Independent Study

Here is a drawing I did for an independent study special history project I completed in my sophomore year of high school in Virginia in 1976.  It was the bicentennial year of American independence, and there was a lot of attention in the media on historical commemorations and activities, especially around the colonial period.  I had some room in my course schedule and wanted to do something meaningful in that auspicious year.  With the support of my parents and school counselor, I won faculty approval to complete a simulation board game on the French and Indian War.  I also managed to get a faculty advisor from the history department at the local college where my father was teaching at the time.

I spent an entire semester researching the period, beginning with Francis Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe, the sixth in his classic seven-volume history entitled France and England in North America (1884).  As a sixth grader, I had been enthralled with the 1971 BBC miniseries of The Last of the Mohicans, which aired on PBS in 1972 when I was living in Memphis.  I treasured my hardcover copy of the novel by James Fenimore Cooper with its compelling illustrations by N. C. Wyeth.  My independent study advisors at the high school and the college recommended other great books such as Guns at the Forks by Walter O’Meara.

By the end of the semester, I had constructed an elaborate playing board of multiple panels depicting the theater of operations of the war from the Great Lakes and the Ohio Country to New England and the Atlantic seaboard.  Handmade pieces represented units of French, British, and Native American soldiers, and a detailed players’ manual outlined the rules of the game.  I included original drawings of several uniforms of the period (see above and below) and even created handmade cardboard boxes to store all the pieces.  I titled my board game The Fall of New France and test played it with my younger brother.  The entire game took more than 24 hours to play every game turn, each of which represented a month of the war from George Washington’s skirmish at Great Meadows in 1754 to Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763.

This was one of the most memorable experiences of my career as a student.  The value of independent study projects is immeasurable.  You can focus on the subjects that truly interest you and create special projects that really show what you can do.  Interdisciplinary projects that combine what you are learning in multiple classes can be particularly rewarding.

As a classroom teacher, I participated for eight years as the social science member of a special Digital Arts and Humanities team.  Our students took historical topics from my class and combined them with the period novels they were studying in their English class, then created amazing projects in their Digital Arts class.  One was a documentary film about 19th century immigration to America.  Another was an interactive website about the Roaring Twenties.  Our class visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles as part of our World War II unit, in which the students created an animated story of a Japanese American teenager confined in one of the internment camps.  Another program at the same school combined math and physics with sculpture and metal design.  These classes made school more engaging and gave students endless possibilities for creativity.

Independent study can also help with your regular classwork in your core classes.  This is especially true if you find the environment of the traditional classroom with 35 to 40 students and one teacher distracting.  Whether you are struggling with math, science, history, or language arts, you can get more done if you have a dedicated time and place set aside to complete your work with the help of a tutor or dedicated faculty advisor.  The more time and attention you devote to a task or assignment, the more pleased you and your teacher will be with your work.

Ask your school counselor about independent study opportunities on your campus.  Check with your teachers about alternative assignments or extra credit opportunities they may offer.  There is more than one way to complete your academic requirements for graduation and college admission.  Explore your options.  Make good memories for yourself at school.  Give yourself the chance to excel in what you do best.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.  All rights reserved.

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Copyright (c) 1976 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.