Personal Projects Inspire SCVi 10th Grade Learners, Facilitators


By Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator at iLEAD Schools

Educators have long talked about the concept of students owning their learning. Students who do so are motivated, engaged and self-directed. They can monitor their own progress and are able to reflect on their growth. 

At SCVi, facilitators and learners begin with the end in mind. Facilitators encourage their learners to take responsibility for their learning from day one. In 10th grade, the journey to true self-direction intensifies with a yearlong Personal Project.

For facilitator and Personal Project Coordinator Jodi Blinn, the process represents an opportunity for each sophomore to choose and explore one’s “why” for pursuing personalized areas of interest.

In order to give you an idea of what the Personal Project model is all about, here are some driving questions from the most recent sophomore projects:

  • How can I create my own website to inform, convince and persuade a large group of people to eat more vegan products?
  • How can I create a short video that raises awareness of the detrimental effects that sunscreen has on our reefs?
  • How can I build a positive community on Twitch?

Blinn said each learner’s goal is different depending on the project. “They get to determine the goal they are working toward and produce a final product that demonstrates it,” Blinn said.

Work on the sophomore year project begins at the end of the freshman year, when learners receive an overview of the project components, start to explore and brainstorm project ideas and begin journaling. “Learners are encouraged to identify a final project topic over the summer,” Blinn said.

Blinn said the Personal Project is aimed at increasing skills including goal-setting, time management, creating and executing action plans, journaling, professional research, narrative writing, academic expository writing, oral communication and collaborating with a mentor. 

In addition to students producing a paper, a final presentation and their individual products, Blinn said one of the biggest learning successes from these projects is each learner’s reflection throughout the project. “Reflection gives the learner the opportunity to honestly evaluate their effectiveness in completing this project,” Blinn said. “It also puts the focus on the process and the valuable lessons they can learn from making mistakes.”

Final Video Product by SCVi learner Miles Burks:

Blinn identified some of the key reflective questions learners address:

  • Does your project meet your plan/vision/criteria?
  • Is the product of high quality? How do you know?
  • How did you address challenges and/or create solutions to problems?
  • What would you do differently given another opportunity?
  • What did you learn and gain from doing this project?
  • What new questions have emerged from your project?
  • What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them?
  • How did you grow as a person/learner?

In addition to these reflections, Blinn said, “Learners appreciate the experience as well as how organized the project is in terms of scaffolding of components over the course of the year. Many honestly reflect on the things they could have done better and how they can use what they learned in future projects.”

Final Video Product by Abby Blasberg:

Those fortunate enough to evaluate Personal Project presentations are equally impressed. iLEAD IB Diploma Coordinator and Developer Abbie Neall, who evaluated presentations this school year, said watching the learners be inspired by a topic and then develop their learning was very gratifying. “It’s a great way of ensuring that the learner is in charge of their education rather than having one imposed upon them,” she said.

Evaluators and parents have seen how the Personal Projects can have a long-lasting impact on the life direction of the learner. SCVi 12th Grade English Language Arts Facilitator and Senior Advisor Cheryl Sena watched her daughter develop a love for music as she learned how to play the piano and take voice lessons to produce an EP for her 10th grade Personal Project. “To this day, she credits this experience with solidifying her love of singing,” Sena said.

After presenting their Personal Projects, many learners are also inspired to continue their personal learning journey. SCVi sophomore Katie Triandos, whose Personal Project was about oxybenzone, which is a common component of sunscreen, and coral bleaching, sees this project as an extension of her lifelong dreams. “Ever since I was 10, I have wanted to be a marine biologist,” Triandos said.

Triandos, who has obtained her Open Water Scuba Diver Certification and Advanced Open Water Diver Certification, said she has now been inspired to inform others about this crucial scientific work. She said the Personal Project was challenging and rewarding, and she is grateful that her Final Video Product on YouTube has received nearly 23,000 views. 

Final Video Product by Katie Triandos:

“In the end, this project inspired me,” Triandos said. “Now I want to create my own sunscreen made out of all-natural marine products.”

The inspired learning that happens through the Personal Project is not limited to the learners. As a facilitator who witnessed the development of these long-term projects this year, Blinn said, “I love learning about new topics, industries, or technologies I had no idea existed or with that I have limited experience. Some examples are upcycling, Twitch, electronic dance music, LARPing, and veganism, to name a few.”

Blinn is proud of the SCVi learners and their work on their Personal Projects. “These sophomores have demonstrated resilience,” she said. “This year, they all had to modify their projects and transition to a virtual format. This wasn’t easy, but the large majority of the learners stepped up and conquered this challenge.

See more sample final products and presentations from SCVi 10th graders: