The Explore class at Grandview Heights High School gives students the chance to design their own learning experience.

By doing that, students are able to reflect on how they learn best, said Marc Alter, Grandview Heights Schools’ director of 21st-century learning.

“This class gives them ownership in their learning,” Alter said. “It’s not just learning the information, but thinking about how they gathered that information and how what they learned impacted them.”

Alter teaches the class with Assistant Principal Shawn Hinkle.

Explore helps students develop the 21st-century learning skills they need to thrive in today’s world – not just in school but in their lives after school, Hinkle said.

The class is an elective for juniors and seniors. Fourteen students took the year-long course this school year, an increase from six students who took it last year.

“The word’s getting around,” Alter said. “Students are excited about having the chance to create their own learning experience.”

The class meets four days a week, with a double class session on Wednesdays.

The Wednesday classes begin with a “creative warmup” activity, each designed by a different student.

“It’s a way to warm up your brain,” he said. “The students take turns designing and leading an activity. It’s not just a fun activity. There has to be some reflection in it.”

Explore involves students engaging in project-based learning that ties into their own passions and interests, Alter said.

During the first half of the year, students worked on two “passion projects.”

“They picked something they wanted to learn more about,” he said. “We had students pick things like playing a ukulele, vegan baking and magic.”

The projects involved more than just learning a few chords or sleight-of-hand illusions, Alter said.

“The students had to do a deeper dive of research,” he said. “The whole point is learning how to learn and how you best learn. We built in a lot of time for the students to reflect on and document the sources for their learning.”

During the second semester, students worked on a project to explore their potential career interests.

The students were host to an Explore Fair on May 1 in the high school media center.

Each student created an exhibit about their projects and talked to visitors about their topics, what they discovered about themselves as learners and how their learning may have influenced their future plans.

Senior Chrissy Knight said her second semester Explorer project expanded her vision of what a potential career in nursing could be.

“I had an idea that I would like to be a nurse practitioner, but this was a chance to really delve into the different options that are out there,” she said. “It allowed me to zero in and realize my interest is in critical care and neuroscience nursing, and perhaps midwifery.”

Senior Kristin Long said she found the Explorer class to be “empowering.”

“For the first time, I felt like I was in control of my education,” she said. “Each day, I was excited to come to class. It was like a break in the middle of the school day to get to work on something that you’re really interested in.”

As she thought about college, Long said, she was interested in pursuing a major in science or possibly something “in a more creative field.

“I just always thought I would end up going into science,” she said.

But that’s changed after Explorer.

“My college-career project was on museum curation, and now that’s something I’m really interested in,” Long said. “It’s not a career field you usually can find out much about in high school.”

Through her Explorer project, she was able to talk to museum curators and learn what the job entails and the college road map to a curating career, she said.

As a side project, Long said, she researched the history behind a number of artifacts.

“Most of the artifacts were Viking relics,” she said. “I find Vikings really interesting and it was fascinating to research the story behind the artifacts and some Viking ruins.”

Senior Nate Pommering called Explorer “a breath of fresh air.

“I never had a class where I could explore actual things I was passionate about,” he said.

His Explorer projects each focused on an aspect of music, Pommering said.

His passion projects included mixing and mastering a recording of music he composed and performed, and creating music videos.

Pommering’s capstone project explored various elements of the music business, including how rights are secured to use music samples and how record labels operate.

Explorer is a rigorous class, he said.

“You have to make sure to keep track of the progress you’ve made on your project, and marking down how you’re gathering the information,” he said. “You’re not just barreling through it.”

It was a challenge “to manage your time and work independently” on his Explorer projects, Pommering said.

That should help him in college, when students are expected to be more independent in their studies, he said.

It’s not just the students who enjoy Explore.

“It’s a blast teaching this class,” Alter said.

“As teachers, we’re learning so much from the students about the topics they’re exploring,” Hinkle said. “It’s fun to learn with them as they’re digging into their projects, because we get to dig in along with them.”

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