You can call it a passion project, a portfolio, a capstone, a demonstration of learning – heck call it anything you want. More and more, as I see these type of expressions of student work at the end of school years or the end of school careers, I am becoming convinced they should be regularly part of our system. And, in fairness, more and more they are the new normal in our schools.
Just over a decade ago there was a major push to move in this direction with the short-lived Graduation Portfolio. There are numerous reasons why it was abandoned. Two lessons I took from the experience, were 1) at the time the technology was not good enough to do what we wanted in terms of documenting learning and it became a paper-heavy process and 2) a cumulative portfolio or project should not be simply the checking off of boxes as tasks are completed, it needs to be more meaningful.
There are numerous different examples of these demonstrations of learning in West Vancouver schools. Some of these presentations are built into programs. We currently have four International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs in West Vancouver – two at the Primary Years level (PYP), and one at both the Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma levels (DP). In each of these programs students have a structure to bring their learning together. In the MYP Program, our Rockridge grade 10 students present an exhibition of their personal projects.
At Westcot Elementary, the Passion Projects represent seven months of exploration, discovery and learning. Students are given one afternoon each week to pursue any area of interest. Nearly 100 grade 6 and 7 students follow their passions, blog about their progress and ultimately present to the school community in a culminating exhibition. Whether the finished product is a graphic novel, a fundraiser for school supplies for underprivileged children or an animated short film, students are encouraged to reflect upon the process each step of the way. In this photo ( Credit – Cindy Goodman), Grade 7 student Rory Scott demonstrates the quarter pipe ramp for skateboarding he built for his project.
The most recent version of this type of learning I have seen in action in the Advanced Placement (AP) Diploma. These grade 11 and 12 students take two courses – AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses see students doing team projects, research based essays, and public presentations – all in a context of student choice. Students that take and score 3 or higher on 4 AP courses and complete the Seminar and Research course receive the AP Capstone Diploma. The Capstone Diploma is being piloted in a limited number of Canadian schools, including Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver.
As we look out over the next five years, it would be wonderful if all of our students get a chance to pull together their learning – ideally at least once in the elementary grades and again during their high school career. As we work in the system to break down thinking of learning in content based compartments, there needs to be an opportunity for all our students to share their learning across curriculum and from inside and outside of school.