Digging into Dinosaurs: Mount Madonna Offers Asynchronous Science Course

Starting this semester, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is offering its first fully online asynchronous elective course for high school students. Titled The Dinosaurs, the class has been approved by the University of California as a college-preparatory elective in life sciences.

Asynchronous learning describes a process where learning does not occur in the same place at the same time. It is becoming increasingly more common in higher education course offerings, and allows great equity for students, as individuals can approach classes on their own terms and at their own pace, taking as much time as needed to study and respond to material.

MMS Science Department Chair Lisa Catterall began considering the possibility of a fully online science elective five years ago to begin the school on the path of sharing electives with other independent schools. When some students were asking for more to study at the close of the 2019-20 school year as they were sheltering in place, the time seemed right to seek approval for a course in this new format. Several topics were considered, and dinosaurs seemed to be the most relevant in relation to the pandemic.

“Some may wonder, ‘why not a course on virus dynamics or germs?” said Catterall. “While the content would be relevant, it is covered thoroughly in the high school life science program already. Freshman biology students at MMS already learn this topic in depth, and this year, instructor Nicole Silva plans to teach an entire unit on the science behind viruses and vaccines in our senior honors course, Science with Humanity.

“There is no better story than the history of dinosaurs for showing students how science updates and changes with new techniques and new information,” Catterall continued. “The backlash against science in the U.S at the moment is in part because the story people hear on the news about the coronavirus changes frequently as new research is made available. When we look back on this period in history, we will see a worldwide shift in research towards a complete focus on this virus, and an unprecedented speed of acquiring new scientific information. There was never a more important time for citizens to understand why the story changes and gets closer to the truth with every study, every new technique, and every discovery scientists make.”

“Mount Madonna is continuing its rich tradition of providing innovative learning opportunities by strengthening and diversifying the course offerings in our remote learning program,” commented Head of School Ann Goewert. “We are excited to provide students with the opportunity to dig deep into Earth’s geologic record and learn the science and story of dinosaurs as informed by fossils, trace fossils, and geochemistry.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.