Immersive Course Catalog 2024

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Immersive Course Catalog 2024



That special time of year has arrived again – I am thrilled to introduce to you the 2024 Branson Immersive Course Catalog. Once again, we are excited to offer almost thirty courses, which will run from Tuesday, May 21 through Monday, June 3, 2024.

The signup portal will open on Monday, February 5, so please plan for some time to read through the offerings, digest all of your options, and choose your personal top twelve.

Thank you! Jeff Symonds, on behalf of the Branson faculty and staff


COURSE LIST & QUICKLINKS African Drumming: Building Leadership and Communication Skills All About England Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics The Art of Knitting Best Buddies: Thoughtful Engagement Through Established Authentic Partnerships Biocultural Leadership in Panama’s Mamoni Valley BullsEyes at Branson Ceramic Creations: The Functional, Expressive & Wild World of Clay Form, Function, Soul: The History and Relevance of Design Fusion Dance Improv as a Life Skill Introduction to Mahjong Just for Kicks: A Story of Sneakers Kpop, Kdrama and Korean Culture Let's Sew! Mixed and Multiracial at Branson Mountain Bike Marin! Mindfulness, Meditation & Movement Puzzlepalooza Queer History and JOY: Branson, the Bay, and Beyond Service Animals and Training Guide Dog Puppies Tabletop RPGs: Roll for Initiative! Tarot and Other Tools of Insight: Exploring the Outer Reaches of Inner Space The Ultimate Immersive Urban Ecology: Our Trees, Our Trash, Our Water, Our Food What’s on the Menu? From Sourcing Ingredients to Feeding a Crowd Woodworking The World of Money: Understanding, Managing, and Investing


COURSE DESCRIPTIONS African Drumming: Building Leadership and Communication Skills This course is thoughtfully crafted to immerse you in the rich tradition of West African drumming through a series of percussion activities, exercises, and engaging games. Our goal is to provide a unique experience where the power of drumming becomes a means of expression, allowing you to articulate your thoughts, feelings, and ideas through the rhythmic language of instruments. Throughout the duration of the class, you will acquire fundamental music skills and expand your musical vocabulary. Emphasis will be placed on cultivating leadership qualities such as innovation, adaptability, critical analysis, cross-cultural communication, and teamwork. This curriculum introduces an original and refreshing approach to learning, fostering critical thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving skills. Regardless of prior musical experience, all levels are welcome to join this dynamic exploration of West African drumming and its transformative potential. Get ready to embark on a rhythmic journey that not only develops musical proficiency but also nurtures essential life skills.

All About England This immersive will investigate everything England. Think of this as a crash course in some of the things that make England English. The royal family, of course—can’t leave them out. Football and cricket. We might even get down with a little rugby. If we’re playing sports then we’ll definitely need to know how to swear like an English sailor. And after we put away the boots and the pads, then we’re gonna have to eat. Tea and scones, anyone? Lunch at an English pub? When we’re fully revived, we can start looking at some English culture. What on earth is Guy Fawkes day? Or Boxing Day, come to that? And, don’t worry, we’ll still have time for a little bit of music, a little bit of film. And TV. English TV is an island unto itself. So if you always wanted to know all about the art of the English pie, why cutting the queue is just not cricket, how to wave like the queen, and various other English-isms, this is the course for you!


Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics Just as the most beautiful and the strongest are not crowned at the Olympic Games, but rather those who compete (for it is some of these who are victorious), so too those who act rightly come to possess the noble and good things in life (NE, I.1099a3-6). In this immersive we will discuss some of the central themes of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (NE). The NE is one of the most influential works of Western moral philosophy. It is deep, incisive, and at times genuinely moving. The NE is about nothing less than what is good for human beings. We will first aim to understand Aristotle's distinctive answer to this question, namely, that the "primary" or "chief" human good is eudaimonia, commonly translated as "happiness." This translation is perhaps not a happy(!) one, since, for the Ancient Greeks, eudaimonia is something closer to "flourishing" or "well-being" and is something even beyond praise. Aristotle provides an astonishing and truly bizarre argument for a particular definition of "happiness," an argument that might very well change how you conceive of your life! After a detailed discussion of these initial moves, we will consider Aristotle's conception of human virtues, action, and pleasure. Finally, we will take up the central puzzle of the text: whether Aristotle's eventual claim that the philosophical life is supremely good is consistent with other principles of the good life. As a group we will devise a few field trip ideas according to the "principles of the good life." Perhaps a trip to an art gallery (see Aristotle's analogy between well-crafted artifacts and excellent ethical activity)? Or a trip to a beautiful location to stroll around in true Peripatetic fashion? No previous knowledge of philosophy, history, or languages is expected. All that is required is a willingness to engage carefully with the NE and to contribute to discussion.

The Art of Knitting Calling all crafters! If you’ve always wanted to learn how to knit, or if you already know and you want to devote some nice, relaxing time to knitting, please join us for this fun immersive. We’ll start from the very beginning and learn how to knit and purl, and beginning students will make a beanie hat. We’ll go shopping at our local yarn stores in San Rafael, and students can select the yarn they want to work with. We’ll also travel up to Petaluma for a great field trip to a working farm, where the proprietor raises sheep and llamas and spins and dyes her own yarn, to learn about the process. When you finish the beanie, you can select a second project to get started on. For more experienced knitters, you may choose to work on whatever you’d like, and we’ll be here to help and support you for those challenging dropped stitches and other issues that come


up. Knitting is so relaxing and fun, and for most people who learn, it becomes a life-long passion, so join us if you feel inspired to learn how to knit!

Best Buddies: Thoughtful Engagement Through Established Authentic Partnerships Have you not been able to sign up for a Best Buddies lunch because you didn’t respond in the first two minutes it was announced? Well, here is your chance to join in on the fun and complete your community engagement hours! For the Best Buddies immersive, we are going to spend our time with daily visits to Oak Hill and Helix Schools, schools for students that are on the autism spectrum. We are going to do projects designed by Branson, Oak Hill, and Helix students together. Best Buddies student leaders will visit the schools in the winter and design fun projects along with students from Oak Hill and Helix that involve cooking, art, sports, dance, and games. During the spring immersive, we will complete the projects that were designed by students from both schools. In addition, we will hear from experts about autism, and we will discuss what it means to engage meaningfully with another institution.

Biocultural Leadership in Panama’s Mamoni Valley In today’s world, Branson students cannot meet their potential as empathetic, effective, and ethical leaders without meaningful and authentic connections with people from diverse backgrounds who have unique stories and skills to share. To achieve this, Branson partners with Geoversity, leveraging the exceptionally biodiverse 12,000-acre Mamoni Valley Preserve in Panama as a campus for ecological and social research, transformative leadership development, and natural design. This leadership program will immerse you with a cohort of students in dialogue and experiences with individuals and organizations directly engaged in these environmental, economic, and social conversations. We will use Panama – a location whose history is steeped in complex challenges, international collaboration, and creative innovation – as a living textbook to help you consider how to embrace these topics in more meaningful, inclusive, and globally oriented ways. (Note: enrollment for this course has already taken place.)


BullsEyes at Branson Do you want to build upper body strength, refine your focus, or enhance your hand-eye coordination? Whether you’ve hit a bullseye before or have never held a bow and arrow, all skill levels interested in the art of archery are welcome. You will learn and practice the fundamentals of archery to improve mental strength and concentration, freeing the mind from everyday distractions by focusing it. You will help set up an archery range right here on Branson’s campus, and visit different archery ranges in the Bay Area (San Rafael, Napa, Oakland, San Francisco, Martinez, Point Reyes: Marin Archery Range, Limantour, Abbotts Lagoon Trail). Join us to continue building a new era of archery at Branson!

Ceramic Creations: The Functional, Expressive & Wild World of Clay Get your hands dirty with the ancient (and modern) art of making things out of clay. In this all-levels course we will explore both handbuilding and wheel throwing techniques; we will make functional vessels and artistic sculptures. Explore the myriad cultural influences to broaden your aesthetic language of pottery and sculpture through the tactile world of clay. There will be themed projects and technique demos with lots of room for individual exploration along with a lot of fun time to create (both indoors and outside!).

Form, Function, Soul: The History and Relevance of Design This immersive will be a combination of class time and field trips. You will explore various design styles that have been prominent in typeface, architecture, landscape, etc. Field trips will include visits to Eichler/Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the Bay Area, the architecture and design wing of SFMOMA, the Letterpress Archive, the Craft and Design Museum in SF, and some of the Art Deco/Art Nouveau buildings in Oakland. Because of the field trips available to us locally, the course will mostly focus on the Euro-American history of design. However, there will be some class time dedicated to looking at other design traditions such as Islamic art and architecture, Chinese calligraphy, Indian avant-garde, and Mesoamerican architecture. You will also embark upon a design project of your own, which could range from designing posters, a new typeface, a garden, and maybe even common spaces and merch for Branson.


Fusion Dance In this class, our aim is to make you feel enriched throughout your dance journey. We will explore a variety of dance styles, including House dance, Middle Eastern dance, Belly dance, Persian dance, Afro dance, Vogue, Free styling, Storytelling, and some choreography. If you're interested in delving into different dance styles and learning about the rich cultures they represent, this is the class for you. Enjoy moving your body and connecting through the language of dance. Each day, we will dedicate a couple of hours to practicing various dance forms, followed by an exploration of the cultural context behind each style. We'll watch inspiring videos and hear from incredible dance teachers from the Bay Area community who will be invited to our class to share their journeys and enrich our understanding of dance culture. To conclude the class, we'll have an opportunity for those interested to participate in a performance. It's a chance to showcase what you've learned and celebrate the joy of dance.

Improv as a Life Skill Every day, everyone is improvising whether they realize it or not. Every conversation is an opportunity to listen deeply, accept, and extend offers. Improvisation helps people learn to be better listeners, more engaged coworkers, more impactful public speakers, and ultimately more empathetic and trusting human beings! This immersive will be a crash course on improvisation as a craft, but also expand upon the improv principles, translating them into tangible useful life skills. If you are interested in learning these amazing skills that will serve you throughout your life while having a fun and engaging experience, then we urge you to sign up for the Improv as a Life Skill Immersive!

Introduction to Mahjong Love games? Want to learn what it means to stop Chi with Peng? Want to enter a world subculture of enthusiasts? Then Intro to Mahjong is for you! This course will unlock the strategies of one of the greatest games in the world: 1. You will develop the teamwork needed to reach the goal of everyone winning. 2. You will develop the math, long-term and short-term memory, and introductory Chinese counting and speaking needed to master the game (no need to speak Chinese!) 3. You will develop the ability to take risks and read minds.


Mahjong is a tile-based game that originated in the 19th century in China and has spread throughout the world. It has become so popular because it integrates so many skills and exciting game play into one event. Mahjong is unpredictable and surprising, and commonly played by four players with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols. We will learn to recognize the tiles, learn the basic rules of playing Mahjong, and then learn to become formidable Mahjong players, all on Branson’s beautiful new Mahjong tables!

Just for Kicks: A Story of Sneakers Do you have a passion for sneakers? Would you consider yourself a sneaker fanatic or a sneakerhead? Have you ever wanted to know more about the history of sneakers? Then this is the right immersive for you. Students will learn about the history of sneakers, and about the different kinds of technologies that are found in sneakers. As a class, we will also explore how sneakers are made and what goes into their design. We will ask students to think about what might influence sneaker designers when they are creating shoes. Additionally, we will discuss the cultural influence of sneakers. We will have the opportunity to meet guests to gain knowledge on the different aspects of sneakers and sneaker culture. The goal at the end of this immersive is for students to design their own sneakers using the information they have learned throughout the course.

Kpop, Kdrama and Korean Culture Whether you are already a connoisseur or just intrigued by the idea, come join us in this fun immersive where we explore Kpop, Kdramas and Korean history and culture. We will watch a few Kdramas and Kpop videos in addition to going on a field trip or two, including enjoying a Korean meal together. This immersive will culminate in a class production featuring Kpop songs and dance and a student-produced Kdrama. Along the way, we will learn about Korean history and culture and themes visible and invisible in these art forms.

Let's Sew! The textile arts are at once defined by their mundane functionality (clothing, napkins, bed linens) and by their extravagant frivolity (costume, tapestry, embroidery). Textiles encompass both a common arts and crafts practice, and also a medium for some of today’s most exciting fine art and avant garde expression. In this immersive we’ll explore both sides of this ancient artistic tradition. Together we will learn basic hand and machine sewing skills, designing with fabrics, techniques for following and personalizing sewing patterns, hand and machine quilting, and


common mending stitches. We will introduce a few options for prototype projects and will guide beginners through the process of pattern and fabric selection, tracing and cutting, and sewing and alterations. Students are also welcome to envision their own textile project.

Mixed and Multiracial at Branson Conversations about race are frequently on a binary: white or black, white or non-white, person of color or non-person of color. However, a majority of people at Branson are experiencing race in a different way…much like many others in in the world: The Rock, Meghan Markle, Trevor Noah, Barack Obama, Drake, Kamala Harris, Maya Rudolph, Slash, Malcolm Galdwell, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka, Nick Kyrgios, Olivia Rodrigo, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (Key and Peele), Mariah Carey, Halsey, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and Bruno Mars. The latest California census shows that our multiracial population is a demographic to consider: 2020 data reflect a 276% increase in people who identify as multiracial compared to 2010. Here at Branson, 19% of our student body population identifies as multiracial. 44% of our Students of Color identify as mixed. Through discussion, interviews, multimedia and field trips, let's take a deeper dive into the joys, strengths, and complexities of what it’s like to be multiracial. What is it like to experience race in the ‘in between?’ Let's talk about it! (Note: This class is not an affinity space and is open to anyone who would like to explore this topic about a fast-growing demographic in America and beyond.)

Mountain Bike Marin! Do you have a passion for cycling? Or are you curious about bikes and want to learn more? This immersive, open to all levels of cycling experience, will explore the different aspects of cycling in the birthplace of the mountain bike. We will learn how to fix and maintain bikes, construct trails, and take rides. Additionally, we will travel to the Cycling Hall of Fame in Fairfax to learn about the history of cycling in Marin. We will also discuss equity in cycling and learn about community programs that seek to attract more non-cyclists to cycling.

Mindfulness, Meditation & Movement Develop a deeper sense of awareness, introspection, curiosity, and openness through the millennia-old practices of meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Students will learn foundational meditation techniques—breathwork, noting, body scans, visualization, skillful compassion, yoga, martial art, and more—while delving into the historical, scientific, and social underpinnings of the practice. No, meditation is not sitting on a cushion in perfect silence to find inner peace


(...though that doesn’t sound half bad)! This course will be expansive in practice as we learn directly from local and global experts regarding their distinctive methods. Envision yourself adventuring to magnificent meditation centers, training in Yoga and Qigong, fostering connective time with the natural world, and cultivating self-reflection without judgment. By the end of the 8-day immersive, students will be equipped with culturally-conscious and scientifically-backed mindfulness techniques to become more present in our world.

Puzzlepalooza Whether you are an experienced puzzler or a puzzling newbie, this immersive is for you if you would like to dive into puzzlecraft. We will learn about and solve all types of puzzles, including word puzzles, logic puzzles, physical puzzles, video game puzzles, riddles, and more. We will learn about the history of puzzles in different cultures, with examples from film and literature. And we will make our own puzzles that will entertain and confound our friends and classmates. Outings will include an Escape Room, an Orienteering Expedition, and a San Francisco Treasure Hunt. Josh Wardle sold Wordle for $3 much will your puzzle go for?

Queer History and JOY: Branson, the Bay, and Beyond When I say QUEER, you say JOY! We’re inviting allies, LGBTQ+ students, and anyone curious about queer history and culture to take this immersive. And what better place for that educational journey than the Bay Area!? We will center experiential learning with activities and field trips, including a San Francisco Castro walking tour, queer alumni panel, film analysis, volunteering with local nonprofits, exploring the art of drag, and so much more! Sign up if you’re ready to uncover queer narratives, interrogate and ideate Branson as an inclusive space, and become inspired by queer culture.

Service Animals and Training Guide Dog Puppies This course will look at the role of service animals in general by examining a variety of organizations and uses of their support animals. We will then focus more specifically on Guide Dogs for The Blind (GDB) and the training that their puppies receive. We will have hands-on practice with puppies as well as guest speakers who have trained service dogs or used them. We will do a field trip to the GDB San Rafael campus and will have the option of attending a graduation ceremony. Our final day will involve an outing with our puppies where we will socialize them in a variety of new environments. Upon completion of this course you will be eligible to actually puppy sit and/or raise a GDB puppy.


Tabletop RPGs: Roll for Initiative! Ever dreamed of wielding magic or superpowers, slaying dragons, and shaping entire worlds with your friends? This immersive adventure dives headfirst into the thrilling realm of Role-Playing Games (RPGs), like Dungeons & Dragons. Here, your imagination is the ultimate weapon. We'll break down the core elements of RPGs and unleash your inner storyteller. Learn to improvise witty dialogue as a courageous knight, craft cunning spells as a sly sorceress, or even mastermind intricate plots as the enigmatic Game Master (GM). Forget stereotypes: RPGs celebrate diversity and foster inclusivity. In this course we will explore different player philosophies, from min-maxing powerhouses to quirky, personality-driven heroes. Ultimately, these games are about stepping into new shoes, embracing different perspectives, and forging unforgettable memories with your fellow adventurers – not to mention the creativity and teamwork required to invent strange new worlds, author bizarre and compelling adventures, confront fiendish foes and escape tricky traps! So, grab your dice and join us… Are you ready to roll for initiative?

Tarot and Other Tools of Insight: Exploring the Outer Reaches of Inner Space Are you curious about tarot and other creative tools for reflection? The 78 cards of the Tarot invite you into a journey of self-exploration and curiosity. For this immersive, envision yourself exploring modes of self-expression in vibrant practices that excite you. You will learn directly from guest artists and guest tarot readers, participate in movement activities and visually-based practices, and research the fascinating history behind these special cards. This is a deep dive into creativity, self-inquiry, and exploration. We will investigate historical tools of knowledge, sharing, and creation based on lineage and invite you to do the same, asking how trusting your intuition can be revolutionary and how this trust may subtly question, undermine, or even dismantle what dominant culture values. This immersive is open to all playful learners with a creative and curious spirit. You’ll have the opportunity to deeply engage in conversation with yourself, as you suss out your most authentic self. You’ll also get the chance to create a series of 16 cards rooted in your vision, values, and insights.


The Ultimate Immersive Ultimate frisbee, with elements of soccer and football, is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. In this immersive you will develop skills including throwing, catching, and cutting, as well as understand strategic and cultural elements of the sport including an understanding of the rules and the Spirit of the Game. Highlights may include clinics run by current elite players; talks by coaches and executives from professional teams; attending a professional game; learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport; and, most importantly, spending time on the turf learning a sport you can play for a lifetime.

Urban Ecology: Our Trees, Our Trash, Our Water, Our Food Each day when we gather at Branson, we are simultaneously in the midst of a beautiful, bucolic setting and a 7.1 million-person metropolis – one of the largest urban areas in the U.S. How do we balance the needs of living organisms in the midst of this urban environment? That question is at the center of our immersive. This active exploration includes conversations and demonstrations with experts, field outings to relevant sites like the SF/Marin Watershed, Recology sorting centers, the Bureau of Urban Forestry in San Francisco and local farms, markets and food banks. By providing students a hands-on experience with urban street trees, trash and waste management, food and water sources, and other essential aspects of our daily life, students will gain an understanding of urban ecology and what is required to maintain a healthy and balanced urban ecosystem.

What’s on the Menu? From Sourcing Ingredients to Feeding a Crowd Do you ever think about where your food comes from and what goes into making it? Do you ever wonder what gives that favorite dish its unique flavor? We will be cooking food, critiquing dishes, learning the art and history of sourcing ingredients, and covering three main topics: Farming: Where does our food come from? What goes into deciding how to grow various ingredients? We will be talking to local farmers about their path into farming, the reasons why they farm in Marin, and what they think about as they get ready for each growing season. Cooking/Eating: What goes into choosing ingredients? How do you put together a menu? Inspiration for dishes? We will be visiting local restaurants to ask them these questions and get


behind-the-scenes tours of the restaurant world. We will then have the opportunity to cook some dishes for our own family meal! Serving our community: Every day, Branson serves us a fabulous hot lunch, but not everyone is lucky to have food so easily accessible. We will be working with organizations to understand more about food insecurity and food deserts, and volunteering to help feed those in need.

Woodworking Do you want to learn how to use tools and build with wood? We will take a practical and creative approach to woodworking/ basic carpentry in this immersive. You will then select and execute creative projects from a number of options including: coat rack, garden table, cutting board, cabinet, tablet or phone holder, candle holder, media box, and bird feeder. We will also learn how to engrave using wood burning technologies, select materials, and apply finishing touches (stains, protective finishes or glosses). Since the inception of this course last year, students will be working with a higher level of autonomy by learning how to use power tools.

The World of Money: Understanding, Managing, and Investing This immersive will introduce you to basic financial principles including time value of money, interest, discount rates, and basic financial practices for loans, credit cards, and mortgages. The class will include real-world assignments and examples and a focus on long-term financial planning and investing. The class will also include a fun team competition to generate revenue called “The $5 Challenge.” For those who take and complete this immersive, Branson will help you establish an individual Retirement Account and fund the first $250 for that account. The class will also include guest speakers and guest teachers.

Thank you and congratulations to the over sixty Branson faculty and staff members bringing these classes to life!

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