Authentic Intellectual Experiences: The IB MYP Personal Project

The following guest post was written by DFHS teachers Mallory Cairo (@MsCairoHistory), Connor Cohn (@MrCohn9), and Erica Curran @dfsciresearch) and is part of a larger series of posts around “authentic intellectual experiences.” DFHS is a true “IB for All” school and is looked upon as a model public school by the IBO for how to best promote student access to the IB DP. We present annually at the IB World Conference on this topic and regularly welcome guests from districts in the region who are interested in learning more about how to best implement the IB DP.

In 2016, DFHS became authorized as an IB MYP school and all sophomores completed the MYP Personal Project for the first time in 2017. The IB MYP has further allowed DFHS to promote access to the IB DP while providing our students with rich academic experiences that will prepare them for success beyond the walls of our school. This post was written by three of our “rock-star” teachers who have played a direct role in the implementation of the personal project.

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We live in a moment in human history in which we can access a mind-boggling amount of information, oftentimes with the small devices that live in our pockets and our hands. It’s not often enough that we stop to ask ourselves, as educators, but also as citizens, how do we engage with that information? How can a person begin with an idea or a datum and take it from a discrete piece of information to a logical conclusion? How can we assure that our students are able to confront the information they will be bombarded with for the rest of their lives in a meaningful, effective, and thoughtful way? Oh – and also – what do students actually want to do with their time?

Enter the MYP Personal Project (MYP PP). Dobbs Ferry High School implemented this aspect of the MYP curriculum for the first time during the 2016-2017 school year. At DFHS, all students complete the MYP PP while enrolling in an enrichment research course during their sophomore year. The Personal Project is the culminating task of the IB MYP.  Each part encourages students to reflect on or display a different component of the learning and research process, from identifying an inquiry question to researching the question, chronicling the information they find in the report, and somehow showcasing it in the product. The MYP PP is performance-based, authentic, and a true reflection of the the IB skills that students develop over the course of the MYP. It also prepares all students at DFHS to further access the IB Diploma Program (IB DP) starting in junior year.

The benefits of the MYP Personal Project Research Class:

When DFHS moved through authorization for the IB MYP, a great deal of consideration was given to how to best have all students complete the Personal Project while not overloading their workload and/or increasing stress in the sophomore year. The ultimate decision to enroll all students in a sophomore research course that was modeled after Science Research Year 1 proved to be a good one as students not only had time to complete the project, but also had an opportunity to learn research skills across the disciplines that moved well beyond the MYP PP.

There are additional benefits to integrating the personal project within a sophomore research class. The structure of an every other day class allowed the teacher to guide them in brainstorming, researching, and completing their projects.This class takes advantage of two current (research-based) trends in education: interdisciplinary study and student choice. The project gave our students and faculty a chance to collaborate across disciplines and grade levels as students conferred with faculty from both our middle and high school about the research questions they had formulated themselves.

Differentiation at Its Finest

Perhaps the greatest feature of the MYP PP is that it is truly differentiated based on student interest. As a result, it quickly becomes an endeavor that students care about, connect with, and ultimately “own.” Students not only work with faculty members to choose a topic, but also demonstrate their understanding by designing a product that best suits their learning style and areas of strength. In terms of topic selection, the flexibility that the MYP PP provides in terms of “choice” gives educators a great opportunity to scaffold “how to choose.” To students, bridging the gap between what they do in school and what they do at home was sometimes difficult. Lessons during the month of September were mainly exploratory, giving students an opportunity to grapple with their choice in order to create a research-based project around their interests.

The flexibility in terms of choice resulted in some truly amazing products from our students, including but not limited to: a video essay about Chance the Rapper’s impact on inner-city Chicago, a remade car engine, a live action lesson on American Sign Language, a live action dog show, and a video essay about “filler” words in the English language – all projects that attest to both the interdisciplinary and self-directed nature of the Personal Project. In May, we held our first IB Personal Project Expo for all of the members of the Dobbs Ferry community. It was a true “coming together” for our town and built even greater momentum around the amazing work that we are doing at DFHS.

Final Thoughts

The MYP PP provides a brilliant opportunity for students to choose something that interests them, grapple with informational sources, and to interact with the community to showcase their hard work. Having students design their personal project via an every other day class is an incredibly useful tool that allows a teacher to guide the research process. The skills from this project are highly transferable, from Global 10 to everyday adult life! Students build critical thinking skills that allow them to assess information and pursue long-term logical arguments. Allowing student choice will ultimately create more independent learners, and the Expo Night during which students showcase their work is a fabulous evening to celebrate achievement. We are already looking forward to our 2018 Expo in the coming months!

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