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The Middle Years Programme: A closer look at the personal project

We explored the MYP personal project from two different vantage points: that of Robert Harrison, MYP coordinator at Ellen Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia, USA and of Renee Olper, personal projects coordinator at the American School Foundation of Mexico.

Choosing an appropriate project

For both schools, students choose their projects with the support of the IB staff. Hobbies, sports, theater, community service, culture, and entrepreneurship are among the popular categories. “The students often arrive with firm ideas about what they want to do,” Dr. Harrison said. “They are interested in a variety of things and they follow those interests.” Many of their interests tie into family background, personal experiences, global issues, and more.

For students who have a difficult time choosing a subject, the schools offer brainstorming sessions and recommendations. “There are always civic groups and community organizations that can use our students' help, and they provide invaluable learning experiences,” Ms. Olper said.

Establishing benchmarks to keep students on track

To help students accomplish their personal projects, both schools have discovered that establishing benchmarks for student progress is crucial. “As supervisors, we first make sure the scope of a student’s project is feasible,” Dr. Harrison explained. “We then require students to check in regularly. We also ask students to maintain and present regular journal entries, which could also be presented electronically, for example as blogs.”

Ms. Olper provides students and supervisors with important dates and milestones, then sends frequent reminders through emails and bulletins. She also plans to establish a shared online calendar that will give students and supervisors instant access to target dates.

The importance of parent and community support

Parent and community support play a big role in a student’s personal project. As Dr. Harrison noted, “It is an out-of-class process that is undertaken in addition to a rigorous class load. Parent support and guidance are crucial.” Ms. Olper capitalizes on the strong parent involvement in her school. “When kids enter the school, parents are informed that their kids will undertake the personal project. The parents are then free to email me or the child’s supervisor any time with questions or concerns.”

Maintaining IB standards

Both schools assess a student’s work based on MYP personal project objectives, ensuring a consistent standard for all schools throughout the Americas and the world.

There are minor variations in assessment among schools. Dr.¬ Harrison noted that adjustments may be made in the presentation of the personal project based on a student’s needs. As an example, he cited students learning English who can write in their preferred language. At the American School, Ms. Olper arranges a school wide event where students formally present the results of their personal projects.

The actual quality of a student’s finished product is not the ultimate measure of success. “Sometimes a project just does not work out," Dr. Harrison said. But if a student can clearly demonstrate his or her learning process and an understanding of why something failed, the project can still receive high marks. Freedom to fail is part of learning as well.”

An invaluable learning experience

Ms. Olper and Dr. Harrison agree that the personal project offers invaluable experience that will help students with their academic careers and lives.

"For most students, the personal project is their first large independent project outside of regular school activities,” Dr. Harrison said. “Owning a project, working independently and accomplishing a worthwhile goal provide invaluable experience to students as they move on to college and careers."