Now, more than ever, it’s vital for students to customize their learning. Especially in traditional, brick and mortar, schools.
I am a sophomore at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minnesota. I take most of my classes at this traditional high school, but I’ve also added some of my own experiences that make high school more interesting that will help my future.
It’s not like I started high school saying, “Hey, I’m going to do-it-myself and customize my experience.” What I am doing is following my interests and trying some new things and that has led to my own version of GenDIY. I’m combining academics, online learning, career exploration, sports, and the many other things that some might describe as the “American high school experience” in a way that fits me.
I see picking high school experiences like customizing a pizza because you have to have the basic stuff like crust, sauce and the cheese (requirements); then you add on pepperoni, sausage (typical electives); and then there are a lot of other things. Like green peppers or pineapple that some kids might not even know exist (career exploration, dual credit online learning) but you don’t know if you’re interested until you try.
Here’s seven ways students can pursue their interests and customize high school:
1. Find “the best” parts of your school. For me “the best” part of school is the sports. My football, baseball and basketball coaches haven’t only helped me develop as an athlete. Their on the field lessons (perseverance, practice, effort, etc.) have translated to how I approach difficult tasks inside and outside of the classroom. Finding “the best” part can be as simple as finding what makes you happy. From there, approach each experience as an opportunity to learn and apply thinking.
Everyone should read what Dan Cardinali said about hacking the traditional high school experience.
2. Take online classes. I take my world languages class online through Connections Academy. I enjoy taking this class online because it gives me flexibility. During the day when I have my free period I can either do my lesson for the day or catch up on homework. Flexibility is huge for me because I have very limited time due to sports. I also have to be independent.
It’s important for GenDIY students to utilize online resources, and to be flexible when it comes to opportunities to learn.
3. Do hands-on Learning. Because I’m interested in engineering, I’ve taken Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes. We had a flexible project that had two parts: software design and building something. Our group built a soccer goal that lights up with sensors. To build it, we used Vex Robotics plates, sensors, screws, and bump switches. To make it do what we wanted it to, we used a software program called RobotC and had to write code, for example, “leftlineSensor (port 6, 300);.”
After we wrote code, we connected our robot to the computer to test it. It didn’t work 30 times and then we got it right. I learned to tinker with it, we had to work on conditional statements like “if-then” scenarios. It felt good because what we were doing finally paid off. I liked making something that’s not just on a screen but you can touch and feel.
Do some research, ask around and find out which classes in your school are project-based.. Projects will teach you more than just writing a paper.
4. Be part of a team. Teamwork extends to all aspects of my high school experience, from sports to online classes that I take with two friends, to my engineering team. This will help me in a job someday because being able to work towards a common goal with multiple types of people is increasingly important in today’s economy.
When you are in a group, make sure everyone does the parts of the project that fit their skills best.
5. Explore careers. In addition to my engineering PLTW class, I’m going to take one related to medicine to give me a chance to see what’s most appealing to me and what I’d be consistently interested in or challenged by. I think it will be better to decide what I like best before college. We also do career days and interview people in PLTW. I got to meet engineering students who are trying to get internships.
To explore what you might find interesting, talk with a mentor, do research online on websites like Glassdoor or Naviance and find out more about after high school programs that align with what you are interested in.
6. Earn extra credits. Not extra credit, our school doesn’t do that much, but I got to get high school credit in middle school and I hope to get college credits in high school. I recently figured out that I will have enough credits to meet high school requirements by the end of my junior year which means I can take more college or career classes.
Get started early with high school courses – get your core classes and requirements out of the way so you have more options down the road.
7. Participate in a service project. There is a pro football kicker named Billy Cundiff who started a foundation called Kicking for the Dream. I ask people to donate to ovarian cancer when I make a kick in football and have helped raise over $1,000. It’s good to help other people and I learned that service projects are a great opportunity to simultaneously give back to serve others and simultaneously learn about my community.
Get involved in at least one service project. It doesn’t have to be huge. Are you skilled in something? Find something you are good at and give back to others with your talent.
These are all interests of mine and I know they are going to help me in the future and help me decide on what I want to do and who I grow to be everyday. I’ve learned my “DIY” doesn’t need to be extreme, it just needs to be unique.
This blog is part of our GenDIY project. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “GenDIY.” For more information about the project see Tell Your Story: Do-It-Yourself Pathways From School to Career as well as other blogs:
- Hacking Your Traditional High School Experience
- Ten Tips for Success in an Online Class: Student Perspective
- Doing It Yourself: From Independent Learning Plans to Organizing Your Instructional Path