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More details on capstones…

September 6, 2011

My students seem pretty taken with the idea of doing Capstones to show synthesis and push their physics understanding. I’ve already had a bunch of conversations with students about ideas they might pursue.

To give them a bit more guidance in this process, I wrote this up and emailed it to my students:

Hi All,
I’ve started to have a number of conversations with people about capstones—this is great. I wanted to send you this with some more details.

You can start a capstone as soon as you wish, and if you’re truly interested in pushing yourself to develop a deep understanding and synthesis of multiple concepts, I suggest you start as soon as possible.

You begin a capstone by publishing something to the web for all the world to see. You should publish when you’ve got a decent first draft of your first idea. This is more than “I want to write about X” and less than “here’s 3 hours of my thinking.”

You can publish to the web using the blog I’ve set up for you (login at, posterous, or google docs. I suggest working with the blog first, since it makes it easiest to add equations, and google docs second, since it is slightly harder to share. Posterous is fine, but it doesn’t do a great job with equations.

When you’ve posted something, you should tell me about it by completing this form (this link will eventually be on Schoology and the main blog):

I will then post a comment with some feedback and suggestions. You will then revise (by creating a new post—do not erase old work), and re-submitting on the form.

I will then put your capstone out for feedback from someone outside our course (likely a physics teacher from somewhere around the US).

Once you’ve received and addressed feedback from this outsider, I will re-evaluate your capstone for credit. If you’ve mastered every concept, it can earn up to 3 points. If you haven’t yet mastered every concept, it can earn a maximum of 1 point (and can be increased in value when you master all concepts).

There isn’t a deadline for capstones, but obviously, this isn’t something you can put off until the week before exams. If you do, I may not be able to give you feedback, or find an outsider to give you feedback, and you will not have sufficient time to revise your work. Start now. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.

Capstones are meant to be places where you use the ideas you’ve learned in class to push beyond the things we’ve done in class. I’ve given you a number of ideas to get started at the end of each unit, and if you don’t know how to get started, I strongly suggest trying one of these. Capstones really aren’t meant to be the place for you to submit a book report on black holes (although they are cool, and it is probably possible to do a meaningful project on something like black holes that actually puts to use the ideas you’ve learned in our class).

That’s basically it. I’m sure we’ll be talking about this more as we go forward throughout the year.

-Mr. Burk

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2011 8:02 pm

    Please keep writing about this. I have an awesome AP class this year and am considering having them do a capstone as part of the second semester. They’ve already pondered how one student can curve a soccer ball, another is asking about the physics of spicatto (sp?) on the violin and a third noticed a dancer in our book and asked about the mechanics of it. I’d love to figure out a genuine way to encourage them to learn about the physics of those situations.

  2. JimG permalink
    July 22, 2013 9:47 pm

    I am intrigued by capstones. However, I would like more detail on how you implemented the,. We have a quarter system at my school and those grades are averaged together at the end of the year with the final. Which raises problems with a capstone because I would need one each term or I could just make it their final however seniors with a 90 or is exempt. Would like you feedback.

    • July 22, 2013 9:51 pm

      Our quarter grades were progress checks, and not averaged to form a final grade. You situation sounds a bit more tricky, but I’m sure it’s manageable, and may even help students to better manage their time to complete a capstone per quarter rather than waiting toward the end of the semester.

      • jimG permalink
        July 22, 2013 10:07 pm

        Wow thank you for your quick feedback. I really appreciate your input. I think it could be possible and looking forward to giving it a go.

        So how many objectives did your students have to show mastery on before they were allowed to start their capstone? Do you have a rubric for these other than they have shown mastery on all objectives? How do hoj differentiate this assingment for different levels of classes?

        Thank you!

        • July 22, 2013 10:13 pm

          I encouraged students to start on a capstone as soon as possible. I didn’t require them to achieve mastery on all objectives before starting. I did not have a rubric for capstones. I would usually offer feedback and had them revise them until I felt they met my (admittedly arbitrary) standards.

          The grading did become somewhat problematic with students who had completed or nearly completed a good capstone, yet hadn’t shown mastery of a standard or two—this seemed to put some unnecessary and harmful stress on the students as they worked to master the last few standards so that they could “get full credit” for their capstone. Essentially missing one standard could be the difference between an 89 and a 93 (or even higher if they did multiple capstones) for students, so I’m not sure that this approach to grading the capstones was the best.

          I’m going to be thinking about this more in the coming weeks with some colleagues, so if I have any further ideas, I’ll post them on the blog.

        • JimG permalink
          July 22, 2013 10:27 pm

          My admin is very big on rubrics so I will have to figure out that piece. Your idea of having the students blog is really cool and now that our students have Google accounts maybe I could make that work. Much to think about :)!

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