Not often do people wish to study outside of classes. But for those of you who have such a desire, you have the opportunity to explore a certain topic more intensely with a mentor of your choice. These opportunities are called “independent studies,” and SHS students ought to be familiar with and readily avail themselves of this resource so that they may take charge of their own education and chart their own plan of study.
“Why even bother doing an independent study at all?” you may ask. “Isn’t our schedule of Honors classes, ATs, and electives a big enough workload? Who would want more stress?” Well, if you think independent studies are just extensions of classes and schoolwork, then you are sadly mistaken.
Independent studies are not your typical classes with a teacher and 17 to 24 other classmates. They can best be described as one-person “classes,” in which you get to pursue more intensively a topic that really interests you, that challenges you to come up with an organized way to manage how you learn. Plus, they avoid such typical stressors of high school life as grades, tests, and rigid deadlines.
These independent studies typically center on subjects that are not usually taught at SHS, or at least in not such depth. Previous independent studies have involved learning narrative and creative writing; reading the complete works of Shakespeare; designing your own biology lab experiments; and even learning how a Google search algorithm works in a Droid cellphone. If you think about it, the possibilities for an independent study are endless.
With an independent study, you have a richer selection of topics to work with and much more freedom than you would in a class. Although there are still necessary assignments and scheduled meetings (usually weekly), you get to decide the material and the pace of the study. All of these factors converge to form a very different, yet completely rewarding, learning experience.
In addition, with an independent study, you get the opportunity to choose a mentor to be in charge of your study. She could be your English teacher from freshman year, or maybe he’s that lauded math teacher your friend told you about. There’s no reason not to ask; it’s worth a shot. This is different from the typical classroom atmosphere, where you are assigned a teacher with whom you may either hit it off or butt heads. With an independent study, it’s up to you.
Once you’ve found the teacher with whom you want to work, you create a plan of study together, determining what assignments you’ll complete and how often you will meet so your mentor can check in on your progress.
People have often complained about high school’s academic curriculum as being too restrictive and not accommodating enough to allow people to pursue their particular interests. But that’s true only if people don’t recognize the opportunities available to help them pursue their interests. So, take charge of your interest, seek out a mentor, and seize command of your education.