Master Class with Innovation Fund Teachers

Ben Berman & Stephanie McAllister

Thank you to all who came out for our Master Class with Ben Berman and Stephanie McAllister, the creators of EPIC (Experiential Project-based Innovating Capstone). This special community event was a perfect conclusion to our series of 20th-anniversary celebrations that started this fall with a talk by innovation in education expert, Ted Dintersmith moderated by WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti.

The Master Class on EPIC focused on self-directed learning and pursuing your passion. EPIC, a course offered to seniors, places great emphasis on setting students on a path of lifelong learning. What could be more inspiring?

An Interview with the Teachers of EPIC (Experiential, Project-based, Innovative, Capstone)

If you were inviting a parent in person to this Master Class, how would you describe EPIC?

(Berman) EPIC offers students the opportunity to spend the spring of their senior year working on a project of their own design. Through a combination of research, hands-on-experiences and deep reflection, EPIC students learn what it takes to pursue their interests and direct their own learning. Projects range this year from building a robot that can play Connect Four, to writing one’s own personal philosophical treatise.

(McAllister) EPIC is a project-based class in which students get to explore their passions. A student may come to the class with a clear sense of what those passions and interests are; they may not. We help them explore who they are and what they care about, and turn those interests and talents into a series of projects that will push them to reflect, learn and grow.

What will the Master Class be like, and why should someone attend this event?

(Berman) In this class, you will learn how to design your own experiential passion projects that will challenge you in meaningful ways.

(McAllister) They will get to both live the experience of a student in EPIC, but also explore who they are and what they care about. Don’t we all want to imagine how to more deeply experience and learn about the things we are interested in?

What made you create EPIC?

(Berman) Often times, in school, we offer students very carefully managed learning opportunities – as teachers, we decide on what we teach, how to teach it, and how to measure our students’ success. But in order to help our students develop into life-long learners, we need to offer them opportunities to find their own interests, set their own goals, and experience the joys and challenges of deep learning.

(McAllister) We started with the idea of senioritis: that disease that hits our seniors come second semester when they begin to lose interest in “doing school.” We wanted to create an opportunity for them to connect to something meaningful at a time when they often begin to disconnect, and to help them think in ways that more closely mirror the learning and growing that happens in the “real” world. We wanted to offer them the opportunity to create their own curriculum, after being told what to learn for twelve years, and give both the space and the support to explore that curriculum themselves.

How have you, as a teacher, benefitted from EPIC?

(Berman) EPIC has been one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever taught. Every week, I get to learn new things about topics I’d never thought much about, and what a pleasure to see students pursue their own interests as they navigate the messiness of the creative process.

(McAllister) I got to work with Ben Berman, who is a creative genius! It has also given me a whole new frame of reference for thinking about what project-based learning really is and can be. It has been an exciting way to rethink school and learning, and it gave me a chance to see deeply into the passions of my students. I got to learn about graffiti art, skateboarding, building longbows, creating music, world-building, and so many other things that I knew nothing about.