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“I like having a clear purpose for what I’m learning, instead of just being told ‘do this thing.’”
Aaron is a 10th grader living in Elkton, Maryland. The Prisma high school program made sense for him for multiple reasons. “Project-based learning is a really good way for me to learn, and an online school works well with my schedule.” Aaron is a pre-professional dancer with the Delaware Dance Company.
At Prisma, high schoolers earn core credits for graduation through project-based themes. Instead of juggling many classes at once, learners go deep into fewer subjects at a time, earning required credits at an accelerated pace. This leaves time free in their schedules for internships, college courses, and electives later in their high school careers.
In the Fall 2022 theme, Secrets of the Biosphere, 9th & 10th graders earned Biology credit by collecting data from their own ecosystems and designing a Conservation Action Project to make an impact based on what they learned.
Although all learners needed to demonstrate mastery of key biology concepts, how they did so was up to them. Aaron took this freedom as an opportunity to practice video editing and 3D modelling, skills he is passionate about developing.
“I really enjoyed working on video editing throughout the theme because I was just starting to get into filming and editing,” says Aaron, “but now, it’s something I do all the time. It was fun to take something I’m passionate about and make it a school thing.”
A BioBlitz is an event where a team of volunteers tries to identify as many species as possible. In the Secrets of the Biosphere theme, Prisma high schoolers completed a BioBlitz using the species identification tool iNaturalist. They identified over 478 different species, from monkeys in Costa Rica to tropical flowers in Hawaii to turkeys in Boston, thanks to the fun of having classmates all over the world!
After they collected their data, learners were challenged to share their data however they’d like. “There was an example I read about of making a song out of a bird song, and I thought, what if I did that with an entire ecosystem instead of just one organism?” Aaron says. “So I went out and I recorded a bunch of sounds of animals and plants in my ecosystem. Then, I made it into a song.”
To further develop his videography skills, Aaron decided to add visuals. “I used a bunch of stock footage to create a draft. I used that to make a layout of the different shots I wanted in real life, and then I recorded them.”
The final product is a data-based soundscape with visuals that tells the story of the Elkton, Maryland ecosystem. “Doing this helped me understand the scientific data in a more powerful way,” says Aaron.
After their BioBlitz, learners used IDEO’s design thinking process to develop solutions to problems they discovered in their ecosystems. “I decided I wanted to do something that involved 3D modelling, which was also something I love to do.”
Aaron was inspired by data showing a lack of green space and access to healthy food in his and other communities to design a green roof planter that can be scaled in any dimension to fit the form factor of any environment. “I used a combination of TinkerCad and Fusion360. I designed the roof originally to my roof. I found the files from when our house was built to get the dimensions,” he explains. “I also discovered the angle I needed was 33 degrees, which means I only needed about an inch and a half of stand off from the roof for maximum efficiency.”
Prisma learners present their final projects to peers, parents, and friends at the end of each cycle on Expo Day. Since Aaron wanted to make the file available to anyone who wanted to scale it to fit their own roof, he included QR codes in his Expo Day slides.
Samples from Aaron’s final Conservation Action Project Expo Day presentation
High school learners also earned English credit by writing a piece to inform an audience about any issue they cared about. As a pre-professional ballet dancer, Aaron wanted to shine a light on issues in the dance industry.
“Dance was recently ranked as one of the most physically taxing professions, but not a lot of people talk about the mental side of things,” he says. “There are a lot of issues in dance with body shaming, and insecurity, from the level of dancers all the way up to directors saying ‘No, you can’t play this role because you’re not skinny enough.’”
To find material for a poem, Aaron conducted interviews. “I got quotes from my fellow dancers about negative things that they say to themselves when they’re on stage and included them in the poem.”
He recorded himself reading his poem out loud, and as in his ecosystem data soundscape, Aaron was inspired to combine his passion for video editing with his poem. “I think adding something visual to something auditory is the best way to make it a full experience.”
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to bring a little bit of what dancers experience to people who are outsiders to the dance world. And I shared the poem with everyone I interviewed.”
“Instead of making videos or building models being the thing that I do when I take a break from school, I took the thing I would do when taking a break and made it into projects,” says Aaron.
“It’s really fun to be able to showcase the unique talents that I have in a way that also gets me school credit.”