One of our guiding beliefs here at New Milford High School is that our students will find purpose and meaning in their respective learning experiences. Over the years we have added a series of new courses (19 in just two years), re-written the curriculum of existing courses, made available online courses as part of the VHS Collaborative, and developed numerous authentic learning experiences focusing on the unique interests of our learners. All of these components have become critical elements of the Academies at New Milford High School. As a result of these changes and the creation of the Academies, we have seen increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and acceptances to four-year colleges.
Earlier this month I shared the Independent Open CourseWare Study (IOCS) project on this blog. The IOCS project empowered our students to follow their learning passions and actively demonstrate new knowledge that was acquired. We wanted students to have the freedom to learn about anything they were interested in using content from some of the most prestigious universities in the country while also unleashing their creativity. In addition to this project, a book study on the Alchemist, and numerous off-campus field trips, Academy students develop a capstone project as a culminating experience. This provides each student the opportunity to describe where he or she has been and where he or she is headed.
The final product has to be presented in a digital format and must be reflective of the theme “where I have been and where I am headed” or reflective of “your personal journey” in an authentic application. Basically, students need to explain their personal/academic journey thus far and describe their goals: academically, personally and/or professionally. No matter the creative avenue students’ choose to pursue (songs, poems, dramatic interpretations, artistic renderings etc.); the essential criteria must still be met. This includes the following:
- Must make direct reference to essential learnings throughout your NMHS coursework, which have influenced who you are and your aspirations. Tell the viewer what NMHS has taught you about yourself and life.
- Must include legal (school) name and graduation year within the body of the presentation.
- Must have an academic focus but can still include sports, arts, clubs, service etc.
- Must include things you would like to do, learn, understand, see, improve, create or experience.
- Must capture the attention of the audience (teachers, administrators, peers).
- Must be original and make references to sources where appropriate (background music, art work, quotations, etc.)
- Must make direct mention of NMHS in some way, via symbols or direct reference.
- Must make direct mention of major Academy designation, via symbol, crest or direct reference.
- Must make direct reference to any endorsement that may be sought.
- Must offer evidence of any of the 21St Century Skills acquired: collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, media literacy, technological proficiency, global awareness, and preparation for college, careers and life. Label essential elements for clarity of scoring. Don’t make us guess what the images, symbols or people represent.
- Must reflect interests and personality.
Below is an example of one of the more creative capstone projects by senior Tariq Khan:
The capstone experience provides our students with an opportunity to tie together social, emotional, family, and learning experiences in a creative way to share their personal journey. This exposition of learning not only allows them to reflect upon their time at NMHS, but also provides us with a glimpse as to what we re doing well and where we can improve as a school.
Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.