Inner Voices #1: A Senior Reflects on Four Years in PBL

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Below is the first in what should be several op-eds written by former students of mine who I asked to honestly and purposefully respond to their time learning in a project-based classroom. I promise I bear no influence on these editorials, which is why I’m excited to share them with the public at large. I’ve dubbed the series “Inner Voices.” The author of this first entry has asked to remain anonymous. Cheers and read on!

“My interviewer from MIT was extremely impressed by the idea of the class, as well as several of the projects I had helped create. I found myself glowing with pride when I talked about this class”

Time has flown much faster than I expected it to. As the first semester of my senior year came to a close, I found myself reflecting on various aspects of my high school experience much more frequently. From classes and sporting events to my friends and teachers, I’ve realized how truly lucky and blessed I am to have been a part of such an amazing school and community.

Amongst everything I’ve been a part of, one experience stands out most, and that is being a part of the Studio program. My class was the “guinea pig” class, so to speak; while this brought challenges both for us and our teachers, I would not trade these last four years for the world. I learned so much beyond the curriculum, and I can say with confidence that I would not be the student or person I am today without the time I spent in the Studio room or computer lab.

This was the first and only classroom environment I’ve participated in where students were encouraged to act on crazy ideas and create unimaginable projects. The freedom granted was almost shocking at first, but so was the responsibility that came with it. It definitely takes a special type of student to be successful; self-motivation is the most important trait in my eyes, though determination, creativity, and teamwork are all important, too.

In fact, all of those characteristics mentioned above are essential, and for those who weren’t self-motivated or weren’t creative, it showed. Over the course of my three years in the PBL atmosphere, the repetition of project ideas became common. For me, it was extremely difficult and frustrating when I was in a group with people who lacked a high level of creativity; I always wanted to try something new, something that nobody in the class had thought of before, but many people didn’t want to put that kind of effort into a school project. The lack of self-motivation became apparent by year three, as well. Some wanted to do just enough to get by with a good grade in the class, but that’s not what it’s all about.

Studio is about finding your passions, your interests, and your style of leadership and teamwork, and creating some awesome projects along the way. Projects and the process behind creating them for three years are hands-down the best part about Studio because you get to do exactly that. Junior year, I finally had a group of people who had these same values. We all brought different skills to the table, yet we all had a common goal: we wanted to create projects that would blow people away. That’s why we worked so well together and continually worked with one another. It wasn’t because we were all equally-driven or because we were all good friends; those came in second. (Believe me, we had our fair share of fights within our group when stress was at an all-time high.) If you can find a way to apply your interests, passions, leadership, and teamwork to a project, you will master the content without even realizing it.

Even then, the content for the core classes is only half of what you learn. Public speaking skills, presentation skills, and other soft skills that you could use for interviews are all just as important. And these are things you can take with you beyond the final exam or AP exam, beyond high school, and beyond college.

As I’ve been applying to colleges and taking part in interviews for some, this is the experience that I want to brag about. It’s something unique to North Gwinnett and unique to me. In a pool of tens of thousands of applicants, the slightest difference in your educational experience can give you an edge. My interviewer from MIT was extremely impressed by the idea of the class, as well as several of the projects I had helped create. I found myself glowing with pride when I talked about this class. I’m proud of so many projects I had a hand in creating, and I was happy to be able to share them with someone who was interested and curious about them.

My advice for current and future members of the Studio? Stretch your imagination. You can do anything you want in this class, so take advantage of the opportunity; don’t waste it. Do the things your parents or previous teachers said couldn’t be done in school. Come up with wild ideas and bust your butts to see that they get done. It is all worth it. I promise.

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