IICS held the Personal Project Exhibition on the 27th February. It was another fantastic event in which Grade 10 students showcased projects they had worked on independently for nearly six months. This year’s event was the most complex one we have ever held and included mini-movie theaters, elaborate installations of art work and architecture, and even a dark room to develop black and white photographs. Such was the complexity of many of the installations that for the first time students had to start setting up the day before. 

The process of creating an excellent celebration of learning is lengthy, demanding and can only be done with the help of many people behind the scenes, from the logistical work provided by Coskun Karakas (Facilities Manager) and his team, and the brilliant designs and graphics from Jennifer Gokmen and Sezai Kara (Communications). However, it is the wonderfully dynamic and imaginative grade 10 students who provide the vision and inspiration that makes these events at IICS so memorable.

My sincere thanks to you all.

“If you had 6 months to work on a Personal Project, what would you have chosen?”

This question came from a parent during a conversation in last year’s exhibition and made me better understand that even this is a very difficult choice. Should I develop a skill that I have already to a higher level or learn something completely new? Should I look to solve a particular problem or raise awareness of an issue? Some chose the opportunity to allow themselves to ‘run free’ (as one student put it) to go well beyond the taught curriculum at MYP and even Diploma level. Each and every year the students are asked a very similar question as their starting point through what would then become their journey through the MYP Personal Project.

A BRIEF GLIMPSE OF THE JOURNEY THAT IS THE PERSONAL PROJECT

Establishing a Goal and Researching
Students are able to choose any topic they would like to pursue with just a few guidelines and criteria. Whatever their project is, it must be a challenging one for them to pursue, it must be ethical and be realistic in terms of the time and resources available to complete the project. This is consolidated at the start of Grade 10 with a more defined goal being formulated and the type of product decided upon. Invariably and often with sound justifications students change their focus often as a result of some of the investigative work done early in the project.

The Personal Project is an often a challenging journey that allows each student to personalize their learning experience while allowing them to develop and apply skills such as:

-critical thinking & analysis
-project management
-produce results in a set time
-effective communication
-initiative & entrepreneurial spirit
-curiosity & imagination

Once their topics and goals are written that should be challenging (often highly challenging) to the students, supervisors are assigned to help mentor the students through their journey. Over the months that follow, students go through the researching phase whilst developing and consolidating the relevant ATL skills. During this process they will have devised a plan for their research that would help them identify key areas of their project including the need for expert feedback and identifying primary and secondary resources.

Planning the Scope of a Personal Project
Towards the end of November, students then plan the creation of their product or solution. This would involve creating designs that meet the criteria they have established and then creating a time plan that should be followed. As a number of students may be developing new skills, this might include details of the training needed. 

Creating their Product
During December to February, students finally embark on creating their product or solution, while obtaining feedback from a number of sources that include experts in that field. Recording the development of their work is a key point and this is done through process journal entries that will detail their efforts and record problems and the solutions they tried.

At the end of February, the product or solution is finally complete. During this month students also start to think more carefully about how they would showcase and demonstrate their learning. Over the year’s this has become the real focus of the Exhibition as we recognize the value of the process through which the final product is made. Animations for example that might seem seamless in the final viewing are planned so far in advance with storyboards detailing each scene with many weeks of work. The animation entitled “Senor Taco’ was produced with 20,000 images put together with voice overs and music in a 6 minute production.

Example of a final product: Senor Taco (Dowon K.)

The Final Report
After the Exhibition, the students evaluate the success of their product and how they have developed as a learner through the process. Together with written sections in the areas given above and 10 process journal extracts they write a 3,500 word report. This report evidences how they have met each of the criteria of the Personal Project. After assessment by at least 2 supervisors and externally moderated the final grade is determined.

RELEVANT SKILL BUILDING
The Personal Project is the culmination of the MYP experience for the students before they move on to the Diploma Program. To be successful in the Personal Project, students need to be able to demonstrate all the Attitudes to Learning that the MYP focuses on during the previous four years. Specifically: they need organizational skills to get the job done over 6 months, communication skills (because they’re likely to be presenting in some way at some point), problem solving, working collaboratively (often with adults or with people outside the school), and ultimately reflecting on the learning that has taken place. So these five skills—which we are often told are the skills employers are looking for and certainly universities are looking for from our students—are vital for overall success.

PERSONAL PROJECT PERSONALIZES LEARNING
For this project, students choose their own topic, decide the product/outcome of the project, manage their own time, etc. The process enables them to use their current Attitudes to Learning and develop them further. For example, perhaps they never had to communicate with an expert, but if they need that as part of their research for their Personal Project, then they have to contact professionals on their own, which is something they wouldn’t otherwise have to do in their ordinary school life.

That helps prepare them, gives them confidence in expressing themselves, and in conducting meaningful research. It allows them to take an interest to the next level and learn something new. At the same time, they are doing so within the framework of a design cycle which teaches them project management. Students even have the option to continue exploring their subject area further in the Diploma Program as perhaps part of their Creativity, Activity, Service endeavors.

DEALING WITH PITFALLS
Sometimes things do not go as students planned, and that is when some of the most valuable learning happens. After conferring with an expert about her already completed project, one student realized a number of aspects she hadn’t previously considered, and eventually redid her project practically from square one. That was a critical lesson for her about the sequence of the research element of the design process.

Another student had to deal face-to-face with the strong emotions her topic elicited among visitors to the Exhibition. Her ability to confidently express her opinions helped her challengers understand her position.

A student who designed (and had produced) his own circuitry to power a quadcopter drone had to deal with his circuitry blowing up the night before the Exhibition.

This year students focused more on the process and were happy to openly share the pitfalls and learning experiences that came along with the challenge of bringing their projects to fruition.

JUST WHAT UNIVERSITY RECRUITERS WANT TO HEAR
It often helps university recruiters to understand applicants better to hear about their Personal Projects, believe it or not. University Counselor Cherie Mobasheri uses Personal Project titles as an icebreaker when introducing our students to visiting admissions personnel. It often impresses them to listen to the intriguing topics our students select and kick starts deeper conversations about the serious, independent study the Personal Project requires. It gives recruiters something more than grades and test scores to go on when evaluating what kind of value the candidate might add to their university.

SO, HOW DO YOU EVALUATE SUCH DIVERSITY?
The evaluation of the projects ultimately takes place with the teachers or the MYP Examiners by looking at the written work the students produce. The nature of the projects results in such a diversity of what we call products (what you see at the Exhibition) it is actually impossible to standardize assessment across such a range of products. You have someone who has set up a dog shelter in a local area versus someone who has built and is operating a drone copter. There are no criteria that can measure such disparate things. Instead, what the examiners and the evaluation criteria focus on is the process. Every student needs to go through the same process starting with investigating a problem of their choice, designing solutions, creating the product to solve the problem, then reflect on what has taken place over the past six months. Since everyone goes through the same process, the assessment can focus on the process.

Contributors:
ashMYPJoe Lumsdenjane