`Odyssey' Encourages Active Learning

STUDENTS can often be some of the most trenchant opponents to education reform. ``Kids resist change,'' says Craig Simpson, who teaches ``Odyssey,'' an innovative, interdisciplinary course at Andover High School in Andover, Mass. ``By the time they get to the high school, most of them have been taught for eight or nine years in a system that has been leading them toward a traditional high school.'' If that school then begins to change, it's unsettling.

Many students are highly grade conscious and if teacher expectations change, it could affect their grades. Other students simply don't like the idea of having to work hard.

Theodore R. Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools is based on the concept of ``student-as-worker'' - making students rather than teachers responsible for their education.

``Kids don't like that,'' Dr. Sizer says. ``They like the deal they've got: School, for a lot of them, is quite soft.''

At Andover High, seniors who elect to take ``Odyssey'' are finding out what it means to be ``workers.''

In this interdisciplinary class, they are asked to form opinions and, most importantly, to substantiate those opinions with facts. The course requires a heavy load of reading and forces students to help each other find answers to their questions.

``If I had it to do over, I wouldn't take this class,'' says student Glenn DiBenedetto. ``It's too much work.''

But other students are finding the course a refreshing change from their other classes. ``You can say what you honestly feel,'' Mat Doyle comments, adding that it's a rare chance to hear the opinions of teachers.

A team of three teachers leads the ``Odyssey'' class. Yet they serve as learners alongside their students. They raise their hands to speak and must substantiate their own opinions with facts.

``As a teacher, the game becomes giving up the ball and letting the kids play,'' says Kathleen Cook, one of the ``Odyssey'' team teachers.

Despite some difficulty in adjusting to the nontraditional approach of the class, some students feel that they are learning more than in regular classes. ``It's given me a curiosity to do research outside of class,'' says one student.

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