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Self-Directed, Deep Learning @Inventure Academy - A Pilot

“The life skills students learnt - how to learn, how to ideate, take decisions, pick an idea, work in a team, handle a dead end, rejection by team members, finding new team members, how to make a presentation which attracts eyeballs…. the list goes on. You simply can’t learn these skills from a book. And end of the day it is these skills which will enable our children to excel.” - Nooraine Fazal, Founding CEO & Managing Trustee, Inventure Academy, speaking about the Celebration of Learning initiative at her school.

Over a 6-week period in early 2018, 240 middle-school students tried their hand at 54 projects, with 12 teachers supporting them, and 6 mentors supporting the teachers. How was this ‘Celebration of Learning’ (CoL) initiative different from a regular school ‘exhibition’ or ‘science fair’? To begin with, and in line with Inventure’s vision - “For each student to excel both academically and in one chosen co-curricular activity, and be prepared for life”, the approach collectively agreed on was very clear, while being a bit audacious: Teachers and mentors were around to provide guidance, but would leave the final decisions on the direction of the project to students. In addition, the clear focus of the exercise was on the ‘process of learning’ and not on a ‘product to be displayed.’

Students chose the projects they would work on and pursued the questions that came up, largely on their own. Projects ranged from exploring how colours work, to making predictions about the future of schooling and what Inventure would be like in 2050, from using data to predict next year’s premier league winner, to an exploration of shadows from different perspectives.

We share below some vignettes of student learning journeys. Please "hover" your mouse over the pictures (or press the image briefly, if on a mobile phone) to see its title, and a brief description...

Building on a practice of reflection used at Inventure’s annual ‘Inventuring’ and Inventure’s focus on teaching and learning mindfulness, students were given a journal in which to record their thoughts, moods and progress. The school rescheduled the timetable for 5 weeks, allowing 1 hour every day for students to work on these projects.

The going was far from easy- while some students were focused and seemed to proceed in the ‘expected’ direction, many students would pursue one direction one day and switch directions the next! This made for some anxious moments for teachers, mentors and other team members! There was temptation to intervene and ‘set the project on the right track.’ But we stayed committed to our goal of self directed learning and learning through discovery.

Something that distinctly stood out was each child’s style of learning, with these individual styles manifesting themselves even when working in a group. In line with the school’s core value of ‘Nurturing Individuality & Teamwork’, teachers recognized this and encouraged students to own a project and add their individual perspectives and flavour to the group outcome. For example, in a project on the ‘Science of Cooking’, some students in the group became fascinated with preservatives and explored how tomatoes responded to different preservatives, while others investigated whether an egg would cook differently when different substances like vinegar (or Coke!) were added to the water in which it was boiled.

And bear in mind that teachers were facilitating all of this along with their regular school work- taking classes, correcting regular test papers etc. It was no mean feat given students were changing their minds every now and then, coming up with questions that required even the teachers to research answers as every project was beyond curricular boundaries and often outside the teacher’s subject domain! Yet teachers worked tirelessly and patiently, with every teacher bringing his or her unique perspectives to enrich and facilitate each student’s journey of learning.

While the learning of some of the students was very visible throughout the project, it was not very clear what other students were learning. As the days passed, and the date for presenting their learnings approached, the value of this journey for each student became more visible- from learning to ask questions that were relevant to them, handling a dead-end, dealing with friction with team-members - students seized upon the endless opportunities offered by this journey through uncharted waters.

Working with both teachers and students, this was a fantastic opportunity for the 3 GenWise mentors - Ramjee Swaminathan, Utpal Chattopadhyay, and Vishnu Agnihotri - as the opportunity to be part of such a bold experiment in education is rare. Guiding and supporting teachers and students through this complex process gave us great satisfaction, though often we just had to stand aside and allow the journey to unfold on its own. There is much we have learned through this experiment and we hope to apply the learning in our own classrooms as well as in supporting schools who want to push the boundaries of deep learning.