The Senior Project: Demonstrating Academics Alongside Life Skills

Schools around the country have turned to Senior Projects as a way to synthesize and demonstrate a student’s intellectual as well as life skills. Typically, such projects arise out of students’ individual passions or interests and are mentored by an outside expert in the field. At Henry M. Jackson High School outside Seattle, students spend an entire year pulling together their independent projects. A few of some 350 projects presented at Jackson High School in 2000:

  • A senior girl explored the demands of marathon running, and trained to run a marathon herself.
  • A boy with a passion for electronics built his own sound board, then served as recording engineer for a local band’s CD.
  • Fascinated by the interactions of gorilla communities, one girl observed a gorilla colony weekly at the local zoo and conducted e-mail interviews with Jane Goodall.

Senior Project is a year-long class at Jackson, and the work is assessed throughout, with rubrics for each stage. The May presentation culminates the process, with students describing to a jury of Senior Project teacher-assessors their guiding questions, research, project activities, and resulting learning. Guidelines for each stage are explicit, as follows:

Preliminary Steps (September through mid-November)

    1. Review your life goals and aspirations. Identify areas of interest and subjects that interest you.
    2. Make initial primary source contacts, and investigate other likely sources.
    3. Begin a journal that records activities, observations, and responses related to your learning.
    4. Locate and confirm a mentor or instructor and submit the Mentor/Instructor Correspondence Form and the Parent Aproval Form.
    5. Meet with your mentor to complete the Senior Project Proposal Form and Action Plan, then submit it to your Senior Project teacher for approval.
    6. Revise the proposal if necessary.

Project Phase I (Annotated Bibliography and Project Activities) (mid-November through early April)

Step I. Preliminary Investigation 1.

    1. Investigate what you need to know in order to accomplish your learning goals.
    2. Investigate where you can find that information.

Step II. Guiding Questions

    1. 1. Develop questions to guide your information- gathering process.
    2. Use your guiding questions to gather information from interviews and other sources.

Step III. Annotations and Citations

    1. Write an annotation for each source that summarizes the answers to your guiding questions.
    2. Evaluate the credibility and usefulness of each source.
    3. Cite your sources correctly in MLA style.

Step IV. Project Activities and Documentation

    1. Maintain a regular, updated journal recording your progress.
    2. Document your progress in other ways: videotape, audiotape, photographs, rough drafts, notes, other preliminary products.
    3. Meet regularly with your mentor for feedback and advice.
    4. Submit your documentation of progress.
    5. Complete and submit your project for evaluation.

Presentation Phase (mid-April to mid-May)

    1. Prepare an abstract that details the main points of your project phase.
    2. Prepare a visual or technological component for your presentation, if appropriate.
    3. Prepare the entire oral presentation of your project.
    4. Practice your presentation.
    5. Make your presentation to the panel.

Reflective Phase (late May and early June)

    1. Write a rough draft of your reflective paper.
    2. Revise your paper after feedback and conferencing.
    3. Proofread, edit, and polish your paper.
    4. Submit final draft for evaluation.