MU offers strange, interesting classes

Thursday, July 26, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — So you've signed up for one of the dozens of English 1000 sections, and now you need at least three more classes.

Looking for courses that are more interesting than your average classes? Here is a sampling of intriguing courses offered at MU.

1. Religious Studies 2240: Harry Potter, Magic, and Religion. 

Calling all Harry Potter fans — or not, as the classroom is strictly "spoiler-free" for those new to Hogwarts.

It's not all wand-waving, either: The large lecture class must complete three papers, discussion board posts and a final essay exam (a N.E.W.T., as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling calls exams in the books). Also, students in the class have to read all seven books by the end of the semester.

For those in the class who have not read the books before, Professor Signe Cohen keeps classroom discussion limited to the topic they are studying.

"You're not allowed to reveal information from later books until we get to that point," she said.

The course explores the deeper themes under the surface of the wizarding world. Rowling included many references to mythology, religion and alchemy within the lines of her novels, Cohen said. 

"There's a lot there once you start digging," she said.

At the end of the course, the class analyzes the author's use of good and evil and different religious groups' reactions to the series. 

Cohen, an associate professor of religious studies, created the class three years ago.

Many other universities offer literature and pop culture classes involving Harry Potter, Signe said, but her class is the only one taught from a religious studies perspective.

This class is listed as a humanities course.

2. Plant Science 2220: Floral Design I

This eight-week class only meets twice a week, but will teach you a whole new set of skills.

The class fee covers the cost of flowers and vases, and when students have completed a design, they can proudly display it at home or residence hall room. At the end of the semester, though, they can get extra credit by returning the vases.

"It's a fun and creative way to express yourself," said Sarah Hoffman, a junior majoring in pre-veterinary animal science. Hoffman took the class as a sophomore so she could continue working at MU's floral shop, Tiger Garden.

The class is a beginner's level floral design class, aimed at introducing students to the tools, terminology and basic flowers used in floral shops and in floral design.

"It's the class that will get your foot in the door to floral design," said Kim Martin, the plant sciences design instructor.

No experience is necessary, and the class starts out easy to help students build skills.

Martin said the class isn't just for plant science majors. She's seen a lot of hotel and restaurant management majors and groups of friends from many different areas who take the class for fun, she said. 

Her favorite thing about teaching the class is the feedback she gets from her students. 

"They're always telling me they love coming to class," she said. 

If you love the class and want to continue, there are three other advanced design classes.

This class could count as an elective.

3. Theater 1400: Acting for Non-Majors

As the name suggests, this class welcomes any major and is restricted to freshmen and sophomores during the fall and winter semesters.

Theater 1400 has many sections. It is taught by graduate instructors who all teach differently, but the same basic concepts are covered in each section, said Emily Rollie, a Theater 1400 instructor. 

Some of these basic concepts include articulating your voice and moving your body on stage, developing a character and learning how to do improvisation.

This class teaches you more than just acting, Rollie said. The skills can help students from all different majors and disciplines learn how to speak and present themselves before an audience.

Not only does the class welcome a variety of majors – it also tailors itself to a variety of comfort levels and personalities. Rollie said she has had "a healthy mix" of outgoing and reserved people in her classes, and everything they learn is still beneficial.

She wants to build a community with the students so that everyone can be comfortable with each other.

"If you don't look silly or you don't laugh at least once every class, we're not doing something right," Rollie said. 

The class isn't without homework and quizzes, however. Throughout the semester, students have to attend several plays or performances and then write responses.

Written homework could involve contributing to a discussion board or critiquing, Rollie said. She gives students a rubric for all assignments that are graded based on performance.

"The class is really fun. It's a great way to get on your feet and use your body to learn," Rollie said.

This class is listed as a humanities course.

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