Thursday, 18 September 2014

Year 8 Passion Projects

I am still smiling about the amazing learning that we saw on display last week at our Year 8 Passion Project exhibition. Our Year 8s surprised and delighted me with the projects they have produced; the quality and variety has blown me away.

And now it is time to reflect. What can we do to improve the process? What systems need tweaking or a complete rehash? How can we ensure our learners are getting the very best possible learning experience?

To reflect on this process, I've gone right back to our vision for the Year 8 projects. A book that I have loved is Sir Ken Robinson's Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. Ken Robinson defines your element as the place where your talents and passions meet. For many years, he has been spreading the message that schools are killing creativity and not equipping learners for their future. Enabling learners to find their element and work within it is engaging and gives them purpose.

How can schools ensure we are giving our students the opportunity to find their element?

Our Year 8 passion projects enable our learners to explore this. The girls spend three terms immersed in a learning experience of their own choice. The only stipulations are that they create some sort of product and that at the end of three terms, they share their learning at an exhibition for families.

7 things you need to know about Selwyn House's passion projects-

  • Student- chosen
  • Independent
  • Students have a mentor on the teaching staff
  • Keep a Learning Journal
  • Work with Experts in Community
  • Create a Product
  • Personal Learning Groups for support

What sort of projects do our learners choose?

A student has finally made peace with her dyslexia after learning about it, mentoring younger students with dyslexia and creating an app to support them in their learning. 

We often have community service projects such as Francesca who raised money for an orphanage in Cambodia or Holly who created an entire activity program for children who are sick in hospital and provided ready-made craft kids. 

This student's family home is a full rebuild after the Christchurch earthquakes. She found an architect in the community to mentor her about house design, then worked with her parents on a design for their new home. 

ICT/ technology projects are popular, such as Georgia's blog teaching HTML/ CSS or Lydia's very engaging reading blog.
There are often girls who want to challenge themselves by learning an entirely new skill such as silversmithing or portrait photography and then there are girls who want to share a skill they already have with others such as Makenzie's video tutorials for those who want to learn barrel racing or Lottie's hockey tips series.

There are girls who want to create a product using brand new learning such as Taylor's bronze statue or Hana's lip dub about our school. Juliette built an entire dog agility course from scratch and then taught her labdradoodle Frodo to complete the course and Abi built an electric cello using the parts of a piano that was going to be taken to the dump.

For me the highlight of these projects is that they create a level playing field. Often learners who benefit from lots of support in other parts of the school day, absolutely thrive when it comes to passion projects, producing projects that blow the rest of us away! I love that giving agency back to the learners enables them to share a new aspect of themselves with their classmates and teachers and that the learners themselves really sparkle with pride at what they have achieved. 

These projects are a "rite of passage" at Selwyn House. They are designed to bring together all the threads of our inquiry-based and learner-centred programme before they embark on that huge, new adventure; high school. Having seen and heard what our Year 8s have achieved, I feel confident that these learners have the skills, the growth mindset and the drive to go out and make a difference in their world.