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Capstone: Inventing A Learning Experience

Benjamin Franklin called humans tool-making animals, and Thomas Carlyle called us tool-using animals. Down through the ages, inventors have relied on these traits to build a better mousetrap and market it to the public.

This summer TC's Capstone program gave 40 high school students the opportunity to be inventors in their own right. At the end of the program, the students attempted to persuade each other to buy what they designed. "They had to write a slogan or jingle, make a model of it, and explain the scientific workings of their invention," said Capstone director Julian Cohen, a teacher at Central Park East Secondary School and an adjunct in TC's Social Studies Education program.

"As part of the curriculum, the students read about inventions of the past and they read the novel Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?" Cohen said. Students used their different classes in social studies, English, science, art, music, dance, and computers to put their presentations together.

"Last year some of the teachers felt that the non-academic sessions were not part of the theme," Cohen said. "This year we deliberately tried to bring them together more to make it all integral to what the kids were doing."

Classes were taught by interns who are current or former TC students. The interns will be teachers in New York area schools when classes resume in the fall.

"The aim of Capstone is to give them teaching experience to prepare them for the fall," Cohen explained. As in last year's Capstone program, the interns worked on a goal they want to achieve to improve their classroom skills. They received guidance from master teachers, who monitored the classes and wrote evaluations of the interns' strengths and weaknesses.

The teenagers who participated attend various alternative schools in New York City, and will be entering 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in the fall. "They are not all easy-to-teach kids," Cohen stressed. "There have been struggles. We want the teachers to learn how to deal with different situations."

Participating students received points toward their graduation after successfully completing the Capstone program.

Aside from their classes on the TC campus, the students also visited places like SONY Wonder Laboratories and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum where they saw a show of solar-powered inventions. They also had physical education classes at the Columbia University pool where they learned to swim. According to Cohen, many of the teens did not know how to swim before this class.

In the end, the students' inventions included a number of solar-powered items, from cars that could fly, plates that could heat food and replace microwaves, to an entire solar-powered city. Some creations could float or fly: like a floating/flying bridge, and a bed which hovered above the floor through the use of magnetic force. Other inventions were more practical, like a broom that cleans by itself and a night-light that projects images of cartoon characters or plants on the ceiling. The students proudly displayed and marketed their creations in a show held in 60 Grace Dodge Hall.

Someday in the not-too-distant future, when the latest advances in technology include a flying solar car or a broom that will replace the maid, it just may be that the Capstone program had something to do with it.

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