Looking to broaden your horizons? An independent study may be the way to go

Looking to take another class? Interested in a class that’s not offered? A class designed by you, an "independent study" may be the way to go.

Olivia Elisha, Staff Writer

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Many Falcons may not know it, but Saint Stephen’s offers the option of an “independent study” to eligible students.  Eligible students must have a schedule with classes that can easily be moved around, an idea of what they want they want to learn, a teacher who will sponsor them, and have the required courses to graduate completed.

An independent study is a “class” that’s completely student-driven: the student chooses what to study, how their work is graded, and which teacher sponsors their class. There is no limit to the topics you can study through this program, and in the past, students have studied language, music, English, math, and everything in between. This is the perfect option for you if there is something you are passionate about, but there are no classes offered on the topic of your interest.

Of course, independent studies aren’t for everyone.  The student-driven class can be difficult to put in a schedule because of the process one must go through to receive the go -ahead.  The student must come up with the entire course curriculum, which has to include a course description for the year, descriptions of what the student will try to learn each interim (including assignments), and a well-developed  assessment plan.

Also, availability of a faculty mentor is key.  Due to the nature of the program and the number of faculty sponsors available, a limited number of  students may participate.

Academic Dean, Mrs. Conn, said “About one percent of students have an independent study.”  This is also may have to do with the fact that the school doesn’t advertise independent studies. This year’s senior class has three independent studies and two Capstone projects.

Senior Amy Woodworth is currently doing an independent study in 3D printing, using recycled materials. Woodworth would like to have a career in repairing drones and airplanes, and she hopes this course will give her knowledge that will help in the field.  The independent study gives her the ability to learn skills that aren’t taught in the engineering and technology classes.

Woodworth was able to design the course to fit her specific needs. “I enjoy learning on my own, going at my own pace, and teaching myself. This really appealed to the way I learn,” she said.

Independent studies are a form of  “student-inquiry” learning. Student inquiry is a modern, popular learning practice in which students drive the learning instead of the teacher.

I enjoy learning on my own, going at my own pace, and teaching myself. This really appealed to the way I learn,”

— Amy Woodworth

Often, this teaching and learning method is in the form of problem/solution projects, project-based learning, and different “portfolio” curriculum in which the student is responsible for designing his or her own learning and demonstrating their understanding.

Plenty of institutions have taken to this type of learning, such as New College in Sarasota. New College features a portfolio-style learning program that enables the students to “show” their learning through projects and portfolios instead of tests.

The company Google has taken to this as well, instituting “20% time” into their work week. 20% time allows workers to spend one-fifth of their work week studying or working on their own “passion projects.” As a result, Google hopes their employees  will come back with more creative ideas.

In similar vein, Saint Stephen’s also provides the opportunity of a Capstone project to eligible students. A Capstone project is a two-semester project where students pursue an independent study of their choice; it can be a guiding question, a problem, or another form of academic activity that interests them.

Learners have to get their topic approved and find sponsors outside of school they can meet with every day for two periods. Last year, Luke Valadie’s Capstone involved being a part-time English teacher with Mr. Moore, teaching a film cclass. Luke wrote curriculum, graded papers, and taught daily lessons.

As a senior, I decided to take an independent study in music theory, focusing on piano. My teacher is Ms. Hambrick, the upper school band director and chorus teacher. Amongst other things, I had to meet with Mrs. Conn and talk about why this qualified as an independent study instead of something I could learn at home.

Getting my independent study going was a long process, and independent studies take a great deal of determination because you are teaching yourself and designing your learning. There is no one to make sure your on track but yourself.

Saint Stephen’s continues to adapt to the needs of the students. Independent Studies and Capstons are cutting edge learning opportunities that permit students to concentrate on unique topics that are of interest to them.

Would you take an independent study of you were able to?

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