WISE students can accomplish anything when given the opportunity to follow their individual passions. The WISE experience frees students from the limitations of the classroom, encouraging them to explore the larger world around them as they prepare to enter it.
Project: The WISE project is the journey the student takes—a journey through which knowledge, self-awareness, and maturity grow. Students on target for graduation select a subject about which they are passionate and design an individualized project around it. Because the students are immersing themselves in something that has real meaning to them, they develop intrinsic motivation to succeed.
Mentor: Each student selects a mentor from the school staff with whom the student has a rapport. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school secretaries, custodians, school safety officers and cafeteria workers can be mentors. Mentors need not be expert in the subject matter of the project, as they become fellow “travelers” on the students’ journeys.
Mentors are guides; they also learn from their mentees’ experiences. Students meet with their mentors on a weekly basis for the equivalent of one class period to discuss their progress. These meetings need not take place in the school. Mentors also read their students’ journals and comment on the content, encouraging reflection and suggesting ideas for research, enrichment and goal setting. At the end of the semester, mentors assist the students in presentation preparation and then write narrative assessments that become part of the students’ permanent records.
Journal: Written daily, a journal is an essential documentation of the project journey, research and reflections. Although it is a daily record, the journal is not a diary; it is a complete record of the student’s experience. Students are encouraged to include pictures, graphs, diagrams, articles, interviews and anything that is a relevant part of their project.
The journal is a “semi-public” document, as it will be read by others. In addition to the mentor, task force members read the journal approximately six weeks into the process. The close relationship between mentor and mentee requires “outside eyes” to help them see what they may not. Task force members read the journal again prior to the presentation to be better able, after the presentation, to assess the student’s entire project and journey.
Research and Bibliography: Fieldwork and research in the subject matter of a project enable a student to gain skills that can lead to lifelong learning. Students are encouraged to read professional journals and newspapers, watch documentaries, interview experts in the field, use the internet, take field trips and attend concerts, theater, debates, speeches or forums as part of developing an extensive variety of sources for information. As part of their journals, students are required to include an annotated bibliography of the sources they used. Students also use the annotated bibliography as part of their presentation booklet to make those in attendance aware of the variety of research.
Presentation: At the end of the semester, students present their projects to the school community, parents and friends. The presentation represents each student’s journey and is a review of the peaks and valleys—the successes and failures—each encountered in the process of working on the project.
Presentations average about one hour. The first 30 minutes presents an opportunity for the student to “show and tell” the project. There is no set structure that a student must follow during this part of the presentation. Students often create PowerPoint presentations or use hands-on experiences and audience participation to make a project come alive. The broad range of creative devices students have used to make their presentations include an a cappella concert, a tour of a sheep barn built for lambing birth, a demonstration of animal training, a finished work of art or craft and a cooking demonstration. The possibilities for a presentation are limited only by the creativity and imagination of students and their mentors.
At the conclusion of the formal part of the presentation, a question and answer period takes place during which the student responds to questions from anyone about anything of interest generated by the student’s presentation.
After the question and answer session, the student, the mentor, and task force evaluators meet privately for a private assessment, during which the task force evaluators comment on the journal, the mentor relationship, time management during the project, the presentation and anything of relevance to the student. Task Force evaluators (community, school, and fellow students) offer specific, constructive criticism “sandwiched” between positive feedback. The student and the mentor have the last word, responding to the evaluators’ assessments.
Student Assessment: Assessment is an ongoing process throughout the project. If the mentor does not think the student has met the basic requirements for weekly meetings, daily journal entries, attendance at work sites during internships or other major violation of a school’s WISE requirements, the student will not receive credit and will not be permitted to make a presentation. Failure is a rare occurrence.
Because the students “own the projects,” most are self-motivated and rally, with mentor “coaching,” to complete their projects successfully. Increasingly, mentors and students meet after the presentation to discuss the committee’s assessment. The mentor also provides a written assessment to be included in the student’s permanent record and transcript.