Monday, January 1, 2018

Capstone Projects: My New Approach to Google Projects

This post has been in my head since the beginning of school this year, when I stepped back from the previous Google projects I had done with my classes, that tended to yield mostly good but sometimes really lacking results, and thought about what I really wanted from my class. This year I am responsible for Latin IV lesson plans, and all of my Latin IV students are seniors.

I realized that what I wanted most was to help them find a way to contribute to the Classics community, where they have found a home for the past four years. So my approach this year has been to build the Google project into something ambitious: a year-long project that either contributes to publicity about Latin or creates new resources for Latin teachers.

So I renamed the project "Senior Capstone Project" and put aside a notebook to use exclusively with the project to record my meetings with students.

Pictured here with a strategically placed Starbucks card
to protect the innocent.
They got one day to discuss with others what they would like to do for their projects and to form groups for that purpose. One of my recommended projects was to teach a small Latin class at the nearby elementary school. I had several students interested in that option, so I contacted the school's principle, we had an amazingly animated and productive meeting, and my students were organized to teach at the elementary school once a month. Since I had so many interested, they divided into four groups, each with its own set of 15 elementary students. On the very first day they all returned excited and bursting with how much fun they had teaching the younger students. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the day to discuss their ideas and plans, I met with each group the next day and discussed their plans in detail. This gave me a chance to help them organize their approaches and to help them extend a project if it was underwhelming, and to help them scale a project back if it was overreaching.

Since then, I meet with each group once a week, check in on their progress and see if they need any extra direction to move forward. So far:
  • I have nine students (!) teaching four classes at the elementary school. I meet with them and help them design their lesson plans so the classes will be fun and engaging.
  • I have four groups designing games either steeped in Classics knowledge or in Latin itself. Two are basing theirs off preexisting games and creating their own spin, and two are completely new. We have talked about realistic options for production, the importance of Copyright law, and the need for alpha and beta-testing new games.
  • I have two coloring books being designed, one at novice Latin level and one advanced. The advanced book is very ambitious, and if they are able to create as much as they hope, it should be fantastic.
  • I have a pair working on translating songs into Latin and (eventually) recording them. They began based on the theme of internet memes, which has morphed completely into songs from LazyTown.
  • One student is designing an online magazine based in Classical culture but designed with a modern aesthetic. I get to see its progress each week, and am enjoying it very much.
  • One student is writing a blog over Roman clothing. He has explored themes, like military gear, as well as the basic Roman ensemble. 
At the halfway point, I feel like most groups are where they should be for successful completion by the end of the school year. There are a few that are struggling, and we had a serious discussion over their commitment and my expectations. 

Now I am looking back at my previous Google Projects and wondering how I could bring this level of focus to a younger group, like my Latin I students. One very nice perk to Google projects is that they make it much easier to write compelling student recommendations--each student has completed several passion projects for me to brag about in their letters, and details like that make students stand out to Admissions.

Overall, I recommend this project! It has been a joy and, I feel, extremely successful so far.