Opinion: Senior Project Would Benefit from In-Class Focus


By Javin Pombra, In Depth Editor

As a senior, I’ve also partially become a senior citizen — zoning ordinances are something I spend hours ruminating and researching about. They strike anger in my heart with their racist and abusive history. These ordinances are pushing me toward writing policy proposals to state and local governments, and maybe I can make some change. It’s thanks to the senior project.

And while students often enjoy the project wholly, some even go through major life changes. But others succumb to procrastination and stress and don’t immerse themselves fully into their research. With long intervals between few deadlines, seniors often find themselves writing their outline or even full draft the night before the project is due. These products of procrastination not only hurt the final product but also take away from the senior project’s ability to teach students the synthesis and research skills they will need in college.

A specified unit for the senior project rather than a year-long inquiry project may deter the procrastination we see by making deadlines more proximal and providing more in-class time.

“I do think there is something to be said for giving the senior project focused attention,” English teacher Jasmine Mark said. “At Mountain View, I worked in a class where we did a senior project unit for seven or eight weeks, [and] our goal was to just work on the project. Of course kids still procrastinated, but there was so much more accountability because we were just working on that day-to-day [so] we were able to talk about [it] in class and teach skills directly applied to research.”

With shorter intervals that will come naturally with a shorter timeframe, students will have to do more research on a day-to-day basis. Time in class can go to, say, learning to conduct quality interviews or making phone calls to students’ mentors or professionals. For those doing science projects, time in class could allow them to conduct experiments at school, possibly even at Los Altos labs.

Teacher meetings are also a vital portion of the project that promote greater student success. For me, meeting with my teacher ultimately helped me decide to switch my topic to something I enjoyed more. With time specified in class for the senior project, a teacher can plan mandatory meetings with all students rather than waiting for just those who volunteer.

There are certainly benefits of having the year-long process — it gives more time for inquiry and changing topics. And some projects just can’t be completed within one unit’s time. A year-long process makes the senior project feel like a capstone of research skills learned in high school rather than just another unit. For those students who benefit from a year-long inquiry, they should get that option, and they can under a world in which the project is made into a six or seven-week process.

Hypothetically, if a student doesn’t feel as if they’ve done enough research in their six-to-seven week experience, they should be able to have the option to present to their teachers (1) the work they’ve done and (2) the work they are looking to do with the remaining year. If the teacher is convinced that they have and will continue conscientious research rather than possibly procrastinating further, more time for inquiry can be given.

While current English teachers attempt to give minimal amounts of homework throughout the year to allow for more time to work on the project, students still feel slightly stressed keeping track of all their assignments.

Providing a happy medium — decreasing procrastination for those overwhelmed by the large deadlines but also allowing for longer inquiry — allows the senior project to adapt to the student. To a similar end, the hands-on portion of the project should also depend on the project. The student should be able to choose whether to engage in the hands-on portion, depending on whether they believe it will truly supplement their research.

“The optional hands-on project is something we’re experimenting with,” English teacher Joanne Miyahara said. “One of the challenges we have in the past [is that] for some topics it’s hard to find a good hands-on project to be genuinely excited about, and others have done some phenomenal things. So, this is a good compromise.”

The system is truly not all to blame — it’s up to seniors to make the most of this process and not wait until the last minute. But finding ways to make students get the most out of the project is important. The project aims to both help us learn more about the research process and capstone our senior year, preparing us for the independence we need in college. Adapting the assignment to the student can help us achieve both.