Building a Better Personal Project – Making it Meaningful for Students and Manageable for Teachers
Sarah Phillips
4 min read

The MYP personal project is a significant rite-of-passage for students in their last year of the Middle Years Programme.

“The personal project provides an opportunity for students to undertake an independent and age appropriate exploration into an area of personal interest. Through the process of inquiry, action and reflection, students are encouraged to demonstrate and strengthen their ATL skills.”

-Personal Project Guide (2021)

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I think the personal project is one of the best features of the MYP, as it represents the spirit of the programme in so many ways:

  • Students drive their own learning in an independent project
  • Students explore and showcase something that matters to them
  • Students reflect on what they have achieved

It is truly personal in that students complete a project on any topic they like, they decide what success looks like, and they decide how to achieve their desired outcome.

You can see all kinds of examples of personal projects on social media and the IB blog.

Image credit – Sarah Phillips

As a whole, the personal project is a process through which students create a product and then write a reflective report

The project is highly personalized, in that students can create any product that they want. However, the assessment of the report is standardized in the sense that all projects are assessed against the same criteria.

This makes it really difficult to balance validity and manageability. The more open and flexible the task, the more valid it is because it is true to the aim of being personal, but that makes it less manageable to implement and assess. For example, if one project is about cake decorating, and the other is about learning a sign language, how can schools organize themselves to support these diverse and different types of projects? When it comes to assessment, how do you know whether those projects achieved a similar standard when the projects themselves are so different? 

While it would be really great to be able to assess the process as it unfolds, assess the product when it is completed, and assess the report at the end of the project, that is simply not feasible for most schools, and certainly not feasible for moderation across all MYP schools. So, one of the big challenges for students, and the teachers supporting them, is to make sure that the report captures what students have achieved and learned during the process of creating their product.

This challenge led to two key goals in the review of the personal project:

  • Students should be able to succeed in the personal project even if they do not succeed in creating their product
  • The process should result in the product and the report

In order to do this, the process must yield evidence that will help students to reflect on their process and their product, which is connected to another goal of the review:

  • The project should give students the chance to demonstrate the skills they have, as well as developing new ones.

Image credit – Sarah Phillips

Here’s an overview of how some of the key changes in the Personal Project are connected to these goals:

Rethinking how students collect evidence

Gathering evidence throughout the process is an essential part of supporting students’ success in the personal project. While this used to be done in the process journal, students can now collect evidence across a variety of platforms, making it easier for students to use a range of options, like sketchbooks, digital calendars, social media posts and voice memos. Likewise, samples of evidence used to be presented in an appendix at the end of the report, now the evidence is embedded in the report. Having the evidence and students’ comments side-by-side is more intuitive for students, and makes the report easier to read.

There are all kinds of evidence students might produce at each stage of the process that could be used in the report. Some examples include:

Coordinators and supervisors can provide prompts or templates to help with the process and generate evidence of the process. The templates you can download with this blog have tons of examples you can use or adapt with your students.

When students prepare their report, they should select the examples that had the most impact on themselves and their product. In fact, the process of curating evidence – selecting examples of skills and strategies that contributed to their success – is a great starting point for reflecting on the project as a whole. With evidence gathered over the course of the whole project, students will be able to step back and see how they have achieved in their personal project.

The personal project is a significant rite of passage for MYP students. It gives students an opportunity to apply the skills they have developed throughout the programme in pursuit of a goal that is personally meaningful. It is also a great step towards adulthood. By selecting a goal that is worthy of their time and attention, applying and developing the skills necessary to achieve it, and reflecting on the outcome, students are developing and demonstrating their independence. I hope that this summary of the revised personal project will help you to bring this to live in your school!

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Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips
Sarah recently worked as the Senior Curriculum Manager for the MYP at the IB Global Center in the Hague before returning to Canada. With over 20 years of experience in many roles including camp counsellor, teacher, consultant and workshop leader, she has a great passion for student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and learning.
Disclaimer - The ideas and resources presented in this blog have been developed independently from and are not endorsed by the International Baccalaureate (IB).