Capstones & Project-Based Learning
Capstones and project-based learning provide opportunities for students to address relevant, real-world problems that businesses, communities, or individuals face while demonstrating their knowledge and skills. Both capstones and project-based learning incorporate a culminating exhibition of the project and the student’s findings as a way to measure learning and competencies gained during the structured experience. This section focuses on projects and experiences that leverage industry and community partners.
Benefits and Challenges
- Add relevancy to students’ learning by providing real-world problems for projects and capstones
- Build awareness and interest among students who may be prospective employees down the road
- Build relationships with schools and educators in communities where your employees live and work
- Get fresh student perspectives on today’s most pressing issues
- Finding local educators or district partners
- Making the time to develop a project or capstone in collaboration with an educator
Students & Educators
- Educators can bring standards to life in a meaningful, authentic, and engaging way
- Opportunity to work alongside industry experts
- Students engage in real challenges facing businesses to better understand their passions, potential career paths and the types of projects involved
- An option for demonstrating mastery of competencies in order to graduate under Colorado Graduation Guidelines
- Shift in pedagogy for some educators
- Finding community partners to contribute project ideas and engage with students and educators
Business Role in Capstones and Projects
Create Relevant Projects
One entry point for business is supporting the creation of relevant projects. In the ideal state, businesses engage directly with educators to collaboratively develop projects. However, there are many ways to participate and it’s important to determine what level is right for you.
In general, projects:
- are rooted in relevant context involving actual tools, scenarios, and activities
- provide a scenario where students can demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and learning around a relevant subject matter
- can be made public when completed, as most students report out the results of their project through public presentations
Become an Industry Partner
The role of an industry partner is to share expertise and perspective with students to guide them, and serve as a thought partner for both educators and students throughout the project experience.
Participating as an industry partner will likely involve:
- on-going check-in meetings with students and educators
- providing real-world experience and applicability regularly to the skills being learned
- opportunities for students to work alongside you or other industry experts at your company to practice skills learned and build social capital
Review District Graduation Policies
Since creating a capstone program is a shift in the approach of a school or district, it is important to first review the graduation requirement policies for your district. Here are some examples of policies submitted to CDE.
Document Your Plans
Some districts have created a list of minimum criteria that must be documented and presented for the district to approve any capstone project.
Key elements include:
- Purpose and goals of the school’s capstone portfolio plan
- Implementation steps, associated barriers, and mitigation strategies
- Progress is outlined for monitoring college and career readiness, starting with a student’s capstone inception and continuing through completion
- An oversight committee is outlined to supervise, guide, and audit the capstone portfolio for ensuring equal rigor to other pathways
- A rigorous portfolio assessment and evaluation process that promotes fairness and ensures students will be ready for college and/or career
- Products and artifacts are tied to rubrics built from standards/competencies in English or Math that clearly define college and career readiness outcome (if to be used to meet graduation requirements
Plan for Reflection
As students complete their capstone projects, it can be easy to forget to make time with your partner (business or school) to reflect on the process and plan improvements for future years. The partnership can be evaluated on several levels:
- Did students get a relevant experience that met the rigorous criteria set out at the start of the program?
- Was the capstone project rigorous? Did it push students to think critically about a real-life challenge or opportunity
- How did the working relationship of the school and business project leads serve each person’s or group’s needs?
- What could be done differently to make future projects more meaningful and impactful for both students and business partners?
Examples and Partners
Roaring Fork School District requires all 12th graders to complete their Capstone Program prior to graduating. Community experts from all backgrounds are invited to lend their experience and support to students.