Personal Project: two words that evoke fear in any IB student. But what is it that really causes this anxiety, and what can we do to ease this stress?
According to the IB website, “The MYP Personal Project is a student-centered and age-appropriate practical exploration in which students consolidate their learning throughout the programme.” It’s supposed to be a unique chance to express yourself within the school community by focusing on your passion. It is an independent learning experience of approximately 25 hours (probably much more) in which you will be assessed on all of the ATL skills.
To find out more about Personal Project, The Bite interviewed Andrew Pontius, the MYP coordinator, who knows all the details.
Q: In your opinion, what is the purpose of the Personal Project?
A: Ultimately, to explore passions. There is a lot of research that shows that we can learn much more if we get truly engaged and we are passionate about something. That’s the number one goal. Then, you have the chance to showcase all the skills you learned in MYP, more precisely the ATL skills. These are hundreds of skills, some of which you may have never encountered before.
Q: Do you see it as a challenging project?
A: It is challenging, but also hopefully fun. It is criteria related. It’s basically like another subject. In grade 10, you have nine subjects instead of eight. To get the top marks, that is really challenging. We want it to be challenging; we want to see students challenge themselves. The marks are not that essential overall. It’s all about the learning. Everyone wants to be challenged, right?
Q: In your opinion, how does the Personal Project summarize everything we did in MYP, and how does it prepare us for the IB?
A: Personal Project is a chance to showcase all that you’ve learned and get ready for the diploma. It’s a nice transition piece to showcase everything that you’ve learned in MYP while you pursue your passion. It also helps you prepare for the DP because you go through a massive process. Our top priority is making students think where they want to go after this and what they want to do with their life. Personal Project stimulates them to think about the future aspect of their life.
Q: How did the tenth graders do this year?
A: The exhibition was fantastic. There were a lot of great projects. In the end, it’s everyone’s individual journey. If they all went through a reflection, most of them would focus on writing about their grades and their final projects. If they reflect more on their journey, most of them would be pretty positive about what they’ve been through.
I think some people know that if they would have spent more time on it, if they really followed a true passion and if they really challenged themselves in one way, the whole process would have been a lot better. Some people tried to do something just to get through it and as soon as you do that, it’s going to become work. One of the goals is for this not to be work.
Q: What is the most unique Personal Project from your experience?
A: I have seen a lot of them. One really interesting one is when a student literally built a go-cart from top to bottom. This means that every aspect from putting the engine together to welding the metal frame together was taken care by him. It was also the most favored by students as they got to drive the go cart around the school yard.
Q: If you were to do a Personal Project, what would you do?
A: With half of my brain, in my educational sense, I think I would start some sort of educational blog and movement. If I can connect it to my life and job here, I would have it be a change theory, so a blog gathering evidence in order to move the school and education from what it is today to a system that has more real world [situations]. Initiatives may include ditching classes for part of the day, kids doing more projects like this, or maybe using our design center effectively and frequently once it is built.
Basically, I would go on a journey to blog and gather evidence in order to enact change in our current schooling system. I should also have a plan, which could include ditching grading in the MYP and so many other things in order to only focus on learning.
With the other part of my brain, I would learn how to play the guitar (laughs). It has always been one my huge desires. Those are my two ideas.
Q: What can students do to prepare for the Personal Project and what advice do you have for current ninth graders?
A: Start thinking about what you are passionate about because you don’t want it to be work. You get to do something you truly enjoy doing and that you are interested in. Focus on passions is the number one tip.
Q: How does Genius Hour prepare us for the Personal Project?
A: In Personal Project, you are exploring your passions and building lots of skills by exploiting them. Kicking off the second half of the year with that Grade 9 Genius Hour in Humanities, hopefully, gives ninth graders a chance to go through a mini process of the Personal Project. The students will be showcasing and communicating to our community what they have accomplished. Overall, Genius Hour allows students to really discover their interests and decide on something they want to focus on for the Personal Project.
The tenth graders just finished their Personal Projects and according to Pontius, “they did an amazing job.” It was a long process and an exciting journey that for the most part, students are really glad it is over.
There has been a multitude of amazing journeys determined by numerous passions. Here’s a glimpse of three remarkable ones:
Seongjin K. – Novel about Third Culture Kids
For his Personal Project, Seongjin wrote a novel on his and other students’ experiences as third culture kids in our school (you can buy it here).
Seongjin recalls that, “Writing about my own experiences was very interesting. It gave me a chance to reflect on my life.”
He is very satisfied with his final product. Everything went really well, better than he had imagined.
“It was a long process. I researched extensively, making surveys, taking interviews, and looking for statistics. I really enjoyed writing. When you get inspiration, you can write for hours in a row,” says Seongjin.
Some pieces of advice that he has is to work consistently from the beginning, especially before and after the winter break. This is because at that specific time, students will get bombarded with assessments.
Umay E. – Benefit Concert
For her Personal Project, Umay organized a benefit concert to raise awareness about Down Syndrome. She used her passion of playing the piano to teach children suffering from Down Syndrome to enjoy the sounds of this instrument.
“The most important part for me was to spend time with the children,” says Umay. “It wasn’t all about teaching them how to master this instrument; it was about interacting with them. It was a truly emotional experience.”
Umay remembers that she “had a friend whose sibling was suffering from Down Syndrome. By spending time with her, [she] realized that people suffering from this disorder are truly kind and unique, [and they have] so much potential. Then, [she] made a decision– to interact with children suffering from Down Syndrome and teach them how to play the piano.”
Umay collaborated with a center specialized in children with Down Syndrome in order to choose a group who were most capable of working with music. There were four at the beginning, but two of them got bored and couldn’t handle the pressure. In the end, she was left with two children to play the piano with.
A struggle that Umay experienced was the communication with the children. They didn’t speak English and she doesn’t speak Romanian, so they used sign language to communicate. She also learned some Romanian words for “good job” and, “keep on trying.”
Overall, Umay is very happy with the outcome of her project. She said that the concert was a real success.
“The children were so happy when they heard all of the applause. I will never forget that night. I am grateful that I could make other people happy,” recalls Umay.
She said that the best piece of advice for Personal Project is to choose a topic that you’re really passionate about, something that you won’t get bored off. She also advises: “Don’t try to go the easy way. The more important and complicated thing that you do; the more pleased you will be with the outcome of your result.”
Maria A. – Movie about Communist Romania
For her Personal Project, Maria made a movie about resistance through culture in communist Romania. She had to research about people who resisted communism and who avoided the regime. She interviewed some influential people from that time like Liviu Tofan, who worked for Radio Free Europe, a radio set up by the Americans in order to spread the news in Europe about communist countries.
Maria declares that, “This experience made me appreciate others. I truly admire Liviu Tofan. He was brave enough to face the regime through media, risking his and his family’s lives.”
Maria came up with this idea when remembering stories that her parents told her as a child about how people would change scripts and plays in order to mock the regime.
“Those stories were unbelievable. They sparked an interest in me,” says Maria.
She is pretty pleased with the outcome of her project, but admits that the movie could have been better. However, the skills and the knowledge that she earned made her realize how much work she actually put into this. Maria learned how to use different movie editing software, and she also improved her communication skills as she interacted with many people in order to get valuable and useful interviews.
Maria advices all ninth graders to start thinking about their projects as early as possible. She deeply encourages students to brainstorm ideas before they even start Personal Project in ninth grade.
In life, it is essential to face your fears in order to overcome them. You shouldn’t just ignore the Personal Project because you are scared that you don’t know what to do. Even if it seems to be a long way ahead of you, it is useful to start brainstorming as soon as possible.
By reading this article, you are a step forward in confronting your fear of Personal Project because you’ve actually learned what it is. After all, it is your journey and you decide which path to take and what you want to do.