several field trips and guided tours within the city.

    In this course, students will learn the techniques of wilderness medicine to help patients in a remote setting until EMS can arrive. After successful completion of the course, students will be certified as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), the industry standard certification for professional guides, trip leaders, and search and rescue team members. The course will feature hands-on practice and role-playing scenarios, including a mock-rescue event in a local wilderness setting. The curriculum for this course is determined by the National Outdoor Leadership School; certification is valid for two years and can be renewed with a shorter course.

    In this project-based, interdisciplinary course, we use the tools of science and humanities to investigate the myriad ways in which humans rely on water; the political, economic, and ethical issues stemming from our need for water; and how our quest for this critical resource has led us to re-engineer natural ecosystems. Our headquarters throughout most of this course will be the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab (SNARL), located several miles east of Mammoth Lakes, CA. SNARL is an active research laboratory run by the University of California Natural Reserve System, and is relatively close to iconic features in the story of western water such as Mono Lake, Owens Lake, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.