One “Big Idea” is the humanities module for this semester, which focuses on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Here, with the help of their teachers, students came up with a plan for digital activism and then decided what current topics and situations they should focus on for their class. (There are typically three teachers–a mix of full and part time–for each classroom of about 15 students.)

During eSchool News’ visit to the iSchool, students were about to hold a video conferencing session with Christina Lamb, a foreign press correspondent and the author of House of Stone, to ask her questions about her experience as a journalist covering the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Later in the quarter, students who read her book will participate in a virtual literature circle discussion with her.

“We created a page on our web site that talks about the crisis, some demographics about Zimbabwe, and why this topic is important,” explained Lewis. “We’re also creating a MySpace page, a Facebook page, and whatever other social network we can use to help spread the word.”

Another learning module helps students who’ve already mastered the algebra curriculum, and these students are participating in a geometry course taught by a math teacher from another DOE school in East Harlem, a professor from Teachers College, and a college student, who provide on-site, individualized support for students.

Students in this course have been challenged by Two Boots Pizzerias to develop recommendations for the placement of additional restaurants to gain greater coverage of Manhattan as Two Boots expands its business. Students will develop recommendations for Two Boots using Voronoi diagrams, which are advanced geometric systems that divide a plane into regions so that all points within a region are closest to the focal point of that region.

“It’s good that they know about online learning, how to use these tools, and how to go at their own pace,” said math teacher Ridwah Falah. “They’ll need to know these things for undergraduate and grad school.”

Projects like these are an integral part of the iSchool’s curriculum. Projects usually take about nine weeks, and students work in teams to tackle real-world problems for “client” organizations outside the school. The projects are designed to foster collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking. They also make sure to incorporate outside resources and experts.

“Adolescents want to do work that’s important and that has relevance to the world, not just something that gets finished and turned in on a piece of paper to a teacher,” said co-principal Mary Moss.

The last module on display was an online biology course from CompassLearning. This interactive course, which incorporates audio, video, and written content, allows students to move at their own pace and focus on concepts they have not yet mastered.

iSchool students have access to many course offerings, including 37 Advanced Placement and other college credit courses, available online. They plan their course of study with an advisor and then learn at their own pace, receiving support as they need it.