For the Love of Rocks
Sarah O'Neill
At Tilton School, students are encouraged to imagine and create learning opportunities that require them to fully immerse themselves in the process. An Independent Learning Experience (ILE) is derived from student passions. With approval from the Academic Dean and guidance from a faculty/staff mentor, students mold their passion into an objective and project with specific, manageable, and measurable goals outside of their regular school work. A well-designed, well-executed independent learning project is its own reward. These projects extend student learning well beyond the basic.

Anika Tullos ‘19 loves rocks. She always has. It’s a passion that has been brewing inside her (literally) since she was a young girl.

“I really liked rocks when I was little…I accidentally ate one,” Tullos remembers. “I wanted to protect it, I thought it was special.”

Tullos classifies her younger self as a “dinosaur kid,” and it was her interest in fossils and geologic history that fueled her passion for rocks. To her, looking at the remnants of extinct animals is similar to looking at aliens. It’s about how different things have been, how different things could be, and how that puts perspective on our place in the universe.

Enter David Gould, long time science faculty member at Tilton School who has taught a geology course every other year, as it has never garnered enough interest to be offered yearly.

“We just didn’t have enough students to do it. Anika showed interest last year, and that’s when we got together and made a plan for an ILE,” Gould said. “It was an easy thing to do because Anika is an avid reader, so she reads the material before I even assign it to her. We have the resources here to do some labs, so I figured let’s go ahead and use it.”

What Gould is referring to is the creation of an Independent Learning Experience (ILE). If a student would like to further explore a subject that is not offered in the curriculum, the option to do so as a mentored afternoon activity is available. For Tullos, this was her “sixth class.” Mr. Gould would assign a chapter, which she would read and then answer questions at the end. She would submit her answers via Google Classroom and, in some cases, a lab would be completed. They began the year with mineral identification, where Tullos would often come in and complete labs in the back of Gould’s AP Chemistry class. More recently, the work switched gears into paper labs and interpreting data.

In addition to her love of Geology, Tullos is active on the Tilton theater scene, an avid writer, and quite the talented film editor. She has produced many videos surrounding her favorite topic: rocks. One, titled What’s in a Cave?” was submitted for a scholarship. She was chosen as one of the 10 finalists out of 1800 applicants, winning $1,000 towards her college education.  Her videos about rocks and other science-related topics are fast fan favorites around campus.

“Her videos could be used in schools. They are that quality,” Gould said. “There's a business in here, creating these videos for middle and high schools.”

After graduation, Tullos wants to study geology in college. After being accepted to a number of colleges, including the prestigious Colorado School of Mines, she decided to attend Hamilton College (NY) in the fall.

As for her experience with the ILE itself, Tullos said she gained a better knowledge of rock and mineral identification. It was not only an enjoyable process but a better way pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

“Doing an ILE is fun, it’s something you enjoy. Homework isn’t homework because it’s something you would be doing anyway,” she said. “It’s a bit more involved, but I think it’s a really good opportunity to work one-on-one to focus on your weak points and figure out your strengths. It’s a different kind of effectiveness than your traditional class.”

From an educators point of view, Mr. Gould believes the ILE to be a fruitful experience for any student looking to further explore a topic of great interest.

“This was Anika’s 6th class, which shows me that a student is really interested in doing it if they’re willing to make it their sixth class on top of five APs,” he said. “When people are really interested in doing something, then you’re no longer the teacher. You’re just guiding them along.”

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