Sharing Signature: Jon Calos Co-Authors First Capstone Book

By Melissia Mason
In leading the Signature program at Emma Willard School for many years, Jon Calos has developed a depth of knowledge that begs to be shared. First through involvement in the National Capstone Consortium, and now in the release of his first co-authored book, Jon has set out to make sure others feel empowered to bring a capstone program to their own schools.

Emma Science Instructor and Director of Experiential Learning Jon Calos has partnered with education writer and co-founder of the National Capstone Consortium Nina Leacock, PhD, to bring capstone into the limelight. 

Capstones are authentic and personalized academic research projects culminating in a formal community presentation that have the potential to be transformative educational tools. The Signature program at Emma Willard School is one example of a capstone experience. With Jon’s guidance, Signature students work on a passion project and share the summation of their work in a presentation to the entire school community during Spring Showcase. Emma students have used Signature to promote local women-owned businesses, work on cutting-edge biotechnology research, create their own films, and more.

Over their years of involvement with the National Capstone Consortium, Jon and Nina have consistently felt a need to have a published resource of best practices that are key to building and sustaining a capstone program like Signature. “Someone should write a book,” they’d say. Eventually, they internalized the thought: “Why not us? We should write a book.”

After four years of conversation, conferences, and coffee shop sessions, Jon and Nina followed a fortuitous suggestion from Emma alumna and trustee Sally Martell ’85, sending their book proposal to John Catt Publishing, who became partners in the work. The dream has now become reality as Capstone: Inquiry & Action at School—thought to be the only published book on creating capstone programs—is set for release on September 20, 2021. 

The best of teachers are themselves still learning, and the writing process itself was just such a growth moment for Jon. “I’ve spent years writing blogs and guidelines for lab reports, but writing a book is completely different,” Jon shares. “With Nina’s polite guidance—she’s a gifted teacher herself—I realized I was assuming too much. I had to push through those assumptions to provide explanations and add supporting evidence to my writing.” Jon says the experience has forever changed the way he writes.

“I believe that one of the strengths of the book comes from our co-authorship,” Nina asserts. “Jon and I come from very different perspectives. One of us is in the sciences, one in the humanities. Our capstone experiences are likewise complementary. One of us comes out of a program that is centered on text-based research, and one of us from a program that starts with experiential learning. We cover all the bases.”

Beginning with exploring the ways that capstone impacts teaching and schools in order to change lives, the book addresses the what, why, and how of capstone education. Subsequent chapters focus on the student and lead the reader through practical steps to organize capstone programs—from engaging mentors to designing and evaluating projects to presenting the final product. “It’s a book by teachers for teachers,” Jon shares. “Whether you’re just starting or you’ve had a program for a long time, the content is relevant and applicable.” 

Throughout the book, Jon and Nina tell stories of real students who have been impacted by capstone. “One of my favorite parts of the book is the vignettes that feature the cool projects students have done and the lessons they learned,” Jon explains. One such vignette features Téa Mottolese '16, who focused her Signature project on audio engineering, went on to major in the subject in college, and came back to Emma to help with an audio design need on campus. “I used Téa’s story to show how capstone changes students—how it can become a part of their career exploration path,” Jon says.

Because of the support that Emma has given to Signature, Jon believes it has become a program that other capstone teachers can look toward as an example. He hopes that the book serves as a catalyst for bringing educators together, speaking a common language, and connecting across independent and public schools. “One message we hope to send in the book is that capstone is an ‘art of the possible’—a powerful form of teaching and learning that schools are already empowered to implement right now,” Nina shares. Nina and Jon want to reveal the beauty of capstone—that it fits anywhere if you have a clear vision and realistic goals. Through the book and the consortium, they hope to give educators the resources and platform to strategize together and support one another in this work.

Considering what’s next now that the capstone book is complete, Jon notes another great idea that is yet unpublished—a text on forward design. “Most design is based on an endpoint in mind,” he shares. “Capstone is nothing like that. I’ve looked for resources that describe a different paradigm—that of forward design. Apparently, that is not really a thing… but that’s what we’re doing. Starting with parameters that interest us, then moving forward to see where it takes us.” We can’t wait to see where that idea goes!

The Emma Willard School community applauds Jon and Nina on their work in support of capstone, and we eagerly anticipate receiving our copies of Capstone: Inquiry & Action at School (currently available for pre-order from the publisher and on Amazon).
    • Jon Calos, Chair of Experiential Learning, Signature Director, Homer L. Dodge Instructor in Science

    • Capstone: Inquiry & Action at School by Nina Leacock and Jon Calos

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