All you need to know about KUA’s innovative project based-learning initiative
First of all, let Mr. Kardel, the director of K-term, dispel the rumor: “It is an urban legend that K-Term happens to be called that because my last name starts with a K,” he laughed. Mr. Kardel wasn’t actually involved with choosing the name; the “K” in K-Term stands for the one and only KUA.
“K-Term is a one week, hands-on, practical, project-based experience for students,” said Mr. Kardel. Because students historically study subjects in isolation, K-Term was born to combine all the knowledge students learn in class together, in order to see the connection between different subjects. “Most, if not every K-Term, requires you to bring in knowledge from different classes that you’ve taken,” explained Mr. Kardel. “It synthesizes the skills you’ve been building in the classroom.”
K-term was created in 2014 as a pilot program and was not mandatory for all students. There were only 3 or 4 projects offered at the time, and though the offerings were limited, it turned out to be a success.
Following its popularity with students and teachers alike, the faculty voted to make it a required experience for all students. Thus, in 2015, the all school mandatory K-term program was launched. Now, it is part of every student’s transcript, meaning all students are required to pass K-Term each year.
The process of creating a K-Term project is a complicated series of communications that involves both the faculty and the students. It is a lot of work for Mr. Kardel: “ [K-Term is] a little bit like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…I begin to plan for the next K-Term as soon as this K-Term is over.”
First, the faculty pitch K-term projects that they would be interested in running. To prompt a diverse topic turnout, Mr. Kardel asks them questions like, “What can you do? What would you like to do?” and the faculty put possible topics on the table. Mr. Kardel then makes a list and takes out the duplicates. He presents this list to the juniors and seniors in the form of a survey and asks them what they are interested in doing.
The students vote and the results are reported back to the faculty. This gives the faculty a better idea of how many people will sign up for the individual projects. After this, Mr. Kardel sends out a survey to the faculty about which feasible programs they would like to lead. After the responses are sorted out, he makes matches for the projects.
“I am also keeping an eye on the students’ feedback,” added Mr. Kardel. He tries to take into account and follow the students’ interest scale in order to balance everything. Faculty depart and new teachers are absorbed every year, which brings new projects to the school. For example, this year there will be a glass sculpture project which is brand new to the school, offered by a new math teacher who has experience in the field.
This coming K-Term has been moved to March instead of its placement in June last year. Mr. Kardel pointed out that its placement in March continues a tradition of project based learning at KUA; in past years, the exam days during March had always been called “Project Week.” The reason that it was in June last year was because the faculty were curious to see which would be a better placement: in the spring or in the summer. “We won’t know [which one fits better] until we actually do it and can compare the two experiences,” Mr. Kardel pointed out. After last year’s K-Term in summer, the faculty voted to put it back in March for the foreseeable future.
During K-term project week, the freshmen stay on campus and visit locations in the Upper Valley. “Mr. Schafer had asked us to devise this place-based project,” said Mr. Kardel. By orchestrating local experiences in the area, the youngest students will learn more about the area where they live. While KUA is a welcoming and tightknit community, the faculty feel it is important for students to experience the greater environment of New Hampshire and Vermont.
“The goal is to get them off campus as much as possible, to get them out [in] the community and get them to learn as much about the upper valley [as they can].” Freshmen will be offered some choice in their local K-Term activities, with possible options like food and farming in the Upper Valley, maple sugaring, and environmental conservation.
The sophomores will be going to Washington D.C. for their K-term experience, visiting museums and monuments in order to prepare for their junior year, when they will be taking U.S. History and American Literature.
“It will be good for the sophomores to begin to contemplate the American experience. To have a common vocabulary and a common experience, so when they start their History and English classes in junior year, they will have that understanding as a group.”
Like the freshmen, the juniors and seniors are offered a list of K-term programs from which they can choose. However, they have more flexibility in regards to their destinations: they will have the opportunity to go abroad or they can choose to sign up for more local (day trip or domestic overnight) programs. Juniors and seniors will need to look at the cost of each trip, as some are more expensive than others.
When asked about the reappearance of K-Terms from the last two years, Mr. Kardel said, “The projects are never necessarily meant to repeat year after year. We wanted to be able to provide new experiences.” When projects do repeat, it is usually because they were very popular and some students didn’t have the opportunity to participate the year before.
For example, “Bread making” was a project that was offered in 2015, and offered again last year. “Most projects do not repeat. We try to keep it new and fresh every year,” Mr. Kardel stressed.
Although it only started in 2014, Mr. Kardel and the faculty’s dedication, along with student participation, have allowed K-Term to blossom into a yearly anticipated experience.