Each year Wingra students ages 7 to 14 spend some time working on independent projects (affectionately known as "IPs" or "IRPs" for "independent research projects"). Students choose topics based on their own curiosity and interests, conduct research, learn relevant skills, create visual aids, develop written reports, and share their findings with classmates and families through oral presentations or classroom fairs. The process is structured to suit each age group.
Once a topic is selected, students generate questions based on what they would like to learn. Webbings and brainstorms help students begin to organize their process.
Older students are taught a variety of outlining formats and are asked to prepare a thesis statement, while younger students use a guiding question as a focus for their research. The oldest students submit a formal proposal that includes a statement about why they have selected their topic as well as an annotated list of sources they will use for their research.
Using a variety of resources is emphasized. The Wingra School library offers both written and computerized reference materials. Trips to the public library allow students to explore a wider selection of books, encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, and videos. Students can access the Internet and learn how to use the different search engines.
Students are encouraged to seek out and interview people who work or study in the topic of interest and are supported in conducting their interviews by telephone and email, or in person. Field trips may also be organized as a means of collecting information.
The IP connects home and school in a tangible way. Parents and teachers play an integral role in guiding the student through the process. Weekly plan sheets help the younger students to move forward step by step, and teachers offer weekly meetings and check-ins to mark a student's progress.
Older students develop a calendar with their teachers to keep them on track over the 5 to 6 weeks they will be working on IPs. They are responsible for meeting deadlines on submitting a proposal, developing an outline, gathering information, writing a first draft, revising it, and editing and typing the final version.
Younger students work on library skills. They are taught how to look up a topic and how to use a table of contents and indexes. They learn note-taking that teaches them how to put their research results in their own words and how to create a resource list for their report. Older students learn different ways to take notes and keep track of references. They learn how to properly cite their sources using footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography.
For younger students, IPs are an opportunity to learn the basics of writing a paragraph. Teachers introduce the concepts of a main idea and supporting sentences. Students learn how to organize their research into paragraphs and then into a report. The process of editing teaches students the importance of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure.
For older students, IPs are an opportunity to explore the process of writing: developing a thesis statement, making an outline, writing a proposal, taking notes, writing first drafts, making revisions, and preparing a final paper. It is emphasized that first drafts are always revised. Teachers provide an evaluative checklist, and students receive feedback on their drafts from both peers and teachers.
Students create charts, diagrams, posters, models, PowerPoint presentations, and demonstrations in addition to their report or paper. The youngest students share their projects at a classroom IP Fair with their peers and family members. All others do individual oral presentations for their classmates and family members.
Teachers offer guidelines for giving interesting and effective speeches. The oral presentations help students to understand their research better and provide an opportunity for public speaking. IPs give students an opportunity to be in the teaching role.