Focus On: Mastery Learning Projects


Since 2003, Crossroads has offered our high school students the opportunity to design and execute a semester-long Mastery Learning Project (MLP), an in-depth inquiry drawn from an existing area of student interest.

English department chair Sarah Pierson Wolff directs the program, which she and colleagues see as particularly valuable preparation for the independent thinking required by collegiate and professional work. To participate, students submit project proposals that are reviewed by a committee comprised of staff volunteers and students who have completed MLPs in the past.

This year, senior Charlie O’Gorman wrote about his MLP experience in a college application essay: “For my Mastery Learning Project, I planned to create ‘the perfect swimming lesson.’ My goal was to compile the ultimate list of drills and exercises that would help my students shave precious seconds off of their lap times.”

Charlie’s laboratory was swim practice for 6-12 year olds, overseen by his own favorite coach. Charlie tested drill after drill, trusting the data to reveal its answers, until the research took an unexpected turn: “Skyler would not get in the pool. No matter what I tried, she sat on the deck and cried.”

In the end, Charlie reimagined what effective coaching looks like. “It is because of this realization,” he writes, “that I adapt to each learning style. Just like there are no cookie cutter children, there are also no cookie cutter solutions.”

Like Charlie, many Crossroads students are part of activities and communities beyond our campus. In designing their MLPs, Sarah encourages them to consider those experiences as sites for research. MLPs, she says, “are designed to provide encouragement and space in this community for something [students] are passionate about” in the wider world.

Typically, 4-8 high school students have completed MLPs each year, spending 40-50 hours to conduct research, produce written materials, and present to the community. This Friday during community time, senior Rebecca Jaffe will present her project about music and the autism spectrum. Senior Addy Koziol will present her work next week. While projects don’t receive course credit, they’re listed on student transcripts in recognition of the seriousness of the work.

For the first time this year, we are offering middle school students the opportunity to design a Mastery Learning Project (MSLP). Projects will require 8-10 hours or work and culminate in a presentation on December 15th.

Sarah encourages all Crossroads students to consider taking on a MLP (or a MSLP in middle school), and is eager to support them in designing a project that’s engaging, enlightening, and meaningful.

As Charlie’s father, Sean, puts it: “I firmly believe that one of the most powerful programs at Crossroads is the Mastery Learning Project. Both Harry (2014) and Charlie benefited from the program in ways that may take years for them to fully understand.”