Great profile over on Getting Smart about the fine work being done by friends of OCW Eric Sheninger and Juliana Meehan at New Milford High School:

Juliana Meehan attended the Edscape Conference in the fall of 2012, the annual professional development event hosted each year by Principal Eric Sheninger at New Milford High School located in Bergen County, NJ.  Juliana loved what she saw and knew the school possessed the culture needed to sustain deeper learning for students.

As part of NJExcel, a principal certification program, she needed to create a project and asked Eric to serve as her mentor. The two met over the summer to brainstorm the type of project that would bring to life both Eric’s and Juliana’s strong belief that all students can learn at a deeper level and achieve huge levels of success when they are afforded the freedom to self-direct and choose how to demonstrate their learning.

How does the program start? This principal and principal-in-training agreed to use the “independent study” model for this new program. They decided that in the fall of 2012, the Independent OpenCourseware Study would be an option for students in New Milford’s academy program, which includes the students who choose to get ahead of the game by taking rigorous academic courses in order to be career and college ready.

They would have the option to choose any subject they felt passionate about and  study it using available OpenCourseware from esteemed institutions such as MIT or Stanford, to learn more about their chosen subject. The project would last two months, they would present their learning in any manner that felt right to them and they would earn one credit, even though the course work was all done on their own time- outside of the designated school day.

Although there was immediate buy in from about 50 students, they were did not necessarily respond with applause and cheering. Instead, the first weeks of the project consisted mostly of face to face meeting with Eric or their guidance counselor to mentor the students and talk them through the strong anxiety that surrounded not being given specific “step by step” instructions for what their finished product needed to look like.

The students did receive a rubric along with mentor support, but ultimately it was up to the student to decided how and what to present at the end of the two months. These students realized they were going to have to take ownership of their learning in order to earn the credit, all the while having the chance to truly experience a project that held potential to give them a big leg up as they prepared to enter college. Read more.

Congratulations to Eric and Juliana for the ongoing success of the program.