How can Personal Learning Days help students?

Showcase on May 2 will highlight experiences.

Mason High School senior Adrian Chan explored his passion for cooking this school year and now is preparing to learn from his culinary idol, renowned French chef Dominique Crenn, in San Francisco.

Mason City Schools launched a new learning initiative to encourage students to take more ownership over their education. Instead of reporting to school Nov. 21 and Feb. 17 students explored their passions.

“The purpose of the Personal Learning Days is to offer an innovative approach that honors the fact that learning is ongoing and continues to take place outside the current school day. On Personal Learning Days, students are given the chance to experience the authentic integration of learning and passion by embarking on personalized interest projects outside of school. These may include service learning, global awareness, online collaboration and many other diverse opportunities that are often difficult to fit into our current curriculum,” said Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Cooper. “Choice is very important for authentic learning. It is exciting to see students designing what they want to learn about and how they’re going to learn it.”

Chan used his time to devise a plan for flying out to San Francisco over winter break and meeting Crenn. He even landed a gig washing dishes in the kitchen of her Michelin-star restaurant, Atelier Crenn restaurant.

“I was so intrigued by her perspective where food is art. She is really communicating with her customers through a plate of food,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that these people who were my idols were allowing me to help. I was cleaning the walk-in fridge, picking some of the microgreens from the courtyard garden, and finally I was even helping prep food, including a beautiful house-made cheese dish.”

Before Chan left to come home to Mason, the Atelier Crenn team prepared him a 13-course meal. In July, he plans to return to begin his next chapter.

Cooper said experiences like Chan’s are at the heart of the initiative.

“We have been pleasantly surprised and, quite frankly, inspired by the wide diversity of projects that our students and their families have engaged in during this first year of Personal Learning Days. We intentionally kept the process simple and open-ended in order to maximize the opportunity for our students and their families to creatively pursue their learning passions and interests,” he said. “We have had high school students co-design a field trip to a highly specialized science lab in Chicago, design job shadowing partnerships with local doctors and business leaders, and work with other students to design and actually build a shelter out of reused materials in an effort to blend design and sustainability. We have had elementary students take on projects that extend the learning that is happening in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math Innovation Lab, help design family vacations to incorporate a learning passion, and spend time learning more about community service by intentionally developing ways to serve their neighbors.”

Copper believes this year’s success was twofold: creating innovative learning opportunities outside the classroom built upon student interests and increasing time for staff professional development.

“We have learned from research and experience that giving students voice and choice in their learning is a highly successful strategy for increasing student engagement and content mastery,” he explained. “Our students are our future, and they are extremely talented and naturally curious. This combined with our highly innovative teaching staff will allow Mason to lead the way in designing the next iteration in education as education moves toward personalized learning.”

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How to go

What: Personal Learning Days Showcase featuring more than 30 K-12 Mason students who used their personal learning days in extraordinary ways to maximize learning experiences

When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 2

Where: Mason High School Large Commons, 6100 Mason Montgomery Road, Mason

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