Learning in the Field: Students Work on Big Ideas
“This is one of the most important things we’ve done during our time here at PA,” said graduating senior Samantha Lin, in a recent debrief session at the Tang Institute.
During the past year, Lin, along with senior classmates Tyler Lian, Samir Safwan, and Claire Tao, elected to work together and with several faculty members on an independent project, as part of the Abbot Independent Scholars Program (AISP), to develop content for an online AP Statistics curriculum on the Khan Academy site. This particular project grew from work that Matt Lisa, Tang fellow and mathematics instructor, has been leading as part of the Institute’s Hybrid@Andover program.
“We had the freedom to create what we wanted to and bat around ideas, which made it more interesting than being told to do a certain type of problem,” said another student.
Independent projects allow students to engage in advanced, in-depth study of their chosen topic, with a good deal of autonomy. Students who meet the criteria to participate in the program—typically seniors who have exhausted course offerings in their desired area of study—work rigorously for course credit and a grade, all under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In 2015–2016, 62 students completed independent projects and seminars on a broad range of topics.
Lisa, who served as faculty mentor for the AP Statistics group, was thrilled that students chose to participate in his work and had the opportunity to draw meaningful connections between textbook learning and real-world business experiences. Lisa and colleagues will continue the AP Statistics project in 2016–2017, with a plan to launch the complete curriculum publicly to Khan Academy’s 10 million + users in the fall. Other pilots in hybrid learning are also in the works at the Institute.
Creative Thinking for Global Issues
Another graduating student, Julian Otis, led a recent Lunch & Discussion at the Institute on his independent project, “The Value of Creativity.” Drawing on psychology research on the creative process and surveys with student peers, Otis explored questions of what creativity is, how it’s developed, and how it’s deployed.
“Perhaps the most honorable use of creativity is its potential application to the most pressing and complex problems of the 21st century, such as racial inequality in America, a lack of clean water in developing countries, or global warming; its versatility holds great potential,” said Otis.
Otis also considered the role of creativity at PA and the various domains in which it thrives, including arts, theater and dance, and music programs. Working closely with his faculty mentor, Head of School John Palfrey, and also with help from Precourt Director of Partnerships Eric Roland, Otis highlighted various ways faculty currently encourage creativity and suggested new opportunities for cultivating it across disciplines.
Considering New Possibilities
Recently the Institute and OWHL hosted a student-led discussion in The Nest on the possibilities of bringing a TEDx Youth conference to campus. TEDxYouth events are “fun, imaginative, and smart events designed for, and often organized by, young people.”
Led by Tanvi Kachinadam ‘19, the group explored together big-picture conference topics that might resonate with the Andover community and possibly others beyond campus. The students broke into small groups to provide feedback on some of the promising ideas that had surfaced during open discussion, suggest new topics and themes, and consider potential audiences who might be interested in particular content areas. Not surprisingly, some of the ideas presented were based upon specific issues within the Andover community, such as sleep/time management and new ways to share projects, ideas, and resources. Other ideas focused on global issues, including education in the age of technology and topics related to social justice. The students next plan to administer surveys to their potential audience base in order to collect additional feedback on conference themes.
“Quite often, profound changes are rooted in small ideas. What I would love to see at PA is a chain reaction of such ideas—one small idea that is shared and that turns into a bigger idea and another idea, until innovation emerges. A TEDx at Phillips Academy could be one that facilitates free exchange of ideas across a range of topics, such as technology, journalism, or education—with no boundaries to learning,” said Kachinadam.
A team from Educational Initiatives, the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL), and Tang Institute have also convened a group of student volunteers to be part of a Campus Connectors group. In the coming school year, the students will work together to develop and share ideas for new initiatives at the Institute and throughout the school.