As a founding member of the Global Online Academy (GOA), Head-Royce has offered interdisciplinary online courses to Upper School students since 2011. Students who enroll in GOA classes collaborate with peers from a range of independent schools, from Catlin Gabel and Dalton to the American School in Japan and King’s Academy in Jordan.
The program’s international scope is more than a selling point, it’s a learning tool. “One of the orientation exercises is a time zone puzzle,” says GOA Coordinator and Upper School teacher Karen Bradley. “They give an imaginary scenario: You have a meeting with two other people. One’s in Beijing and another’s in Canada, on the East Coast. When are you all going to be awake? And what’s reasonable to ask?”
For many Head-Royce students, it can be a challenge to find time for their partner work. “It’s a big executive functioning skill,” says Karen Bradley. “They have to plan ahead and prioritize. It’s also [a] very tangible, real-life skill, and the students see its value right away.”
Students also learn to develop relationships with new teachers who they won’t meet in person––a skill for college and beyond, in our globally-networked world. “I tell them that putting money in the relationship bank upfront is super important,” says Karen Bradley. “They don’t know you face-to-face, so if you don’t have much communication with them, and then you have a problem, it’s more likely they’ll assume laziness or disorganization--rather than, ‘Wow this student has ten other things going on.’”
GOA allows us to expand the Upper School course catalog to include the languages Arabic and Japanese, and more specialized classes like Architecture, Bioethics, and Positive Psychology. Many classes are interdisciplinary, like Global Health, 9/11 in a Global Context, and Prisons and the Criminal Law. The courses are all taught by faculty affiliated with member schools, independent schools with similar academic standards as Head-Royce, and each course is capped at 18 students.
GOA teachers use real-world case studies, so while students are following their passions or curiosities, they’re also getting a taste of the professional world. Upper School students interested in becoming doctors can try their hand at diagnostics and developing a calm, kind bedside manner in Medical Problem Solving.
"I had heard stories of people who’d dreamed of becoming doctors, only to find out that they hated it in med school,” says Yoska G. '21. “I used GOA's Medical Problem Solving courses to help me determine if I could handle the medical field and also enjoy the process.”
In Medical Problem Solving, the students receive a “new patient” each week. “Then you begin your research and try to identify if your hypotheses for the causes of certain symptoms are accurate,” says Yoska G. ’21. “After collecting all of your research, you present it in a slide show, to simulate a grand rounds session. Then you finish your "grand rounds" with a video where you address the patient directly and explain to them what their diagnosis is and whatever their short and long treatment options are.”
Another student in Medical Problem Solving, Sidney S. ’21, says: “One of the projects we’ve been working on is around treatments for breast cancer. Recently, a study came out that said for women with mild breast cancer, chemotherapy might not be the best option. So, together my whole class made a website. My group has a page that explains the options and who fits the criteria for secondary treatment.”
This real-world content is a key component of GOA’s teaching philosophy. GOA is a competency-based school, and in every class, students must demonstrate growth in specific areas, from “curate and create content relevant to real-world issues” to “take responsibility for your learning and that of others.”
Reflecting on what she has learned, Yoska G. says, “Doctors have to be extremely cautious and also clear when delivering information their patients. They have to give a lot of thought to how they conduct themselves and what words they use because even the most subtle changes in how they conduct themselves could cause the patient to worry.”
As Karen Bradley explains, “The competency approach is a way of switching students’ mindsets from “What grade am I getting in this class?” to “What am I learning?” As there are almost no tests, GOA assessment is almost entirely project-based and often collaborative. “By nature, the minimum bar is very reachable, and then the sky’s the limit. It again shifts the focus. The students who like their classes the most are often the ones who go beyond the minimum, and their engagement, even excitement, grows accordingly.”
In these online courses, students must learn how to self-motivate beyond the punishment of a bad grade––instilling in them independence and a deep sense of curiosity.