iLEAD Online Science Facilitator Offers Innovative, Personalized Project-Based Learning

The worlds of advanced placement and project-based learning have not always aligned well. Indeed, many have argued that they are often the antithetical to one another. But iLEAD Online science facilitator Samin Davari is dispelling that myth. The six-year veteran, who is also the AP and testing coordinator, innovates and models lifelong learning.

iLEAD Online facilitator Samin Davari

Davari’s original professional experience was in chemistry and food science, working in a flavoring lab. She brought this unique experience to iLEAD six years ago, first to iLEAD NoHo before moving to iLEAD Online. Currently, she facilitates the core science classes of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physical science.

AP Capstone

Davari is in the process of launching a new AP Capstone, a two-year program that includes both a seminar and research-based course. According to Davari, receiving AP approval for this program was a challenge that required three years of planning.

What makes this AP Program unique is that it’s very learner-driven, Davari said. “It can be whatever a learner wants it to be. They can investigate what they want to.”

Learners choose any topic in which they want to dive deep over a two-year, two-course experience. It can be science, humanities, anthropology and more. “I know of a learner who took the AP Capstone and chose midwifery,” Davari said.

She likes the idea that learners get to choose their own topic and they have to make the connections to science, history, writing and their core subjects.

“AP has always set high expectations,” Davari said. “But what I love about this AP Capstone course is that it takes that level of rigor and adds deeper learning and student choice.”

Currently recruiting learners for the first cohort beginning next fall, Davari said that learners can start it in either 10th or 11th grade.

Innovative Science Projects

Davari said that her early science education was primarily traditional. In her chosen field of chemistry, she said there was an emphasis on memorizing facts. However, during her last year of college, she had nothing short of a deeper-learning epiphany. “I came across the course that changed my way of thinking,” Davari said. “It connected everything we were doing to everything we have learned.”

As a facilitator, she realized she wanted her learners to have their first real-world experiences earlier in their education.
“It’s exciting and important for young people to have these moments as early and as often as possible,” she said.

Davari has become known across iLEAD Online and the iLEAD Network as being a rock-star facilitator who designs and implements unique projects. One that stands out is her Biology Reflection Project. Learners study various scientists and leaders in the scientific community, as well as those who are also artists — known as polymaths.

One learner chose to study the COVID-19 pandemic through these lenses and how it relates to history, social and cultural impacts, economics and more.

Another learner, who is an actress, studied the “why” behind understanding a character.

“It’s about going beyond what we’re just interested in and applying science, research and discovery,” Davari said.

Like all committed lifelong learners and facilitators, Davari is continually adjusting her instructional practices. She is evolving a system in which learners can choose 10 things that are core experiences of learning. These become modified pathways that include projects and model personalized, deeper learning at some very high levels.

“If learners want to pursue one of those, they can meet the course requirements,” she said. “It’s a different way to view a course. It’s really about personalization and customization.”

The Fans

Davari has made quite an impression on her colleagues. iLEAD Online Program Coordinator Kate Wolfe said that Davari is flexible and creative while simultaneously encouraging her learners to challenge themselves.

“Samin is truly an expert in her craft,” Wolfe said. “She intuitively knows that authentic learning isn’t about one set way to do things. She is always ready to shift gears to find the best way to engage learners in meaningful and personal ways.”

iLEAD’s Director of STEAM Initiatives Kathleen Fredette echoed Wolfe’s sentiments. “Her love and commitment to learning inform who she is as a person as well as an educator,” Fredette said. “That spark of curiosity, the excitement of learning new stuff, and the deepening expertise with content and skills has a spiraling and rippling effect that impacts learners and colleagues alike.”

Not Business as Usual

For the humble Davari, it’s just another day at the office. She says she gets her inspiration from words from iLEAD Online Director Erin Jones who is known to advise her facilitators to just say yes when learners have ideas.

“I sometimes have a compromise. But I always start with yes,” Davari said. “The learner is heard. It’s important to listen. I want my learners to care and ask about their learning needs.”

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