my capstone experience

Sarah Hayes '08

Sarah Hayes '08, a Child Development major with Early Childhood certification from Tolland, Conn., discusses her senior Capstone project, which involved a long-term investigation of the American presidents in her second grade classroom at Sunapee Elementary School. The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience and part of the Liberal Education Program at Colby-Sawyer College. While at Colby-Sawyer, Sarah was President of the Dance Club, Director of the musical “You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and took part in numerous theater productions on campus. She is currently applying to graduate schools.

Describe the subject of your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

My Capstone project was to create a long-term investigation in my second grade classroom at Sunapee Elementary School. I left the topic of investigation up to my students, and they voted to study the presidents of the United States. Each student chose a president on which to focus and then worked both individually and collectively on their research. I took the topic and created a variety of learning plans on all areas of the curriculum (science, language arts, math, social studies, and creative arts) on the topic.

What research did you conduct for this project?

My research for this project was done with my students. I went into the investigation with little expertise on the subject, so as my students gathered information, I was learning, too. I used my knowledge on developmentally appropriate practices in the classroom as well as my understanding of children's development to create learning plans to assist my students in the investigation.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

Through my Capstone I learned many things that only a firsthand experience can offer. Working in a public school really gave me the opportunity to have a preview of what my work will be like, and it allowed me to gain experience in devising learning plans and creating an environment where it is safe for students to grow. Through my Capstone project, I was able to combine two of my passions: Working with children, and theater. My minor at Colby-Sawyer was theater, and being able to combine that with Child Development was extremely rewarding.

Using the knowledge students gained on their president, they composed music and even wrote a play entitled, "Scaring George Bush." I was amazed at their ability to pull information from text and various media sources and use it to create dialogue and lyrics.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

The most rewarding experience for me was sharing my passion for musical theater with my students. I was able to watch them grow as learners as well as enhance their passion for and abilities in music. Sharing my passion with them, and watching them develop a passion for it as well, made the whole experience amazing.

What did you find most challenging and difficult about the project?

Every project has challenges and mine was letting go of ideas I had for the investigation to let my students decide what they wanted to do. Sometimes I would come into class with full learning plans and materials ready but my students were just not engaged. It was disappointing at first, but I knew that forcing them to do the activity would not support their learning. Going with the flow was a challenge, but in the end it led to more rewarding experiences for me and the students.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

I hope that future Child Development students will look at my project and see that learning does not come just from textbooks and worksheets. Being creative and working with students through hands-on experiences makes learning that much more meaningful. Throughout my Capstone experience I let my students make decisions and create projects. Listening to children is an extremely important part of teaching - listening to what they want and need, and then providing them with the tools they need to succeed. I will always remember what my kids accomplished; even when adults and other professionals thought I was crazy to have them write their own musical, I kept working with them. In the end they had a truly rewarding experience that they did 100% by themselves. I know they will remember for years to come, as will I.