The culminating project

A current WA high school graduation requirement is some form of a culminating project. Theoretically, this project should be student initiated and serve as an important capstone achievement to document student learning while at high school.

Gardner (2011) tells of her school’s implementation of the “senior project.” She describes the project as a relevant, rigorous, and authentic assessment. It serves to strengthen connections with the local community and has become a “student-driven rite of passage” to celebrate one’s high school experience.  While completed in a student’s senior year, it is, actually, a demonstration of skills and knowledge acquired throughout high school, if not throughout all the K-12 years.

The process  includes:

  1. Students begin the project by selecting a topic of their choice. They are asked to describe the topic and explain how this will expand their learning in a letter that must be submitted and then approved in committee.
  2. The student then addresses the “4 P’s”: paper, project, portfolio, and presentation throughout the year.
  3. Paper – The students write a thesis-driven research paper on their topic. It includes has a specified length, a required number of references, appropriate visuals, and must include a report on an interview with an expert associated on the topic. Once the paper is approved, students can proceed to the next ‘P’.
  4. Project – Students then spend some time gathering data or conducting a field experience with a mentor in the field/community. A minimum number of hours is prescribed as part of the process. Students need to set-up these opportunities themselves.
  5. Portfolio – Students must document their project time with evidence in a digital portfolio. This will likely include video artifacts, journal entries, podcasts, images, etc.
  6. Presentation – Once the project and portfolio have been successfully completed, students share their project in a formal presentation before a panel of teachers, advisors, mentors and community members.

Gardner mentions a number of benefits in addition to the authentic learning experience that asks students to solve problems, read and write critically, and analyze the validity of information on the Internet. For example, students develop courtesy skills that are required in networking, foster a respect for academic integrity, learn to adhere to strict deadlines, dress professionally, and keep commitments. The feeling of empowerment after completing a significant project cannot be underestimated  either.

__________

Gardner, N. (2011, Oct. 26) Senior projects: A cure for senioritisEducation Week Teacher. Accessed Oct. 27, 2011 through Education Week.

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