The Independent Project: a high school pilot

As time goes on, I am learning more about myself as a home educator and more about my kids as learners.  When we first started homeschooling, I felt an obligation to fit our homeschool curriculum into what I already know about traditional public education.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I was fully aware that my kids are not “traditional” learners when I started this endeavor.  I am also not a traditional mom.  I love doing things that are experience-based and hands-on with my kids.  So I have, for the past 4 years, tried to fit my square “experiential” peg into the round “public school curriculum” hole.  Guess what?  It only goes so far!

As I have mentioned before, I’ve always created learning  experiences for my kids – even when they were enrolled in public school.  When my older son was assigned a research project in 3rd grade about Norman Rockwell, we took a weekend to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum so he could be immersed in the Norman Rockwell experience.  When my younger son expressed an interest in the Power Rangers, we took them to Anime Boston to learn more about Japanese animation and cos-play.  Some might call us nerds.  I’m not one to deny it.

BELOW: Some of our hands-on learning experiences through the years.

When I started homeschooling in 2010, I applied to the TedXNYEd conference in New York, and I was totally inspired by presenters like Dan Meyers and Chris Lehmann who did not just set out to teach their students a subject, but to inspire curiosity and a love of life-long learning in their students.  They did projects with their kids, had their students direct their own collaborative efforts and put them in situations that forced them to ask important questions – not just get the “right answer.”  So why has it taken me this long to figure out how to do this with my own kids?  I have no idea.

Last week, I saw this article/video about this pilot program in one of the public high schools here in Massachusetts that is geared toward student-directed learning.  The students take one semester out of the year to work on projects and ideas they are interested in.  It is a 3 prong approach:

1. Weekly question: Each student presents one question to the group on Monday that s/he wants to research.  On Friday, student presents their findings to the group and leads a type of discussion around their subject.  They spend about half of their school day on this.


2. Individual endeavor: Each student is also working on a project that s/he will present as an overarching achievement at the end of the semester.  This can be anything from learning an instrument to writing poetry to making a mockumentary.  They spend half their school time on this.


3. Collective endeavor: The last three weeks the students collaborate on a project that they work on together.


Teachers act as mentors, resources and guides.  There are no tests, no books and no rules other than the parameters outlined above.  This is my kind of schooling!  And I’m ready to jump the shark with my kids and take the same principles (that I have loved and sort-of lived otherwise) and make it our own.  I’m ready to hackschool.

I would love to hear your thoughts!  Is this crazy talk or simply inspired?  Tell me what you think in the comments.


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