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.


  1. I love the slides. The girls passions are so diverse!

    1. Thank you Helen! Sorry for my delayed response!

  2. These are amazing, Bridget! As a fellow kiwi and Cantabrian, I am familiar with Selwyn House school and I love that they are now an IB school. The Passion Projects you have described are remarkable in their depth and sophistication and yet clearly the passion of the child and a showcase for their learning. Sir Ken Robinson is a huge favorite of mine and I count one of the highlights of my career was the day I saw him speak about creativity and education in person when I was teaching in Idaho. Amazing. Are these projects part of the PYP Exhibition or are they just a separate part of your program? I will definitely be sharing these with our teachers as they prepare to embark on the Exhibition next semester here in Munich. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Wow! Sonya, Thank you so much. I am mortified to discover these comments months later. I really must get better at checking them. And to think that I insist my girls reply to all comments on our class blog! ;)
      You heard Ken Robinson? How incredible. I am such a fan of his. He is so astute and so engaging and funny.
      Yes, Selwyn House has had a real change of direction in the last ten years. Very future-focused- innovative and real experts in engaging girls for a changing world. I love working there. I also have a daughter there and can't believe how lucky she is to learn and grow at Selwyn House. The Y6 girls do the exhibition- this is a way for the Y8s to bring together all the threads of their learning in their final year at SH. It works so well.
      Thanks again for your comment and sorry for the embarrassingly delayed response.

  3. Hi Bridget,
    I have just been reading your blog about your Year 8 Passion Projects. The girls' have chosen very diverse goals. I introduced 'Passion Projects' to my Year 5 & 6 students this year (Term 3) and they have loved the learning journey that it has taken them on. As I would like to continue with this concept I wonder if it would be possible for you to share this presentation with me. I see it as being a great motivator for my class next year 2015. This is definitely an aspect what future focussed learning should look like. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Helen, I am so sorry that I have just discovered your comment! I really must get better at checking the comments and following up. I would love to share this google pres with you although it is probably no use to you anymore. If you are still interested, let me know? Are you on twitter?