Re-shaped Time and Classes Promote Student-Centered Learning

Chase Maasdorp's phone drone.

Jack Malcolm, Staff Writer

At ODA, students are given many opportunities to explore their passions. In something of an organized chaos, the ODA upper school provides unstructured learning opportunities, sometimes in classes, often in clubs, and certainly during break time when students can pursue their areas of interest.

In classes such as Journalism and Global Leadership, students are not taught by a set curriculum or forced to complete various assignments each week. Instead they often have broad tasks that allow them to manage their own time and design their own learning.

In Global Leadership, students have been given the task of finding, creating, and completing a project on a topic that interests them. Students must work within certain structures, but can complete their projects however they would like. The boundaries of their projects are truly up to them. This quarter, students are working on projects that range from 3D printing kneepads to send to a Syrian civilian rescue group to making a drone that holds an iPhone to developing business ideas that could provide real estate agents with discount-rate youth drone pilots to film properties on the market.

Journalism class is not what you might think it would be either. Students do learn how to find, develop, and write stories, but not through a curriculum or different lessons. In the class, students are tasked with writing articles for the school newspaper on anything that ties to the ODA community. While writing the articles, students work with Ms. Giraud and learn how to best research and compose their stories.

Ms. Giraud allows some latitude in how students tell stories for the paper. Nick DiMare’s Fishing Report, for example, teaches students how to fish and highlights his own experiences on the water. Some other students are writing reviews about entertainment and gaming. Ms. Giraud is even helping, Senior Dylan Berkowitz publish his work on his own blog and within gaming forums to help him network within the gaming community.

Outside of academics, ODA offers various clubs that allow students to explore interests. One of them is the Dance Club. In Dance Club students learn social dancing. Social dancing is informal dancing that people do at parties, meet-ups, or anywhere someone feels the call to dance. The advisor of the club is History Department teacher and chairperson, Dr. Zitani.

“The club is totally student-driven. Last year the members of the club wanted to learn the London Hop dance, so I learned how to teach the dance over the summer,” says Dr. Zitani.

Another freedom for students this year is the Community Work Period. The time, although labeled as a “Work Period” is free time for the students to use as they choose. Many students get work done and see teachers or just take a much needed break.

Giving students freedom to guide their own learning and use time according to their individual needs has made learning much more engaging for students. The lack of imposed structures has also allowed students to personalize their learning.  

Sophomore Trevor Barron shares that this new approach has “allowed me to pursue my interests by letting me help people through soccer. Soccer has always been a big part of my life, and it feels good helping other people have that too. I enjoy that ODA allows me to pursue my interests; I love the freedom to help people in any way that I want.”