Last week, Edgewood fifth graders presented their ambitious capstone projects to teachers, fellow students, parents, and friends. “Capstone” is a multi-step research endeavor for all Scarsdale fifth graders based on a student’s interests and curiosity. Traditionally, capstone projects are reserved for high school seniors, but the project was put in place for fifth graders by Superintendent of Schools Michael McGill in 2006.
The students identify a topic they want to study and complete an intensive, fully integrated study of the subject. They identify, select and evaluate appropriate resources that include books, Websites (no Wikipedia), images, documents, and at least one interview and site visit. One child traveled to the Museum of Natural History to see gemstones up close, another tried to make ice cream at home while yet another visited a chocolate factory. In the final stages of the project, children synthesize information and create a comprehensive project highlighting all they have learned. The capstone experience requires students to ask meaningful questions, take ownership of their learning, demonstrate independence and employ time management skills to meet deadlines. Avery Rubin, whose topic was “How is the human eye capable of seeing so many different shades and hues?” had this to say about her project. “The eye is amazing. It can do many things. It can see more than 1,000 colors. Whenever you see something, the process of what you see happens in less than a zillionth of a second. The information I learned from my research was really useful and I’m going to remember everything I learned.” For her project, Avery, who will be Popham next year, visited an eye doctor’s office and took pictures of all the equipment.
Teachers organized the event so that every child had at least two visitors and every visitor saw at least two displays, thus ensuring that children whose parents could not attend had an audience. This year’s presentations at Edgewood included such diverse topics as: how is chocolate made, the Great Wall of China, gemstones, the Eiffel Tower, why did the Titanic sink, what inspired Walt Disney, nanotechnology, who was Steve Jobs, and what is coral (with the presenter sporting a nice coral necklace).
Students did everything from putting together slide shows on computers (with technology teacher Mr. Tomizawa pitching in when computers would not cooperate) to building the Great Wall of China out of recycled materials to crafting an eyeball out of clay. Along the way some children hit roadblocks with their presentations (one student learned you cannot glue sugar cubes together even with tacky glue to make a wall because they disintegrate), but in the end, everyone succeeded and the students’ efforts should be applauded. Here are some photos of the presentations. Note all the smiling faces.