The Class Everyone Should Want to Take in High School

  • 2022
  • High School
Dr. Sam Crickenberger, ISM Coordinator

Do you remember being in high school? Were there some classes where you thought, “Why do I have to take this?  When am I ever going to use this? I really wish I could do something more interesting.”  

At The Harbour School’s high school, the Independent Study Module (ISM) is designed to serve as the antidote to this common student complaint by providing students with the opportunity to explore an interest, passion, or potential future career over the course of each year. The direction of each project is completely open to individual choice and the field is as diverse as our study body. For just a few examples from this year, projects include developing a podcast on students with learning differences, graffiti art, further developing a long-term pursuit of kung fu, upscaling a fashion instagram business, designing a sustainable Hong Kong village house, learning sign language, music production, building a YouTube following, and a large cohort of students are interested in digital 3D modeling for use in art, video game design, and engineering. ISM unfolds in three phases that align with the three-term schedule of the high school.

Term 1 is dedicated to exploring what students would want to commit an entire academic year to be. This begins by putting their interests down on paper and considering which of these interests they would like to learn more about and develop into a final product that will be showcased in a symposium at the end of the year.  This is one of my favorite parts of the year because I get to learn more about each student and who they are outside of the classroom.  From here, students write three different proposals that build on one another to result in a final proposal that will help guide them in their journey throughout the rest of the academic year.  This iterative process is a little different for every student and is refined by feedback from advisors and peers.  Proposal development might involve students revisiting a song previously written and produced to re-record it in a new style of music, contacting the head of school to see if they can paint a graffiti mural on a wall of the school, playing around with computer software to see what’s possible, considering the skills they will need before shipping off to university next year, or contacting a local tattoo artist to learn more about the trade.

The focus of Term 2 is interviewing experts in their chosen field.  This begins with students thinking about who to interview and what they want to learn from them.  For freshmen, the choice is already made for them.  Each Grade nine student is assigned an upperclassmen with a similar previous project, so that they can learn not only about their chosen field, but also the ins and outs of managing a yearlong ISM project.  Students in Grades 10 to 12 then have to draft emails to three different experts, as well as interview questions, and email their three chosen experts in hopes of hearing back from them.  Students interview at least one of these experts, record it for later reference, and share what they learned from the process in a presentation to their peers at the end of the term.  Experts interviewed this year include historical archivists and fashion industry experts from students’ summer internships, fellow programmers from a student’s part-time job, a celebrity chef, and family friends who work as engineers and architects to name a few.  

A symposium showcasing students’ projects rounds out the end of the year.  This is my favorite part of the entire process and I’m always disappointed I can’t see them all.  This year’s and last year’s virtual learning presented a number of challenges to students’ ability to complete their final product and this tests their perseverance and problem solving skills; in some cases they no longer have access to the resources they planned to use for their project.  There is, however, a silver lining.  Developing the skills required to design, implement, and adapt to changes and new information is hopefully something each and every student can walk away with and use in whatever they chose to do in the future.

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