Field Experts Help Capstone Students toward Deeper Learning
By Cassandra Pasion
The state’s graduation guidelines have been in development since 2007. The goal of the graduation guidelines is to ensure that students don’t get left behind in Colorado’s changing economy. The guidelines mean significant changes for students. The Class of 2022 will be the first class to demonstrate their readiness in Reading, Writing and Communicating (English) and Mathematics through the graduation guidelines menu. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone started four years ago in the district for implementation at the building level.
Already, Colorado employers cannot find enough workers to fill jobs in some manufacturing, health, technology, and science-based industries. They say that students are not prepared to be successful in thousands of available jobs in our state. So, to prepare students for the next step after high school, Capstone projects provide students the opportunity to apply the skills such as research, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
Capstone is a district-defined option from the menu of options to meet CDE’s graduation readiness requirements or the graduation guidelines. Jeffco provides a Capstone option for all students that is available in our 17 high schools and a few of our choice schools. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone is designed to provide students with the opportunity to showcase their academic achievement, enduring knowledge, and unique talents. Students may complete the Graduation Capstone during any year during high school to demonstrate college and career readiness in Reading, Writing, and Communicating (English) and/or Mathematics.
The Jeffco Graduation Capstone may be a stand-alone course or embedded in a content course such as English 11, English 12, Statistics, or Geometry. Some high schools use Advisement as a way to schedule Graduation Capstone for students to complete as it is a multifaceted project that incorporates content mastery in Reading, Writing and Communicating (RWC) and Mathematics. Students will also need to demonstrate essential and employability skills. There are considerations to meet the needs of students with disabilities and English as a second language if they complete the Graduation Capstone as an option to meet the graduation readiness requirements.
An important component of project work is providing opportunities for students to learn from field experts (Helm & Katz, 2016). As students complete their capstone projects, questions often come up that aren’t directly related to a lesson plan and this becomes an opportunity for students to delve into their Capstones deeper through interviewing a field expert. This provides students a better understanding of the world that we live in as they apply skills required in college and/or career.
Any field expert or mentorship enhances a student’s capstone experience, exposing them to industry and other experts in the field. The field expert or mentor provides an authentic, real-world experience for the student. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone is different from most other forms of research because it directs students away from books and out into the world to learn from hands-on experience. Students are required to conduct one informational interview with a field expert/mentor connected to their Capstone topic in person, by phone, or virtually. An informational interview is a meeting to learn about the real-life experience of someone working in a field, organization, or company that interests the student or relevant to a field of study. It's not a job interview, so it's important for students to keep focused on getting information, not a job offer.
To prepare for the informational interviews, students learn how to identify and define “network” and “networking." As students learn the skill of networking, they seek out community members, organizations or businesses that have a direct connection to their Capstone topic to conduct an informational interview by using their networks. This process provides students the opportunity to make connections and build or expand their networks to enhance their knowledge. As students build a professional network, they learn how to communicate in a professional manner and exchange information related to their Capstone projects with industry or subject-matter experts. Through this work, students can then explain, defend, and apply their Graduation Capstone work to demonstrate Reading, Writing and Communicating (English) and/or Mathematics readiness.
Cassandra Pasion and Suzanne Sundbye support teachers and/or schools with professional development, co-teaching or modeling of lessons regarding the Capstone Essentials for Graduation Readiness. As a team, we want to assist schools and/or teachers to grow essential and employability skills for students through the Graduation Capstones, so schools can grow their capstone programs successfully.
Curriculum & Instruction