A letter to the Freshman Class as we take on the MYP Project

It’s May again. The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and, of course, the MYP Personal Project is calling out to a new generation: the George Mason High School class of 2021.

Lots of people might roll their eyes at this very topic, but I write to you all to tell you a little more about it before you do such a thing.

Logo of IB Learner profile

George Mason is an International Baccalaureate, or IB, school, with different requirements than other AP high schools. The IB curriculum focuses on a more global perspective and seeks to help students “build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect,” including through the learning traits pictured above. (Photo courtesy of International Baccalaureate)

The IB cultivates the Diploma Program in senior and junior years of high school. Though not all of us will graduate with the IB Diploma, Mason is an IB school that offers IB courses. So, the IB also impacts grades 6-10 with the Middle Years Program (MYP), which “encourages students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world.”

Throughout middle school, students learn about the MYP traits, like being principled, a communicator, and a risk-taker. They develop their critical thinking to help them succeed in the Diploma program and in life as well as to approach learning.

The MYP Program ends in sophomore year of high school, but not without one parting gift: The MYP Personal Project, which begins freshman year and continues through sophomore year.The project can be about absolutely anything we desire.

But what exactly makes up this project?

The IB Program sees the MYP Project as a “student-centered practical exploration in which students consolidate their learning throughout the programme.” Essentially, students can invest time and resources into whatever their passion may be, so long as it shows in-depth thinking, research, and other critical components.

Students present reports in the gym.

The Class of 2020 prepares to share their MYP projects with fellow students and community members in the showcase. From research projects to playing guitar, there is a variety of passions and interests exhibited. (Photo Courtesy of FCCPS Communications)

There is no required topic, and the Project is fairly open-ended with previous projects featuring building a guitar, learning a new language, or even investigating the history of video games. It allows students to investigate one of their passions, find a way of improving it, and finally, communicate the results to the entire community in a showcase.

The Class of 2020 prepares to share their MYP projects with fellow students and community members in the showcase. From research projects to playing guitar, there is a variety of passions and interests exhibited. (Photo Courtesy of FCCPS Communications)

With time provided to work on whatever your passion may be, and the resources to create a really cool final project, what could go wrong with the MYP Personal Project?

For us rising sophomores who have long awaited this moment with bated breath, the Personal Project doesn’t seem as independent and satisfying as described. Instead, with a rigid timeline, process journals, and the pressure to do something amazing, a lot of us are apprehensive.

Sophomores use ManageBAC, an online portal, for learning more about the Personal Project and communicating with their advisor. Due dates are posted on the calendar to make sure students stay on track. Unlike last year, they must write their Process Journal in response to prompts on Google Docs.

Not only do we have to stay up to date with assignments and tasks, we’re also expected to work on their Personal Projects over the summer.

“Everyone’s busy in high school, and a lot of people have a lot of things going on, even in summer. You don’t gain a lot from the project and it’s a waste of time. It’s too difficult to find time and inspiration,” freshman Marie Roche said.

It doesn’t help that the class of 2020, the first grade of Mason to complete Personal Projects, do not have good memories of the process.

“They try to get you to do something you enjoy, but you shouldn’t need an incentive to do what you like. If it truly is about doing something you want to do, you shouldn’t need this project to do it, so I feel it’s a waste of time,” sophomore Lily Hinden said. “I didn’t need an advisor telling me how to do something I knew how to do.”

Overall, many of us are unclear on the purpose of this mysterious project, despite the information provided by MYP coordinators, the Personal Project Fair, and the MYP Personal Project Kickoff event that happened this May. On one hand, we are supposed to make a global connection. On the other hand, the examples of projects seem more personal than global, like learning to play guitar, writing a story, or making a cooking blog.

MYP Personal Project topics were already due, though some of us are struggling to choose an idea.

IB MYP Coordinator Laura Lane and MYP Personal Project Coordinator Carey Pollack, present the Project to the Class of 2021 at the Kickoff event. They discuss choosing the right topic, how to fill out the process journal, and touch on the report due next year. (Photo Courtesy of FCCPS Communications)

“It was kind of annoying. You had to decide your topic on the very first Kick-off day, and I had no idea what I wanted to do,” freshman Cole Tarter said.

As the new generation of students conducting the MYP Personal Project, the freshmen have a lot on their plate. They must choose a topic of interest, follow the specified instructions, and create a product with a “global impact.”

“It feels like an obligation for school right now, but also something that would help you later on,” freshman Jack Lindly said.

I am looking forward to the next Personal Project Fair already. Though we may not be too enthusiastic about the project just yet, there’s still plenty of time to create something really fantastic to partake in Mason’s MYP Program. All in all, I believe that the MYP Project is whatever you make of it, so to the class of 2021, I encourage you to find that interest of yours, pursue it, and nothing else will matter.

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