Independent Studies provide extended learning opportunities

Risha Chada | The Chronicle

A passion for learning has pushed some students beyond the course catalog.

After completing the courses for a certain subject, students can develop a course with a teacher to further research and learn about a certain field. Students at Mason High School take up independent studying to gain a deeper understanding of a subject matter that could be crucial to their future. The students must create their own curriculum, or structured plan, to follow throughout the year and must check in periodically with their teachers.

Senior Sankalp Agrawal is currently independent studying computation structures. After participating in Science Olympiad freshman year and discovering a love for circuits, Agrawal took Advanced Placement (AP) Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism during his junior year to learn more about the hardware of computers. Agrawal said that, after taking the course, there were no others available at Mason that dealt with circuits, so he decided to craft his own independent study.

“I had already completed all the courses that were related to [computer hardware], but I wanted to learn more about what I was passionate about,” Agrawal said. “Even if I’m not necessarily earning college credit, I can still go into college and have that basic foundation from what I’ve been learning in [this] class.”

As Agrawal researches his passion through a platform called edX, where he takes courses from schools such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he benefits from the flexibility that independent study courses provide. Agrawal said his learning is almost entirely independent, which he found more advantageous than a more conventional course.

“[Independent studying] definitely helped me learn that I’m a very independent learner and I’m so much happier when I’m learning at my own pace,” Agrawal said. “If there’s a day that I didn’t get that much sleep the night before, or there’s other homework that’s more pressing, I don’t necessarily have to work on my independent study. I really just appreciate the flexibility of it all.”

Senior Morgan Archiable also benefits from the flexibility of independent studying as she continues her Ceramics journey. After completing Ceramics I, II and III, Archiable was not ready to let Ceramics go and chose to end her senior year as an independent study for the course. Archiable said she loves the self-paced aspect of the course and the wide range of projects she can explore.

“[Independent studying] is kind of just taking everything you learned from the past four years of Ceramics and going in your own direction which is really fun,” Archiable said. “You get to make your own calendar and your own projects, so everything is really up to you. It’s really fun and exciting because you just get to pick what you want to learn and just try new things.”

As Archiable continues to make projects and expand her knowledge, she found independent studying much more independent than a usual class, as the name indicates. Unlike the student-teacher dynamic of a traditional course, Archiable said her ceramics teacher is more of a mentor and guide than a teacher.

“As an independent study, my teacher is more of a mentor than a [traditional] teacher,” Archiable said. “It’s a little bit different because I know she’s always helped me, but now I can use what she has already taught me and also have her to fall back on if I need it.”

Senior Seri Braun, also a Ceramics Independent Study, feels that the stress-relieving element of the class is one of the leading reasons as to why she took it. Braun said she finds the course relaxing, as being able to choose whether she works on her wheel-throwing skills or simply plays with clay has offered her time away from the usual rigidity seen in a normal curriculum.

“I really like being able to do my own thing,” Braun said. “Sometimes if I get a little too stressed with trying to make something on the wheel, then I can just make something myself.”

Senior Neev Gupta independent studies for Organic Chemistry and, after taking AP Chemistry as a sophomore and planning on taking higher levels of chemistry in college, Gupta did not want there to be a gap in his knowledge. Gupta said he independent studies in order to build off the concepts he learned in AP Chemistry and create a better foundation for college.

“I wanted to build off what I’d learned in AP chemistry and revisit some of the concepts that I struggled with so I would be more prepared when I took higher level chemistry courses,” Gupta said. “I hope [being an independent study] helps make my journey easier because I don’t want there to be a gap. Learning about chemistry is a continuous process.”

Braun, unlike Gupta and Agrawal, looks at her independent study role as a lifelong hobby rather than a future career. While Braun said she is still passionate about Ceramics, she believes it will be most beneficial to her as a creative outlet in the future.

“I think [ceramics] is a passion, but it’s more of a stress reliever,” Braun said. “I just like knowing I would be able to do it all throughout my life. There’s definitely times when I know I’m not the best at it, but I still enjoy being able to make anything while also being really creative.”

Compared to other independent studies, Gupta feels that independent studying for Chemistry is built within a more rigid structure. Instead of building projects as Braun and Archiable do, Gupta works out of a textbook and uses textbook questions at the end of each unit to determine his grade. Gupta said that the structure of the course benefits him because he knows exactly where the curriculum is going next.

“I’d say Chemistry has been a little bit more structured for me,” Gupta said. “I know what I’m going to do beforehand, and I know there’s a certain curriculum of topics that I’ll eventually have to learn. Knowing what I need to learn helps me stay on track and also make sure that I know all the content I need to by the end of the year.”