The New and Improved Personal Project

I’m just finishing my 9th year in an MYP school. In that time I have supervised my fair share of personal projects. A few have been fantastic, a few have been shocking, but the vast majority have been average at best. With the release of new guidelines for the personal project comes a chance for us to reinvent how we introduce and, ultimately, get the students to think about the personal project.

When Andrea Law, our MYP Coordinator, and I started talking about this, we decided we needed to find a way to get the students to invest themselves in this year-long project and truly make it personal. Too often in the past students chose topics that they thought would be easy or help them get a good grade rather than one that they truly cared about.

Instead of starting with an Area of Interaction (AoI, which, to be honest, they don’t always truly understand), we asked the students to identify problems that they see in their world around them. They could be huge global problems like poverty; they could be problems based on their community like friends not truly understanding the importance of the Tet holiday; they could be individual problems like not having enough space in your room for your stereo and computer.

Once they identified a few problems, students were asked to write down their personal connection to each of those problems. Why did they matter? Possible links to AoIs were established here as well.

Once personal connections were identified, students began thinking about a solution: what could they make or do in order to address the problem. After conferencing with their peers, students then came up with the topic for their personal project.

All of the information about how they came up with their topic (problem, connection, AOI, and solution) was submitted by survey by each of the students. Teachers then read each description (without student names) and signed up to be supervisors based on their own interests as well.

Andrea, Joyce the librarian, and I just spent the morning rotating between the three homerooms talking about important aspects of the personal project students need to address over the summer: organizational details and meeting with supervisors; information literacy and evaluating sources; and the process journal and blogs.

I’m really excited by the quality of the topics that were decided upon by the students. I could immediately tell that the problem solving  approach has made the whole concept of the personal project much more accessible. I think we’ve also helped the students choose topics that they are really interested in. This will have such huge impact on how the view this year-long process!

Image:
Devojka mala AttributionNoncommercial by Sebastian Adanko

Twitter, Professional Development and MYP

This has to be the best weekend for all-around professional development – bar my MYP Workshop Leader Training – that I’ve ever had. And the best part: I very rarely left the comfort of my house. With the 21st Century Learning (#21CHK)  conference taking place in Hong Kong and the MYP Workshops (#MYP) taking place in Bangkok, I had my two main areas of interest covered. Add to that the webinar given by Dr. Helen Barret on e-portfolios, sponsored by Classroom 2.0, and I was set.

The MYP Octagon

This is by far the liveliest Twitter discussion on MYP I have ever seen. One aspect stood out in particular: How does MYP prepare students for Theory of Knowledge in the Diploma Program? Eric MacKnight weighed in with his feelings on his blog and he bring up some very good points about the implementation of TOK. A major concern is that “students have little or no experience thinking about the sort of issues that arise in TOK.” His solution:

So let’s solve two problems at once. A weekly or biweekly ATL course in the Middle Years program would provide an opportunity to address learning habits and skills explicitly, and to engage in the kind of age-appropriate discourse that would give students invaluable practice thinking about how they think, so that when they arrived for their first TOK class in Grade 11 they would resemble fish in water, instead of deer in headlights.

This is a very logical solution for the TOK issue except, as my friend and (ex-) colleague Adrienne pointed out “the idea of ATL as [a] separate course is directly in opposition of philosophy of MYP’s AOIs.” (emphasis added)

The MYP, when practiced conscientiously, is a very good program. It has taken me years to be able to write that sentence – when I first laid eyes on it in 2002, I hated the MYP. Part of the problem I had, I realize now, was that I was looking at it from a Diploma Program point-of-view. There were too many things that I felt it didn’t do to prepare my students for the content -heavy IB Diploma. I didn’t buy in fully to Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs). I didn’t fully understand the importance or centrality of the Areas of Interaction (AOIs). (In my defense, neither did very many other people. With the recent release of the document “From Principles to Practice” (.pdf 1.26 MB) it has become much clearer. This is a must read – cover to cover – if you are an MYP teacher.) In short, I was teaching my MYP courses like they were Diploma courses.

The MYP is not designed to be a pre-IB Diploma course. It’s organization and structure do not explicitly follow from or lead into the Diploma Program**. The only thing that seemingly binds them is the IB Learner Profile. But if you teach MYP for the sake of MYP, if you use the AOIs to give focus to your units, if you use significant concepts to forge links between subject areas, if you strive to integrate the Approaches to Learning skills into every lesson, students will be well prepared to tackle any content-focused Diploma course, including Theory of Knowledge.

Thanks to @melanievrba, @krea_frobro747, @BrianLockwood, @ericmacknight, and  @amichetti for a fantastic discussion. I hope we can do this again!

** – While the organization and structures of all three IB levels (including PYP) are all explicitly different, I would like to see the introduction of a common vocabulary between the three programs. That would make everybody’s life so much easier!

Parabolas!

It’s a shame that we’re just finishing up Quadratics Functions in my IB Math SL course today. After being pointed to the Radio Lab podcasts from NPR by my buddy Shane, I found this video on parabolas in the real world. 

It would be interesting to start the unit next year by doing the same pendulum experiment, showing them this video and then discussing the imagery that is shown.

If you were going to center an entire unit on quadratics around a single concept/idea/question, what would it be? Using the MYP holy triumvarate of Significant Concepts, Unit Questions and Area of Interaction focus, this video compels me to think of universal laws (SC), “Why are parabolas used in art and architechture?” (UQ), and Human Ingenuity (AOI).

(For the non-MYP crowd out there, what would be your theme of your parabolas unit?)