Wooster Today - October 2016

Wooster Goes Deeper Into Learning

By Brooke Thaler, Publications Teacher

College application stress-inducing buzzwords like SATs, ACTs, essays, common app, early decision, scholarships, grades, transcripts, recommendation letters, APs, etc., have been around for years. Advanced Placement, or APs, have long been considered a key for not only admission, but for better preparing students for when they’re in college. The main caveat with AP courses, however, is that they require a standardized AP test, tempting students and teachers to focus more on test preparation than on the actual learning. At a school like Wooster, where teachers’ summer reading includes Make It Stick and Making Thinking Visible, it’s clear that “teaching to the test” is not the best way to engage students and produce lifelong learners.

To remedy that, Wooster became a DLI school this year, which means juniors and seniors can take Deep Learning Initiative courses in addition to, or rather than, APs.

This year’s rollout includes six DLI offerings: Thermal and Statistical Physics, The Essay (seniors only), The Story (juniors only), Complexity and Life (Biology), Europe in the 20th Century, and Statistics and Big Data.

"DLI courses are more rigorous than AP courses,” says Dr. Tyrone Black, Director of Student Advancement. “Teachers design their own curriculum. They challenge students to be thinkers."

Students seem to agree. Marley Caplan, '17, who is taking Complexity and Life, says, "we go out in the field a lot -- you’re involved with it. We collect soil samples, make cuts through the phragmites, someone even climbed a tree. It’s fun. We’re learning differently; you’re always involved, you’re always doing something. I feel like there’s a lot more time to get interested in it, instead of having to constantly move forward."

"They allow you to pursue the things you want to do, rather than focus on tedious things that you’re required to do from a syllabus," agrees Marie Klepacz, '17, who is taking Europe in the 20th Century and The Essay.

Sounds like a great concept, but what about getting into college? How do college admissions officers feel about DLI?

"At first I was really nervous about it, after the information session," says Tess Cicala, '17. "I was freaking out, thinking colleges wouldn’t see the AP label on my transcript but it turns out they’re just as demanding. I was pleasantly surprised."

Cicala adds that in The Essay, they’re working on just that -- their college essays. She says it’s really helpful because it blocks out time for them to work on their essays and receive valuable feedback.

"We have received so many glowing reviews from colleges," says Dr. Black. He even says that some colleges are more interested in Wooster now than in the past, thanks to DLI.

Here’s a little bit more about what’s happening in Wooster’s DLI courses:

"We have just finished a chapter on experimental design and they took some experiments and broke them down to analyze methodology and results. They wrote a nice four paragraph summary of a study that had them analyzing all the major components of the design study and what the actual results showed. It is fun to do so much analysis!" - Karl Schwoerke, Statistics and Big Data

"I took my independent school teacherly freedom to work for the first few weeks on the book, Make It Stick. The students and I worked through the tutorial process, which is lots of reading, annotating, and discussing in small groups, with the goal of each student answering the central question, 'How will I use Make It Stick in my education this year (and beyond)?' We have just finished that process, and are about to embark on World War I!" - Tom Curley, Europe in the 20th Century

"Through the use of discussion routines like 'speed dating' and 'fishbowl', the DLI Story students are better grappling with what erudite, academic conversations should sound and feel like in a learning environment. Students are also excited to officially begin the course's Oxford Tutorial model next week!" - Elizabeth Higgins, The Story

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