The dreaded Spring Fever (aka Senioritis)

As we enter into the beginnings of the spring semester, teachers of seniors all have the same thoughts…How do I keep my seniors engaged? They’ve worked hard for 12 years in school to finally get to college. They’ve spent the last many months spending hours on applications, interviews, and visits. And while students may not have gotten exactly what they expected, many have found a really good path to the next level of education; for some that’s college, for some it’s travel, for some it’s work.

And so what we see in the classroom is kids who have made it. They’ve done it. They’ve done all that we asked them to do; they jumped through all the hoops. So, how do we keep their attention in class? But, we are not done yet! So how do we keep them learning?

How can we keep their attention?

It comes to motivation. If all we’ve ever done in class is prepare students for the next quiz, test, or class….then what do we do when they’ve reached all that? If you’ve tried hard in your class to let your students experience your class instead of being told about it, then I argue that your kid can still be motivated. But, truthfully, going into the dreaded Spring Fever , even that may not be enough.

I propose that schools look into requiring some serious effort, energy, and brain power from our seniors. Why not let that last 4 months of high school be some of the most productive, useful, beneficial, challenging, and rigorous of their academic career.

One option is to limit how AP dictates the senior year. Collegeboard can plan tests to be taken in December, which forces schools to have to have time with their students for the spring semester.

What might we do in those 3 months? There are many names for this, but in essence a Capstone Project: students have a multi-discipline, multimedia, hands-on, huge project that requires research, interviews, analysis, presentation, and the building of something. There should be some social-cause component involving analyzing and proposing solutions to real world problem. Students would also have to identify and connect with real people as mentors. For example students who are going to build some type of model might connect with architects. Students who are going to work on major art projects could connect with the art museum curator. Students who might develop a mobile app would interview professional software developers. Then they present to an audience who has value in hearing their presentation.

Let it be a right-of-passage, famous for the rigor and hard work required, and the feeling of elation upon competing it…..that cannot be faked. Let it be something which gets them out of their seat, out of the classroom, thinking, interacting with people and places in the real world, addressing real problems. Problems can be local problems or larger ones…as long as it is something they are really genuinely interested in. Students who choose the easy way out, or do not put in the work can resubmit for the following year…i.e. we communicate that it is serious by not allowing it to be taken lightly. Students can be part of the evaluation and if we truly want to evaluate what we say is important, then make sure the various multi-disciplines are reflected in the evaluation.

Students presenting to an engaged audience

If there is a recorded audio or presentation component, then let the performance arts department help develop good 21st century evaluation of that. If there is a Computer Science aspect of it, let real developers help evaluate. If there is a presentation component in front of an audience, let expert presenters help evaluate.

Why would we do this? The world does not need students who have mastered test taking or the reading of a textbook chapter. We need students who can work with other people, put in serious effort and work and thoughtfulness, and synthesize it all together for a final project.

Consider: You are a company looking to hire one of two students. One has an academic resume full of honors and AP courses; has great performance on classwork, homework, and quizzes and did extremely well on all standardized tests. The teacher recommendations were glowing.
The other has a solid academic record, perhaps solid Bs. This student has applied for a patent, developed a prototype for a product based on an idea (s)he developed, manages an e-commerce website that markets the idea. The student has presented in front of venture capitalists for possible funding as well as at a regional academic conference. The student spent 2 months working behind the scenes for a charity and during that time even rose through the ranks to be able to manage some projects. This student has recommendations from business and professional leaders, political figures, leaders of research, and heads of charity organizations. The teacher recommendations were glowing.

My question to you is: Which do you hire? Sure, you can argue that both kids are good kids…no questions about that…both kids challenged themselves in different ways and succeeded in those challenges…no question…both kids were leaders on campus…no question. Both have experiences success and high achievement…no question. But, back to our original question: if you are a small business owner looking to hire one of them. Which do you hire?

Now, I’ll take this one step farther…if you agree that there is at least some credibility to an idea of a major senior capstone project, then I suggest we not stop there. Why not do a couple smaller versions in each grade. Maybe that last a few hours or a few days and increases in scope each year. Why not even drop down into elementary and middle schools. We might be amazed at how the younger generations view our world and how they might address some of our problems.

There are some schools around the world which are doing things like this. I realize this is not the norm, nor does it sync up with the typical educational or college admissions model, but in order for us to be art of an educational system that truly prepares students to be active contributors in the real world…then we are going to have to find new and different ways forward.

About Doug Bergman

Head of Computer Science at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC

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