If your son or daughter is enrolled in an IB World School and is between the ages of 11 and 16, then they will be studying the Middle Years Program (MYP) of the IB. This is an exciting time in their education, where they are starting to dig deeper into subjects that matter most to them, and to try and understand how the world works on so many different levels. One of the most exciting things that your son or daughter has to look forward to is the opportunity to complete the Personal Project in their fifth and final year of the MYP. The Personal Project allows each students to explore a topic of their choice over the course of their final year. I like to think of it as a “genius hour” project that takes a bit longer. It is a culminating project at the end of the MYP, allowing students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they have honed throughout the program.
The Personal Project comes out of the MYP’s inquiry model to teaching and learning. This is very different from the top-down teaching model, where the teacher feeds information to the student and they feed it back to the teacher in the form of tests or assignments. The inquiry model has the teacher acting as more of a guide, and directing students as they research and explore. Let’s use the topic of war as an example. Traditional approaches to education would introduce a list of important wars that students should study, along with the memorisation of dates and key figures as well as important battles and outcomes. These lists would vary from country to country, and textbooks written from one perspective would almost certainly be used. The MYP approaches the topic of war by asking the students to formulate questions for research such as: Why do people fight? What are the results of war? What are some alternatives to war? How has war affected me? How has war affected the country I am living in? The answers to these questions will vary, based on geographic location and personal history, adding to the richness of the inquiry. Students are often moved to action and take what they have learned our into their community. As an MYP educator, I have seen a big difference in the level of engagement on the part of MYP students, who were given a chance to explore a topic from a variety of different angles and to ask questions to which they were interested to find the answers to. The Personal Project challenges them to apply their inquiring minds to an independent project.
I have the privilege of organising the MYP’s Personal Project in the school where I am currently employed. In their final year of the MYP (Year 5), students are required to complete the Personal Project. It is a year-long inquiry into a topic of their choice, where they are given a chance to explore something that really interests them. Each student is assigned a teacher supervisor, who is available to help if and when needed, but the project is organised and completed entirely by the student. Most projects have a product or outcome, and students are given a chance to share these at an exhibition evening later in the year. Additionally, a report is written on the process of completing the project, allowing students to look back and reflect on what they were able to learn throughout the year.
The topics that students choose for their projects are diverse and exciting, and students are encouraged to choose something that ignites their curiosity. Often, teachers select a project to supervise based solely on the topic (without knowing who the student is), and many teachers have reported that they have learned a lot from this experience, or that they were able to share something about themselves with a student that is completely unrelated to the subject they are teaching. It is really good for students to see that scientists can also be musicians, and that artists can also be mathematicians. This past year, projects completed by students at our school included a huge range of topics: organising a fashion show; building a quad copter; teaching a horse to jump; composing, singing and recording an album; writing and recording a documentary; building a longboard; exploring body language; fair trade and designer knock-offs; the science of basketballs.
Many schools organise open discussions between students who have already completed the project and those who are just beginning. These discussions allow for honest feedback on the experience and the process of organising for the task ahead. Although the project is like none most of these students have ever completed before, every student who completes the project comes away with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The biggest challenge that most students face surrounds the organisation of the project, so this is usually the area where the coordinator and supervisors lend the most support. Every school organises the project differently, but the overall goal of providing students with support that will allow them to maintain control over the project and to independently complete the work remains the same.
There is a feeling of connection and a sense of community among students completing the Personal Project, as this is something that is being undertaken by thousands of students all around the world. Accredited MYP schools are required to register all students completing the project for external moderation, which allows the IB to maintain a level of excellence amongst their schools world-wide. Additionally, the IB has recently introduced what is known as the Community Project as an optional project for schools to use half-way through the MYP. This is a group project, and is a good introduction to the idea of the Personal Project, but in a group setting. Many students coming into the MYP have not completed the PYP (Primary Years Program), which culminates with a project of its own known as the PYP Exhibition. This is a group project completed at the end of the PYP (Grade 5). The IB has built these different projects into its continuum of programs to allow students ample opportunities to practice the independent inquiry skills that they are learning throughout their IB education. By the time students have reached the end of the IB Diploma Program, they are given the challenge of completing the Extended Essay, which is a more academic inquiry project. This essay allows students to demonstrate the range of skills they have learned over the years and is an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding, experience for students as they complete their IB education.
As parents, I encourage you to find out more about the MYP Personal Project in your IB school or in the IB schools in your area. Take time to attend the exhibition evenings and witness the incredible learning that is taking place by students in your community. If your son or daughter is in Year 4 or 5 of the MYP this year, take some time to find out about the Personal Project at your school. Many schools have a Projects Coordinator, or you can also speak with the school’s MYP Coordinator if you have any questions. You can find our more about the MYP Projects on the IB’s website here.
MYP Educator, Personal Project Coordinator GEMS World Academy International School, Etoy