What if Students Designed a School (learning experience)?

Source: Mindshift, Jul 2014

When Sam Levin was a junior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Mass., he realized that two things were in short supply at his school: engagement and mastery. He also noticed that he and his peers were learning plenty of information, but not much about how to gather or create their own data. And he noticed that students were unhappy.

So he took it upon himself to design a school where students would feel fully engaged, have an opportunity to develop expertise in something, and learn how to learn.

Their time, other than daily group meetings, was theirs to manage. “This was pretty unheard of — teens being alone most of the day,” Powell notes.

They explored math, science, social science and literature topics that interested them, choosing one question each week, researching it, and presenting their findings to the group. They also chose books to read, discuss and write about in some form; worked on a semester-long individual project on a subject that excited them (the only requirement was that the project require effort, learning and mastery); and collaborated on a three-week-long group endeavor (they decided to make a video about education and their project). They were responsible for giving a final presentation about their project, which helped to give them a specific goal to work toward.

The constants have been the weekly research question, the books component, and the individual endeavor, which has ranged from vocational pursuits such as building a kayak, to artistic tasks such as writing a novel, to scientific explorations such as examining how Western and Eastern medicine deal differently with Lyme disease.


Students who have gone through the program ask more questions and have a greater awareness of how to answer them; construct their questions more carefully; became more thoughtful in the way they consider ideas and evaluate sources; and became better at managing their time.

The “White Paper” also notes that the project instills a “sense of ownership of their education has stayed with the students long after the program ended. Although some students have continued to struggle academically, feedback from parents has suggested that they are pursuing more interests outside of school than they were before The Independent Project.”


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