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A few teachers at my school were brainstorming the possibility of developing a senior year project that would involve each senior identifying an area of interest and over the course of the year developing a major project building on this interest. Fitting in with the public purpose direction our school is developing, each project would need to have a significant element of benefiting others.

Could those of you from schools with significant senior year projects share what you see as the pluses and minuses of your approach?

Thanks for any information you are willing to share.


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At Catlin Gabel, seniors design their projects during the school year, and they stop regular classes and work on the projects full-time from May 9 - May 31. Projects are required to be off-campus and most follow an internship/apprenticeship model. Students blog on their projects several times a week and choose whether to make their posts public or limit them to the community. All students have an on-campus advisor and an off-campus mentor.

We have been very happy with the program. The students invent amazing projects and accomplish a lot. One negative is the amount of work required from the senior project committee to review project proposals and deal with recalcitrant students and other unusual circumstances. Also, the effect of the program on the four-year high school curriculum is uncertain. It would be terrific to see the core program become more experiential as a result.

For more information:

We are using the WISE program with our seniors. The basic model is that the seniors have to propose a 10-week/10-hours-per-week internship with a professional in a field that they would like to pursue. They have to have a faculty mentor that they check in with weekly, and who is responsible for checking in with their internship supervisor. They've got a series of weekly journal prompts to discuss with the mentor, and then do an hour-long presentation to a panel of WISE alums, faculty and parents. I'm not sure of exact numbers, but I think we had ~60 students (a third of our senior class) take part in this last year.

I mentored a student doing this last year, and the basic framework seems good. The big challenges are definitely finding and designing the internship -- the on-site supervisor really has to be on board with it. The more that the student can get real experience, rather than just shadowing, the more worthwhile the hours, of course. I think there's also some gray area around whether students are tracking hours or experience in their internships -- and that if the accountability system is too tied up in specific hours and check-ins, it de-motivates the student to really dig into the internship. (By the same focus, reminding seniors that they _do_ need to track hours and prepare well for that hour-long presentation is just as important. But balance is key...)
I used to go to Roxbury Latin, where the senior project was a major part of the curriculum. They called it an Independent Senior Project because students would actually work independently outside of the classroom. They lasted for about a month toward the end of the year and often involved active collaboration with a business or a trade. Some seniors spent time as teaching assistants, others worked for professional sports teams or newspapers, and yet others spent time privately developing artwork. I made a set of short films along with a classmate of mine. We were asked to report on our work every week and spent 8 hours a day working on the projects. Ultimately, we made 3 presentations to members of the school community after the end of final exams.

Where I work now, at SCVNGR, we would be looking for students interested in doing senior projects. Additionally, though we license our software to schools, I would be happy to license it for free to schools who will use it for educational purposes like this. In short, it is a mobile game that students can learn how to build for their communities.

I hope this helps!

At Marlborough, we have been going round a bit on this issue, with no forward progress as yet. There's general agreement that a Senior Year Project sounds like a good idea, but not a lot of willingness to change the status quo. I hope you're able to get something interesting in place, Fred.

From Higher Ed, I recently saw an interesting example of a senior project being done at Portland State University. Watch the video here -->

I am intrigued by the idea of a capstone project that synthesizes knowledge from across disciplines in a field that the student chooses. I think for your school, Fred, and to my way of thinking, the project should make a tangible contribution to the community. Would be interesting to see such a thing in place. Lick-Wilmerding in S.F. has a few such projects. Might be something interesting to investigate.
Thanks for all the great replies! Very helpful. If others with senior projects would also share that would be wonderful!
At North Shore Country Day, we have a senior service project. It is the final two weeks of the senior year -- seniors are released from classes at this point (the last week of the term and exam week for younger students). It is required. The students must complete about 60 hours of service over the two weeks. The students have to set up the project themselves, and there is a fairly intensive process that begins with learning about the project, reviewing the best practices of service learning, reflecting on past service experiences, completing a proposal, and writing a research paper on their chosen organization. Both before and after the project, students must reflect on their experience, either in writing or in a video, and the final portion is a presentation and celebration evening in the week before graduation in which all students present their experiences; agency partners, families, and other students are invited.

We place a huge emphasis on student ownership of this project. While I am more than happy to give guidance on potential projects, I will not make the placement for students -- they have to do it themselves. By and large, in the seven or so years I have been part of the program, this has resulted in extremely conscientious and diligent work on the students' parts. While of course some students put more into it than others, it has been a transformative experience for many of our students. In ideal cases, students use information from the subjects that they are most interested in to create their projects and/or continue their work with the subject or organization beyond graduation.

One more note -- everything is run online. In the past I have used ning, but now I am using Google Sites. Having the project centered online allows us to invite parents, teachers, and community partners to see the process unfold, which is an important part of it as well, and it means I never have to give out any forms or chase down anyone's reflection journals.

I think we have a really great project, and I would be more than glad to talk to folks at other schools who are considering setting up a senior service project.

So--Fred, I am wondering where this research ended up?  Did you give it a go?  We have a limited senior project that we are looking to expand.



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