CAPSTONE: Population and environment by design (1 of 2)

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In this Capstone project, students will be able to: 1) collaborate with peers to develop a rigorous public presentation; 2) describe an area of interest where human population impacts the environment; 3) articulate the key features of the human population in the chosen area using data visualizations; 4) identify problems in an area caused by human population growth; 5) develop solutions to problems identified 6) identify the research necessary to better understand potential solutions; 7) publicly present to an audience; 8) provide rigorous feedback to presenting groups; 9) self-assess proficiency using rubrics and captured video; 10) and revise in-class presentations as standalone screencasts.

Big Idea

Human population growth impacts the environment . How might develop an engaging presentation about an area that elucidates the problems and potential solutions to problems posed by a constantly growing human population?

FRAME: Capstone creation

Students have encountered a wide range of concepts and skills throughout this unit.  The Capstone project is an opportunity for students to synthesize understanding and apply developed skills to the unique problems that growing human populations pose to areas throughout the world. For samples of the final and in-process student work, click here

This work takes place over two weeks, but will be presented here as a two lesson sequence that highlights the student work processes, key teacher moves, evaluation metrics, and final products.  As noted in the first lesson of this unit, the nature of this work is student-centered.  My goal is to be fully removed from dictating how students complete work, focusing instead on supporting the choices that students make in choosing an area of interest, developing a presentation, evaluating peers' work, and revising products. 

The Capstone is an example of project based learning (PBL).  Educators preferring a teacher-centered classroom will find that PBL requires new pedagogical moves.  Of primary importance, teachers will need to cede much of the control in the classroom to students.  The Buck Institue for Education outlines the following key elements of PBL:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills - The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management. 
  • Challenging Problem or Question - The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry - Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity - The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice - Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection - Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision - Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product - Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

This Capstone aims to hit all of the points outlined by the Buck Institute.  To accomplish all of this, students will work in a self-directed manner; the teacher is the guide on the side.  I strongly encourage teachers new to this kind of work to design smaller scale PBL assessments for students prior to attempting a Capstone project.  Teacher design mistakes are inevitable in this type of evaluation, but practice with the format will reduce the big mistakes and make this process more efficient for everybody involved.

The current "lesson" describes the creation stage of the Capstone.  It lasts for four to five 55 minute class periods.  The next lesson describes the presentation and iteration components of the Capstone.  

Below is a rough schedule for the creation stage aligned to the lesson objectives.

DAY ONE:  Students learn about the requirements for the Capstone project.  Then students choose work teams, focus on an area for their presentation, create a timeline for work, and develop design ideas that minimize the use of text in presentations.  Finally student groups will share out their in-process products with the rest of the class; this is a daily ritual that allows students to share ideas and feedback.

Relevant objectives: 1) students begin to collaborate with peers to develop a rigorous public presentation; 2) describe an area of interest where human population impacts the environment;

DAYS TWO-FOUR: Students continue to develop presentations in groups.  The teachers supports students' needs.  These might include: research, technology, concepts, skills, public speaking, division of labor within a group, and so forth.  The diversity of student needs is the strongest argument for a teacher practicing PBL work prior to a Capstone project.  A teacher that does not have quick and effective moves that meet a WIDE range of student needs will struggle while students become increasingly frustrated.  These moves can only be developed through lower stakes, smaller scale PBL work. 

Relevant objectives: 3) articulate the key features of the human population in the chosen area using data visualizations; 4) identify problems in an area caused by human population growth; 5) develop solutions to problems identified 6) identify the research necessary to better understand potential solutions


DAY 1-CAPSTONE OVERVIEW: Human population presentation

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students learn about requirements for the Population Capstone.  The teacher communicates expectations, checks for understanding, and makes revisions based on student feedback.

What will students do?

Students will engage with a version of the attached slideshow and note any requirements that are unclear or that should be changed.  Students will also see the form that will be used for peer feedback during the presentations.  This is essentially the rubric for this project.

What will the teacher do?

This is the teacher-centered kickoff to the capstone project.  I explain the requirements, how students will be grouped (they make initial choices and I retain the right to make modifications), how presentations will be scheduled, how students will be evaluated, and how students will revise work.  I will also facilitate a brief discussion of students' initial reaction, work strategies, areas of interest, and potential revisions to make to the Population Capstone requirements.

What is the attached resource?

This is a slideshow I used in class and distributed to all students.  We reviewed each slide together and discussed expectations.  I chose a text heavy slideshow instead of a model, because I did not want cookie cutter presentations.

NOTE: The second and third slides of this slideshow ("presentation teams" and "presentation times") were added AFTER the first day of this Capstone.  They are included here to provide an example of presentation schedules and geographical areas of student interest.

DAY 1-PREWORK: Teams, Topics, Time, and Text

35 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students choose work teams, focus on an area for their presentation, create a timeline for work, and develop design ideas that minimize the use of text in presentations.  The teacher is able to suggest teams, guide student interest, model project management skills, and push students thinking about presentation design ideas.  To see where this is going, here are some sample student presentations. 

What will students do? 

Students will have most of the remainder of a class period to find a time, choose an area for presentation, develop a timeline for work completion, and come up with design ideas for a public presentation that does not rely on text.  How students choose complete this work is left entirely open-ended.  However students have a wealth of experiences to draw for this work, including:

  • experience with collaborative teams for a number of tasks
  • flash publications
  • feedback systems (plus and delta)
  • engineering-design thinking skills
  • research skills 
  • debate skills
  • task analysis skills
  • technology-enabled collaboration tools (Google docs, blendspace)
  • video, sideshows, flash, TED presentation models
  • data anlaysis skills
  • open-ended project planning (citizen science, student design capstone

As described in the "DESIGN PHILOSOPHIES" section, students fill out a daily work tracker.  (Here is a summary of a few submissions.)  This tracker allows students to document their work and articulate next steps.  Work timelines created by student groups were checked in class.  Work timeline feedback from the teacher was also provided in person or through email contact after each project day.

What will the teacher do?

My essential teacher move is to resist the impulse to provide the students with ready solutions to planning problems they will encounter.  Rather, I will prompt students with specific questions about past experiences with problems solving skills and examples of solutions that students have already developed for similar problems.  Some examples of the kind of questions I might ask include:

  • Based on your last presentation experience, how long do you think each section of this presentation will take?
  • How do you think your team should divide work to meet all the requirements by the end of the week?
  • When we have previously researched human impact on the environment, what resources did you find to be most useful?
  • Does every member of your work need to focus on the same project requirement?
  • You seem to have trouble discussing how you want to work.  Can you think of any discussion protocols that we have previously used in class that would help you talk with each other?
  • What is the one thing that I can do to help you make progress?
  • What part of this project seems the most difficult?  How can we break that part into smaller pieces so that it would be easier?

Additionally, I will facilitate whole class or small group workshops when I determine that students lack the skills to create effective pathways to meet the goals of this assignments.  In keeping with the student-centered nature of this work, whenever possible I will ask students to demonstrate promising practices to the class.  For instance, if I notice that a student group has developed an effective time management tool, I will have that student group present to the class. I will then add an artifact from this presentation to a shared Google doc or Edmodo discussion so that all students may access it.


10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students complete a "daily progress tracker." Then students share out in-process solutions, ideas, and questions.  The teacher better understands group approaches to problems and is able to publicly capture students' ideas.

What will students do? 

First, student groups complete this daily progress tracker.  Students will share out a snapshot of their work and question each other.

What will the teacher do?

During class, the teacher will facilitate discussion and capture particularly promising strategies in a shared workspace so that all students have access to the collective "wisdom of the crowd."  Outside of class, the teacher review results from the daily progress tracker.  Here is a summary of a few responses submitted.  Reviewing this information is an essential practice!  This form  contains students' self-reported narrative of work towards completion of the Capstone.  Combined with in-class teacher data collection of groups' work processes, this summary is ESSENTIAL formative assessment data.  The in class and out of class data review by the teacher is THE MOST IMPORTANT TEACHER MOVE FOR THIS PROJECT.  It allows the teacher to support student groups effectively.  Do they need help with content?  With group dynamics?  With pacing?  With understanding requirements?  With motivation?

NOTE: For a review of students' experience with social and emotional learning, see my Unit 0 lesson.

DAYS 2-4-LOGISTICS: Schedules and work time

165 minutes

How will students work on this project in class and outside of class?

Students will have approximately two to three more class periods develop presentations.  This time will be spent much like the PREWORK section of this lesson.  At the end of this work time, teams will again share out their prototype work, give and receive feedback, and submit requests for support from the teacher.  Teams are invited to work with me during lunch or before school to address specific problems that come up during the completion of the Capstone project.

How do presentations work?

Student groups sign up for a presentation date by the end of the second project lesson.  Here is a link to sample presentations of varying quality.  Teachers might elect to have a single presentation day.  This year, I found that spreading out the presentations over multiple days improved the quality of the feedback.  It also allowed for students to bring relevant outside knowledge into lessons that examined the future of human populations.  I call these "hybrid lessons."  

This curriculum presents the lessons as a perfect linear sequence.  Previously, I have taught this material as presented on the BetterLesson platform.   This year, I tried hybrid lessons and found that this structure worked better.  (Student Capstone presentations overlapped with "Are Humans on the Verge of Collapse" lessons, as well as the "Have Food, Will Travel" lessons from the next unit.)   Hybrid lessons can feel messier, but I found them to be more engaging for students.  They reduced the cognitive fatigue of providing feedback to multiple presenting groups in a single day; also, students incorporated takeaways from Capstone presentations in classroom discussions.  This is an outcome that rarely happened when I had students all present on the same day.