Ernst lets students explore topics through project

Tyler Hofmann, Staff Reporter

English and Yearbook teacher Taylor Ernst is taking a more open-ended approach with her latest assigned project to her sophomore English classes. The project follows no specific lesson and will be due April 7, while presentations begin April 13, 14 and 17. This gives students plenty of time to design a visual and write a skillful essay. The topic is problems that students think must be solved— and how they plan to solve it. The students have free range for the problem they choose and how they decide to approach it, just as long as it follows the rubric. So far, the assignment has piqued a new interest in students.

“The project is a collaborative research project,” Ernst said. ”Students get in groups of no more than five members and their first task is to think of a real-world problem– local, nationally, or globally –to research. Then, they develop, research and create new solutions to that problem.”

Before the groups are able to start, their topic must be approved by Ernst. From there the project is arranged by steps to assure the best work ethic between peers as they research and write for the essay and visual. The final product should be between 15-20 minutes long to present before the class, whether it be by PowerPoint, video, podcast– the goal is to get creative, so students have room to experiment with different options. 

Ernst was inspired by a class she had taken on 21st century skills a few years ago and decided to create her own collaborative research unit. 

“In life after high school, adults collaborate all the time, so I try to teach my students effective collaboration and communication skills through this project,” Ernst said. “This is only my second year doing this unit, so I always reflect on how it could be improved for next year. So far, it’s been really great. The students like it because they work together and they choose a topic they like.”

The response has been positive and students enjoy the new approach. 

“[This form of project] gives the students more freedom of what they want to do their project on,” sophomore Stella Britt said. ”And it’s way easier to do a project on something you’re interested in than something you’re not.”

Britt’s chosen to do the project on her own about how society doesn’t view highschoolers as politically active enough, and is generally excited as the assignment will allow her to write about something she’s passionate about. Another benefit, she said, would be that the project is really student lead and Ernst let them choose how they were to figure out each part of the process. The opportunities are almost endless. 

“My group is doing one on human trafficking,” sophomore Zoe Jones said. “So far we have annotated bibliographies and our outline completely finished, we’re working on the essay now. Our plan for the presentation is to make a video skit about it resembling a news segment.”

The first rough draft will be turned in on April 31, giving the students plenty of time in class to plan and execute their creations to eventually explain to the class for a grade.