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Real-life passion drives school projects

Students sit in the assembly hall for the Personal Project launch and panel event

In the words of the Glen Waverley School Captains Brock Heavyside and Sasha Lethbridge, ‘The pressure is on our generation to solve [climate change] issues.’ Their peers are responding with inventiveness and passion, using school projects to delve deeply into real-life issues, as Linda Pizzarello explains.

Students at Wesley are learning through real-world, problem-based experiential approaches to education. What does that look like? A good example is the Personal Project, a challenging, independently-driven project which all Year 10 students undertake as a culminating component of their International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). Similar to a university thesis, the project is a self-directed research and product design project where students steer their own learning, supported in periodic meetings with a supervisor. Students are encouraged to explore an area of personal interest through a cycle of inquiry, action and reflection within a global context.

In 2020, a year where our College theme focuses on ‘sustainable futures,’ and a time when we face the immediate and global impact of climate change, it’s no surprise that many students chose to address environment and sustainability issues.

Real experiences from social enterprises

To frame the project within a real-world context, we invited speakers from four local social enterprises to the launch of the Personal Project at the St Kilda Road Campus. The guest panellists discussed the process they underwent to launch their own real-world products, the challenges they faced and the skills they employed to resolve these challenges.

The panellists included Mat Lumalasi and Vanessa Kwiatkowski of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey; Thomas Hiney, the co-founder of Sunbutter Sunscreen, which produced the first Australian sunscreen without any plastics; the Chief Marketing Officer of RedGrid, Alex Evans (OW2014); and Claudine Lagier, co-founder of Roving Refills, a mobile detergent distributor reducing the need for plastic bottles.

Alex Evans, who graduated from Wesley College just six years ago in 2014, has already turned his passion for start-ups into a role as Chief Marketing Officer at start-up RedGrid, which is revolutionising the way we use energy and reducing energy wastage. Alex encouraged students to look for a current problem to solve as the inspiration for their projects. Similarly, Claudine Lagier suggested students research current and emerging trends to determine where in the market their proposed product or outcome would fit.

Mat Lumalasi spoke about Rooftop Honey’s goal of saving bees and providing them with healthy hives, and as an entrepreneur spoke about how frightening it is to take risks on something unfamiliar, particularly as Rooftop Honey embarks on international expansion. Thomas Hiney of Sunbutter Sunscreen advised students to persist when reaching out for help. These four companies have each designed products and services that solved a problem, adapting to changing demands and creating solutions to current issues within society, and were inspiring examples for students.

The presenters highlighted the importance of undertaking a project with a sense of passion and purpose, which can help when there are setbacks. Many students find the independent and prolonged nature of a personal project challenging, but the benefits of project-based learning are widely recognised; to quote Alex, ‘Project work in school is the perfect micro-environment to build the habits that [students] will need to successfully deliver projects in the workplace.’ Although many of our students will experience frustration and disappointment on their project journeys, most will come away with a renewed understanding of themselves as individuals and learners and be proud to present their work at the Personal Project Showcase in Term 2.

Vanessa and Mat from Rooftop Honey spoke at the event
Vanessa Kwiatkowski and Mat Lumalasi from Rooftop Honey spoke on the panel alongside staff from other social enterprises
Real-life processes and skills

As they undertake the Personal Project, our students develop and rely on skills such as research, self-management, higher-order thinking, communication and the social skills required to successfully complete a self-directed project. The Personal Project itself assesses skills rather than knowledge of a topic. The launch event and panel presentation aimed to help students gain a greater understanding of the process of creating a product or service, demonstrate real-world applications and highlight the skills required for project work.

Some of the presenters will return to Wesley in Term 2 to work with students as they refine their products. We look forward to welcoming them back.

We wish our Year 10 students the best of luck as they embark on their personal projects and look forward to celebrating their products and outcomes at the Personal Project showcase on 26 May.

Linda Pizzarello is the Assistant MYP Coordinator at the St Kilda Road Campus