Flood Brook monument with students

This Is Really Scary (And I’ve Never Been More Excited)

When asked “what is your working definition of personalized learning?” Charlie Herzog, an educator at Flood Brook replied:

Relevancy is the essence of personalized learning. It’s about giving students voice & choice regarding content, and offering multiple pathways to explore/learn the chosen content. It’s about students reflecting on their learning journeys; considering where they’ve come from, and where they desire to take their learning next.”

We think this definition works equally well for the adult learners doing the hard work of designing and orchestrating personalized learning. Once Herzog launched this year’s crew at Flood Brook School with the intention of putting his working definition into practice, he too found time to reflect on his learning journey and consider where to take his learning next. Here’s Herzog’s candid and courageous reflection, which reminds us how vulnerable and thrilling this journey can be.

–Susan Hennessey & Bill Rich


But There Will Be Graphic Organizers

I never-endingly wrestle with our integrated studies endeavor at Flood Brook. We integrate science and social studies around compelling questions while employing a “project-based” approach, in multiage fashion, grades 6-8.

Among the students the reviews are mixed. If we offered them a thumbs up or down poll I fear the results. What then? In the name of personalization do we end it? If they don’t want it, and what they want is science and social studies completely separate, why not do it? Hell, it would be easier for me to end it.

No, I’m not ready to end it. The reason is I haven’t done project-based learning right. I haven’t personalized it enough.

I trapped myself. Under the burden of urgency I fell into the comfortable: deliver content, provide graphic organizers, require Cornell note-taking, check all the boxes…and now start the project and be excited about it. Sure, be excited by it after I sucked all the air out of it. I understand why students might feel integrated studies is a slog.

I was about to do it again. Oh, the content is always delivered with a certain flair. It wouldn’t have been boring, but there would be graphic organizers to fill out.

My partner, Joey Blane, snapped me out of it. Turns out, her spirit for integrated studies needed a jump start too. Weren’t the kids supposed to like this? Weren’t we?

We changed the entire plan we wrote at MGI. Now we’re going to build a monument that’s going to address, “Why should we care about human rights?” We have zero idea what it’s going to look like because the kids are going to design and build the whole thing.

This is really scary. What if it’s a disaster? It’s beyond my comfort zone. But doesn’t project-based learning push all teachers beyond their comfort zone?

The root of our problem with integrated studies is we haven’t personalized it enough. Yes, we offer a slew of project options. Yes, we give students choice of compelling questions to pursue. Yes, we give students a voice in the planning of the units. But we haven’t put the project at the front of the experience.

This New Tech Network image graphically represents what I’m getting at here.


Despite our hard work, our excitement, and our best intentions for our students, we haven’t given kids reason to care. In my mind I hear, Even if I did care, even a little about it at the start, you’ve tortured the content to such an extent that any motivation I had to start the project is dead.

So, I’m going to spend quite some time learning about engineering monuments, human rights issues, activism, symbolism, physical sciences, etc. I don’t know what the monument is going to look like. I don’t know how to build it. Beyond the Holocaust, I have no idea what human rights issues we’ll be investigating, nor do I have any idea what form of activism the students will take.

I’m scared. I’m really nervous, but I’m excited, and I haven’t been this excited in a while.


Herzog’s updated inquiry question now reads “How might putting the project at the front of a project-based learning experience increase personalization for students?”

Watch the video below and consider visiting his class to learn more about his journey. Schedule a visit here!