The personal project holds significant importance for MYP students. It provides students with an opportunity to apply the skills they have developed throughout the program in a way that is personal and authentic. Students see its relevance in life beyond the classroom. I have come across many students whose personal project was of great importance in helping them to figure out their real passion, future learning, and career possibilities. The personal project is an independent inquiry and in my opinion, this makes the role of the facilitator/supervisor more complex and challenging. Our responsibility is not to change students’ interests but shape them so that they find their authentic connection. Typically, some common challenges students face in shaping their topic of interest into an extended personal project are:
1. Ambiguity and over-ambitious nature of the project
2. Driven by the idea of achieving a good score
3. Not inquiry worthy
Each of these challenges can be resolved right at the ideation stage in a student’s personal project journey if we are able to provide our students with the right guidance. But what does that mean for us as supervisors?
Step 1: Supporting students with brainstorming
If a student has a big idea, our role as supervisors is to guide them by asking the right questions, providing powerful provocations and relevant resources so that students can sharpen their ideas. This is the first step of the personal project journey, and usually involves:
- Encouraging ideas that are exciting. This could include something students wanted to learn for a long time but could not find time to do it
- Digging into any cause which students personally feel motivated towards and/or allows students to bring a positive change in the world
I have included a few brainstorming templates here. These are beneficial for promoting metacognitive thinking, tapping into students’ creativity and passion, and allowing them to dig deeper.
1. Disney creative strategy
This template can be used individually or with student teams. It allows students to go through three stages of thinking- the dreamer, the realist, and the critic – and ideate on potential topics of interest.
- The dreamer: At this stage, students can verbalise all ideas which interest them. It should be a free flowing conversation without any feedback or restrictions. Students list all the ideas or ‘dreams’ they are passionate about.
- The realist: At this stage, students try and come up with ways in which they can achieve their ideas. They frame questions around what they would need to do in order to implement their idea(s), and come up with a plan of action.
- The critic: At this stage, students evaluate the potential roadblocks for their plan. This should include supervisor’s advice, and identify any limitations or hurdles along with finding a solution.
This is a useful strategy to further push students’ thinking once the idea is finalized. This helps in evaluating existing ideas and ascertain if they are original and easy to implement. Students would need an X and Y matrix where X would represent originality and Y axis would represent implementation.
3. Brain writing
Using this idea generation technique, a student writes down three main ideas which they want to explore further. Thereafter, the page where ideas are documented is passed on to another student, who can continue to expand on those existing ideas or add their own. This strategy is very helpful to get various perspectives on the same idea and see deeper connections.
This is an adaptation of the ideation technique developed by Bob Eberle in his book Scamper: Games for Imagination Development (1971). It involves asking students seven provocation questions, as listed below. These provocations help students generate ideas based on their initial thoughts.
- Substitute: What can I substitute in my idea to make an improvement?
- Combine: Can I combine two different ideas and objectives?
- Adapt: What processes should I adapt?
- Modify: What can I magnify or delete?
- Put to another use: Would there be other possible uses if I were to modify the idea?
- Eliminate: What can I remove without altering its purpose?
- Rearrange: What would I do if part of the idea is reversed?
Step 2: Learning Goal
The second step in the personal project journey is to identify and state the learning goal, which is also used to evaluate the project as a part of Objective A: Planning. This is the first strand of the objective, as below:
i. state a learning goal for the project and explain how a personal interest led to that goal.
In order to support your students in identifying the learning goal for their personal project, you may like to get them started with these brainstorming questions:
- What do I want to know about this topic?
- Why do I want to know about this topic?
- What do I want to learn through this topic?
- Would this learning help me or any other person in any way?
- How would I know if I am really passionate about this topic?
Understand and define the learning goal
You might suggest that students write their learning goal as a question. This will help them describe exactly what they want to learn. For example, if their goal is about cryptocurrency, they might want to learn about cryptocurrency and what its future in India is. As such, the learning goal could be: ‘To what extent will cryptocurrency be the future of the finance sector in India?’. They might then choose to break down their big goal into smaller goals or steps. The following prompts can be used to elaborate on a learning goal.
There are some more prompts which can be useful for students to define their goal by following a systematic thinking process. You can download more templates and prompts here.
Brainstorming, when done right, is a powerful tool for bringing creativity, innovation, and purpose to the personal project, which needs to be supported by careful planning to help students start strong on their personal project journeys. Supporting students with identifying engaging goals is another key area that sets students up for success. These shared resources make the learning process deeper, authentic and more meaningful for students. I hope you find these resources helpful in guiding students along their personal project journeys.