Taking Control of My Learning

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Well I was very ready to finally get out of the house a little more today. Of all places, I ended up at school again. Even though it is summer, I’ve been at school quite a bit. I will be there again tomorrow and all of next week, so at this point teachers that see me there have moved past asking “What are you doing here when you don’t have to be?” and now they just say “Hi Anya, nice to see you again.” I just find it funny how it’s officially not new news anymore for me to be at school a bunch.

I was really happy all day today for some reason. Getting that scene change out of the house I think was just really nice because I showed up at school happy and ready to work.

Kat and I had a great 3 hour work session too. After speaking with a few teachers on their way out to lunch, we went into the ID room and got busy making our thinking visual which was amazingly helpful!

I haven’t really blogged about the coVenture we’ve been working on because I haven’t known what words to use, but I think I’m getting a better handle on it now and was really excited after working today. Seeing as we’ve been talking about it with various individuals so much more frequently now, I think its time to try to give an overview of how we are going about on our daunting process to design a course.

Next year the English course I’m going to take is AP Language and Composition, which is the course all juniors at MVPS take if they are on the AP level. However, 2 of us that will be juniors in the Innovation Diploma will not be taking the the same AP Lang course as the other AP Lang students. Why? Well because Kat and I are currently working on designing our own AP Lang collab-course which we will be taking next year.

So the reason we call it a collab-course is because it isn’t exactly an independent study because there will be 2 of us and we will be working closely with various teachers and hopefully some mentors outside of MVPS if we can get people on board; however, there will not be one teacher that has created a syllabus that they will then use to help teach us throughout the year like your typical school course. In this collab-course the 2 of us are actually in the process of creating our own syllabus (that’s right student’s are making the syllabus #mindblown right?) that we will then submit to the college board  to get approval for our AP course, and then we will take the AP Lang text at the end of the year.

For me there are a few key reasons I was inspired to work on this venture:

  1. I love testing the water with the possibilities to school learning. Have you ever created the syllabus for a course you will later take? It seems a little paradoxical to create the teaching guide for something you haven’t yet learned, but that is what we are working on doing right now because we really want to lead by example with what “taking control of your learning” could look like. Don’t get me wrong there have definitely had some struggles and confusing moments, but so far we’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve never heard of something like this collab-course, but I wanted to be on that team of people that test it out because every great innovation has to start somewhere so why not now and why not with me? This is an innovation in process and with my passion of education redesign, I needed to be a part of this one. 🙂
  2. The need for truly meaningful work. Overall I really enjoy school, but there are definitely times where I don’t feel like I’m doing the most meaningful work in terms of what I’m passionate about. With this collab-course we are getting to actually say “This is what we want and hope to learn by the end of this course,” and then shape the activities we do based off of those concepts. All of those times we’ve said that we “want to do meaningful work” while in school classes, well now is our chance to try and create those activities that we would consider to be meaningful work. We get to pioneer some of our own teaching method ideas and see if they actually work which is really exciting.
  3. The freedom and choice. We don’t have a singular teacher for this class. We are the deciders for what we want to work on, plus we are a class of 2, so that means we can be flexible to our personal passions with what we learn. For example, an idea that we’ve talked about is not necessarily meeting every day every week. This isn’t set and stone yet, but if we did do this, it would give us flex time in our day to continue ID work, to observe other classes maybe, to personally work on AP Lang work, or in my case perhaps go to more band classes! We can also take time to learn through specific lenses like education and innovation at times because we know we are all passionate about that. We have so much freedom and choice with how we learn that just feels awesome. Now of course with freedom and choice comes responsibility, and I also predict this course will help all of us develop our responsibility skills even further because we are going to be held accountable still with learning certain AP Lang specific skills in order to take the test at the end of the year and also simply to pass 11th grade.

I’ve been getting really excited about this course especially as we further create the syllabus. None of us have ever created a syllabus before, and obviously we are getting some help from mentors of ours, but it has been kind of cool to dive into completely uncharted waters and just mess around to figure out something that works. What we came up with I think is pretty cool.

To start we knew we needed to discover what even an AP Lang course is all about because we’ve never taken the course so we know nothing about it. We interviewed some of the different English teachers at school, researched on the college board, and even talked to some people that took AP Lang in the past to get a better idea of the course and to empathize with some of the people we may future work with.

Then we’ve since moved on into the experimenting phase where we currently are. We’ve been doing a ton of brainstorming. After a while we thought, “well we have a years worth of learning to plan for, why not structure it like telling a story?” We ran with this idea and it lead us to an interesting concept of using the Hero’s Journey as our guide for the syllabus, and we’ve been using design thinking to help us create it.

The Hero’s Journey is basically the stereotypical plot line to a lot of great books. You start in the ordinary and known world, then there is a call to adventure. After the hero refuses the call they meet a mentor and then cross the threshold into the unknown, special world. There is a road of trials where the hero is challenged and tested as they approach the “dragon’s den”. Eventually the hero has some great revelation or ordeal that is life changing. Then after seizing the treasure the hero starts on their road back where eventually there is some great reflection as the hero returns once again to the ordinary world back at home.

We want our AP Lang collab-course to be a great story when we are done, so we figured we should write the syllabus (#thescript) like the Hero’s journey because it makes for great stories.

The units themselves have even been created based on the Hero’s Journey. (Keep in mind this is still a work in progress and we’re currently workshopping some of the names, but because I like thinking in terms of the process I think it is important to share and gain feedback early so we fail fast rather than right before we try to produce. #thinkinglikeadesigner )

Unit 1 covers up until the “call to adventure” and it’s titled “The Power of Words.” Then Unit 2: “The Art of Innovation” is up until “crossing the threshold”. Unit 3: “Exploring new Frontiers” takes us up to the “ordeal” which also leads us to the end of semester 1. Over Winter Break starts Unit 4: “Kick-Starting” which get’s us to “seizing the treasure”. Unit 5: “Taking a Stand” leads us on our “journey home” and through our big “resurrection”. Until finally we get Unit 6: “Bringing it All Together” where we return home with the treasure of our new found knowledge from the year.

This big metaphor has been really helpful so far. Once again because of our design work we thought, “let’s make it visual.” So we made a big hero’s journey circle with pictures, labels, sticky notes, and color coded string and push pins. (It looks absolutely fantastic!) We’ve been dividing up the circle and using it almost like a circular calendar to figure out how long each unit should be, where breaks should fall, what kinds of essential questions we want to be learning about (#startwithquestions), and what types of activities we should be doing in the different units. This is all based on the amount of time we have in a school year and approximately how long we think each section should take based on how much space the corresponding Hero’s Journey sections take up on the circle.

It hasn’t only been helpful, but it’s been fun! (Thus I was still happy all day after working on a syllabus for 3 hours!)

And that’s just a snippet of what we’ve come up with, but it’s been pretty exciting so far and I’m loving the concept of a course being like a big story for learning. I’ve also been amazed with how design thinking has been so easily incorporated and so immensely helpful with trying to figure out how to navigate through uncharted waters. Plus these uncharted waters is something that may seem tedious like designing a syllabus; I mean I know they aren’t typically fun to read, so I feel like I shouldn’t be having so much fun making one.

Now I’m pumped to keep working tomorrow!


12 thoughts on “Taking Control of My Learning

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