If you were a high school student and could study anything you wanted for two weeks straight, what would you want to learn?
That was the question given to the nearly 250 teens at Imagine High at the beginning of the school year for their ‘Deep Dives’ assignment, which just recently wrapped up. It was a two-week project where students paused their regular curriculum to spent 100 per cent of their school time focussed on a single topic they’re passionate about.
“This idea of going deep into topics for longer periods of time and giving students a chance to explore deeply is very research-based,” said Janet Carroll, program director at Imagine High. “It’s really about how people learn. People don’t learn in a scattershot way, they actually learn by going deeper into a topic and having the time to process and experience it.”
Most of the students signed up for teacher-led sessions like song-writing, video game development, animation, outdoor survival, baking, and theatre makeup and costumes.
“The variety was so different, there was something for everyone,” said principal Brooke Haller. “No one was disappointed.”
They connected with community partners like local pastry chefs, staff from universities, and video game developers to make Deep Dives successful.
About 30 kids took on their own self-led passion project.
“They were the wildest because they were so different,” Haller said.
One kid who plays the guitar recorded an entire album, another explored the history of military uniforms and painted detailed clothing onto small figurines.
“It was the chillest two weeks, but at the same time I think it was the most productive two weeks,” Haller said. “The vibe was so calm, but so much was happening.”
Grade 9 student Kesler Thomas, who said he has had an “innate” passion for chemistry since he began studying it at Chilliwack Secondary School in October, recently transferred to Imagine High.
Kesler chose to study biochemistry for his self-led Deep Dives project, specifically in relation to drug addictions and drug alleviations through applications of chemicals like opioids. He’s also interested in cancer research.
He connected with Peter Awram of Worker Bee Honey Company in Chilliwack where he used a nuclear magnetic resonance machine which measures the bonds between chemicals with a magnetic force. Awram uses it to detect fraudulent honey, but it’s useful for many things.
“He was helping me out with some measurements and some fructose samples and stuff that’s basic, but it’s definitely introductory and will help me lead into more later topics and more intense stuff,” Kesler said.
He made connections with UFV and UBC and is hoping he’ll be able to take university chemistry within the next year or two.
Another student spent the two weeks sewing a garment for herself.
Grade 10 student Isy Oberst made a Victorian style dress from start to finish complete with a crinoline.
“I thought it would be a neat opportunity to delve more into something I’ve always been interested in,” she said. “I’ve always really been interested in period clothing and why they wore what they did and how historical events impacted clothing.”
It was quite the project given the only thing she’d sewn before was an apron when she was eight years old and a caftan dress which consisted of cutting a neck opening and sewing up the sides.
“She set the bar pretty high for herself,” Haller said.
Isy found a website that sells recreated historical clothing patterns and bought a pattern for a 1780 Victorian dress.
“It was definitely ambitious,” Isy said. “It was a little bit stressful and I surprised myself by how quickly I got through it.”
She finished it two days early and she wore it all day long on the last day of Deep Dives.
What happened at the end of the two weeks “just blew our minds,” Haller recalled.
They had an exhibition day where everyone at the school showed off what they had completed on the final day. Kids who had never sung or played an instrument before were performing concerts in front of the whole school. There was a “high-calibre” bake sale, kids who played video games designed by their fellow schoolmates, extravagant theatre makeup and more, Haller said.
“What we left with was the kids were incredibly proud of what they made… and kind of surprised themselves,” she added.
And it wasn’t just the students who had a blast.
“I saw how happy the students were, but I also saw how happy the teachers were,” Carroll said. “The teachers were involved in projects that were part of their passion so that enthusiasm and the excitement… it was wildly successful.”