iLEAD Online Middle School Team Goes Bigger, Broader And Deeper With Capstone Projects
As education becomes more project-based, career-focused and skill-oriented, many are looking to incorporate Capstone Projects into their curriculum. These are multi-faceted, cross-curricular pursuits that serve as a culminating curricular and intellectual experiences at the conclusion of an academic period. They are designed to encourage learners to think critically, solve challenging problems and develop skills that will help prepare them for college, modern careers and adult life. iLEAD Online’s Middle School Team has implemented some very unique capstone experiences this year.
The 7th and 8th Team – Katie Allington, Katherine Witzmann and Ben Williams – have established a quarterly capstone project as part of the iLEAD Online Adventure Program. This program combines all core class (English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Science) standards for each grade level that also includes hands-on learning activities and authentic, cross-disciplinary challenges. Although each class in the adventure is taught separately, learners are asked to present a cumulative project that connects to each class.
These capstone projects have diverse driving questions that are designed to give the learners choice, creativity and multiple means of demonstrating their learning. To see the depth and expectations involved, here is the 1st quarter project from 7th Grade and 8th Grade respectively. More recently, here is what the 7th Graders were challenged with in their 3rd Quarter Project.
While connecting all of their courses, learners are asked to produce products from a diverse list of options. These include choices such as brochures, videos, slideshows and podcasts. Presentation choices also vary. 1st quarter projects were presented on Zoom and Flipgrid, while 2nd quarter projects were primarily presented as a recording in Brightspace on a discussion board. Through all of these presentations, learners are expected to give feedback to their fellow learners.
Skills and Thrills
Although in its first year, the middle school team is very excited about how the learners have embraced the various challenges while simultaneously showcasing their knowledge, skills, creativity and ownership.
“They are getting skills for their futures that many learners don’t get until they are in college or even their careers,” said Allington. “They learn how to manage themselves and how to communicate with others.”
Williams agreed on the skill development of their learners.
“They are having lots of opportunities for agency, self growth and responsibility,” said Williams. “They are learning content, but also soft skills. They are becoming independent learners.”
The facilitators also enjoy seeing the final products and presentations.
“These learners are using their creativity and freedom to align these projects with their interests,” said Witzman. “All of the products are unique and look very different.”
This diversity reminds the facilitators about how each learner is unique in their own way. The facilitators feel that this work is a great example of how to personalize learning.
“We embrace the individuality of each learner,” said Allington. “They work at their own pace to such a degree that they can go as far as they want, but also get support when needed.”
iLEAD Online 8th Grader Bradley Bundle wanted to choose something important because he wanted time spent to be worthwhile. He said that he and his brother have been volunteering to help the homeless for several years and were inspired to make a music video. (see Bradley’s video here)
“I love doing these kinds of projects because it brings out my creative side,” he said. “But more importantly, it got me thinking deeper about our city’s homeless situation.”
The team said that parents have been very positive about these capstone projects. According to Williams, one parent said that her learner went from not enjoying school to being really engaged. Allington said some parents have expressed enthusiasm for the various products that learners are producing.
iLEAD Online Parent Denise Bradley acknowledged that these capstone projects are bringing out the best in many learners – including her own. She’s excited about her son’s skill development.
“This particular project was special because my boys are both musicians. Bradley already knew how to edit sound, but now learned video editing,” she said. “It was great watching him put so much effort into this project because it was meaningful to him.”
iLEAD Online Leadership Resident and Program Coordinator Emilie Evenson has been extremely impressed with the middle school team and the learners on these projects.
“Katie, Ben and Katherine have gone above and beyond to create a virtual learning community that is engaging and relatable,” said Evenson. “They continue to adapt to learner feedback to help meet the needs of all their individual learners.”
iLEAD PBL Coach Thom Markham connected these projects to what is happening in the global world of work.
“We wonder now why so many people are quitting their jobs. It’s because they want more rewarding, creative and engaging work,” said Markham. “That’s the same secret sauce I’ve seen in the iLEAD Online projects: authentic work with meaningful challenges.”
These facilitators hope that other educators pick up the mantle and work to include these capstone experiences in their classes.
For Witzman, it’s about the benefits of peer collaboration for educators.
“Cross-curricular collaboration is the key,” she said. “It’s much easier to think outside the box when bouncing ideas off of one another.”
Williams concurred. “Collaboration on work like this is a must,” he said.
For Allington, she would like to challenge other facilitators to let go of perfection and take the risk of doing something amazing with one’s learners.
“Get the kids going and having some fun. Then you can ramp it up from there,” she said. “You can always evolve it over time, but you have to get started.”