“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions. We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions, how to think.”
–Clay Parker, President, BOC Edwards

IICS recently held the Grade 10 Personal Project Exhibition, which was an incredible event featuring varied, interesting, and in depth explorations of topics students are very passionate about. The Grade 10 Personal Project gives each student the opportunity to personalize their own learning experience while requiring them to apply (and often significantly develop) skills like:

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

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.

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.

One of our favorite things about the Personal Projects is the sheer range of products that students are able to create. This year the range of projects varied from sand art to music composition to cultural ceremonies to engineering to recycled fashion to gender identity to animal welfare, and much more. One student even built his own computer.

There are some guidelines and criteria that students must fulfill when selecting their area of interest: the topics selected cannot be unethical, but they certainly can be challenging topics. Aside from that, the guidelines are so flexible that unless you are doing something absolutely pointless in everybody’s eyes, you have months of time to hone it and get it right.

Very often at the beginning of the process, we ask students to come up with an idea, an area of interest. And then those of us who have actually worked on Personal projects for years are able to point students in the right direction that will turn out really well in the end.

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.

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.

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.

We would like to thank all the students (and their supportive– and probably exhausted– parents, PP supervisors, and teachers) for another wonderful Exhibition this year!
Joe Lumsdenash