What does it mean when we talk about providing an individualized learning experience? One way is to provide opportunities for students to pursue and discover subjects that interest them. This can happen at any grade level – from choosing a person to learn about for the 2nd Grade Wax Museum to zeroing in on a topic for an 8Lead project to posing a question to explore in the 11th grade I-Search.
As a sophomore, Brooke '19 was able to pursue her interest in neuroscience and express it in a way that tapped another interest, filmmaking. The result was a video that she submitted as her final project for English 10.
“For our final project in English, the assignment was to pinpoint a subject that could represent the intersection of art and science (something that could apply to both fields equally) and to create a product that was essentially an extrapolation of that subject," explained Brooke. "Ever since choosing to examine neuroscience for my 8th grade Capstone project, it’s been a passion of mine to study and follow.
"After scouring the Internet in search of TED Talks on the brain that might spark an idea, I stumbled upon the video detailing the life of Jason Padgett, how after a severe brain injury, acquired artistically mathematic skills. But, this 'acquired savant' syndrome was not only present in Jason Padgett, I found. Many people had had traumatic brain injuries in the left hemisphere and suddenly attained many astonishing creative abilities. Immediately, the neurological side of this condition intrigued me, and the first question that came to mind was how this phenomenon could be replicated without brain injury.
"I chose to do extensive research on what exercises and practices can affect the right brain, and formulated four main tenets. Since another passion of mine is to create movies, I thought the best way to showcase this complicated information and research was in a video that could visually explain 'acquired savant' syndrome and the tenets of how it could be encouraged without the traumatic brain injury.”
The four areas Brooke identified were:
- learning and studying visually,
- playing a musical instrument,
- drawing (including drawing upside-down), and
- engaging in "deep practice," which creates a microsecond of struggle.
Brooke's video illustrates how each of these seemingly straightforward activites builds and strengthens the brain.
Her English teacher, Elizabeth Abrams, shared more about the assignment itself. "Students incorporate design thinking, research, and analysis into an interdisciplinary project on the year’s focus in sophomore English: the intersection of art and science. Initially students select a video or article that sparks a personal interest. The video is shared with the rest of the class as a homework assignment. The second part of the assignment entails further research and an identification and articulation of the artistic and scientific components from the inspiration piece. This inspiration piece then serves as the springboard for a student’s original design or product.
"During the presentation, the student shares the original component and must explain the process involved in its creation. Why did the student choose the topic? What is interesting about it? How does it link to his/her life? What is the purpose or function of each technique employed? How is it an extension of the inspiration piece and not a replication? What are the scientific and artistic elements, and how are these shown?
"As they listen to their classmates’ presentations, they must take notes and ask questions. Finally, they provide a reflection on commonalities found, insights gained, appreciation garnered, and curiosity developed. Hopefully their projects will not only prove meaningful now, but also help prepare them for their I-Search papers next year and possible independent studies as upperclassmen."
Through projects like this, students can create work that is personally meaningful while they are challenged to find the best way to research, communicate, and present their ideas.