WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers has published four sets of unique “capstone“ learning projects for teachers and students to bring finality, excitement and a sense of achievement to a disrupted school year.
The union‘s Culminating Capstone Projects initiative aims to engage the 55 million K-12 students affected by school closures by providing them with a concrete assignment to focus on during the remaining weeks of the spring semester.
The discrete projects organized by grade band—now live and available to America’s teachers on the AFT’s sharemylesson.com—enable K-12 students to hone and deploy the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired over the first seven months of classroom learning in innovative, meaningful ways. And they provide a far better way to sum up learning than a high-stakes test.
A cadre of preK-12 AFT members from across the nation came together in virtual teams to design the standards-based integrated content, offering capstone ideas that are grade-level and developmentally appropriate.
The projects can also be deployed during a voluntary summer learning program, or as a re-entry into the next school year—whenever that happens. Students demonstrate learning in multiple ways, such as writing a story or song, scrapbooking and counting objects in the home. Many projects are low-tech or no-tech ideas that respect the digital divide that has been exposed during the crisis.
For example, the grades 3-5 “We Are All Connected” project lays out a plan for students to study the interconnectedness of our planet and how humans can impact nature in both positive and negative ways. Students read an anchor text, build and/or review background information regarding biodiversity and the ecosystem, and then create a final project that could include a brochure, a poster or a digital presentation they can share on a new app created by AFT members: Zigazoo.
In the grades 9-12 “Overcoming Challenges Through the Lens of Social Justice” project, students can select a social struggle of their own choosing and carry out a literature review, data analysis, a recommendation and an end product that could be a video essay, or a poster with an accompanying written or video speech submitted using StoryCorps Connect.
All of the necessary resources, including hyperlinks, activity sheets and question prompts, are provided. Teachers can adapt and modify the ideas, tailoring them for individual students and classrooms.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “These capstone plans are by educators and for educators. They are tailor-made for teachers grappling with the puzzle of how to end the school year in an engaging and productive way. They help with things teachers are always searching for: accessible and culturally relevant teaching resources, ways to gauge the impact of their instructional efforts, and opportunities for students to demonstrate and reflect on their learning for themselves, their teachers and their families. And the projects demonstrate that summing up our students’ learning can be a far better assessment than any high-stakes standardized test.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that students already have completed at least seven months of learning. We need to make sure to honor this, not invalidate it, and offer kids both closure and a bridge to next year. With these capstone projects in hand, teachers can hope to engage each and every one of their students before school breaks for the summer—and beyond.”
The Culminating Capstone Projects are available for free download at sharemylesson.com.