An SIS student journey sometimes feels like going through one gate after another. A series of escapes. Each gate leads to slightly more independence, a touch more responsibility and a further step away from the mother ship. The Personal Project, taken in grade 10, is one of these gates. The PP is a design challenge where students take any idea they are interested in, come up with a goal and set out to achieve that goal. It offers students the chance to look into themselves and make choices based on what they see and how they feel.

“The PP is one of the first opportunities students get to make some independent decisions as individuals. They do get this kind of agency in other subjects, like choosing which famous person to write about. But the PP lasts 6-7 months and digs into who they are and what their interests are,” says Rebecca Gonzalez, Psychology and Theory of Knowledge teacher and Personal Project coordinator, “Some students love this challenge – they dive straight in. Others take a little longer but most students feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the process. There’s an added challenge because they have to be conscious of their own development.”
One of the main assessment criteria of the PP is how well a student is able to reflect on the whole process. When they set a goal, they must reflect on the process of how they go about achieving that goal or not. That way, achieving the goal (or not) becomes secondary to understanding the process. The reflection on this process becomes the real focus of the PP, so it expands the idea of failure. A failure to reach a goal is not a failure if you recognise the process – which is more like real life. In some respects, the PP is useful for evaluating the readiness of students for the Diploma Programme, where they will be faced with the Extended Essay, the grown-up version of the PP.  The PP is another gate through which lies the experience of being an independent global citizen who can think critically. 
After experiencing a lot of managed learning with a focus on what to know and what not to know, students are suddenly presented with options. Rebecca Gonzalez continues the point, “We want to encourage an independent agent identity and we do see students making leaps and bounds realising what their strengths and weaknesses are as a student and as a person and really what works for them as managing themselves as individuals. The PP is a recording of how students grow in relation to their learning. How they learn to communicate better, how they learn to perform self-management, how they learn to set and use communication and research goals. At least that’s the ideal concept of the PP.”
What kind of projects do they undertake when they get the choice? “Everything! Everything from a cookbook aimed at teenagers to encourage healthier choices, a blockchain app to authenticate medics, a short feature film, a translation website for Swedish to English sports terminology, painting, sculpture, recycling, many podcasts, and a prosthetic arm being made in a 3D printer.”
It was SIS student Laura Alvarez who designed a trans-radial prosthetic for teenagers as her PP. Laura has always had an interest in prosthetics. “I hadn’t seen many designs aimed at teenagers,” she says, “I thought I’d design something specifically for teens.” Fellow student Mateusz Sienicki-Gosciniak has created a series of photographs of Hong Kong. Having lived there earlier, and being interested in photography and exploring, Mateusz knew what he wanted to focus on. 
Choosing topics of interest was easy enough, but what about the other benefits? Mateusz Sienicki-Gosciniak told the Dispatch that the “PP gave me a chance to explore a topic I’ve always been interested in but was never motivated to explore independently. I needed to become more aware of time management and my motivations.” Laura Alvarez agreed, “It’s good, and not difficult, to reflect on the work you’ve done and the. mistakes you’ve made along the way. You definitely get to know yourself a bit better.”
Rebecca Gonzalez continues, “it’s hard work for the students and the teachers! We all get to know ourselves better. This year, with the pandemic and everything, has meant that lots of colleagues have stepped in and supported each other. I would give a big shout-out to the supervisors who at times have felt undervalued for all the work they do. The curriculum says we only need to meet students 3 times, which is ridiculous because we often meet them multiple times a week. Everyone who teaches in the MYP is a supervisor and some DP teachers as well and they’ve done a great job.” The Personal Project Evening held on the 22nd Feb was a great success. In fact, GatherTown got quite crowded! The students did a fantastic job and SIS couldn’t be prouder. You can find the student posters on the Personal Project Website.

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