Every June, the 14 year-old, grade 9 students at Island Pacific School stand up in front of an audience of about 100 schoolmates and visitors to present and then answer questions about their year-long Masterworks project. This is the culmination of work that began in October when the students had to identify a topic of personal interest, and extended over the winter where they were supervised by an Advisory Committee consisting of one teacher and 2-3 “External Faculty” -- i.e. people in the community or beyond with an informal or professional interest in the topic being investigated. The nominal task is to complete a 12-20 page paper on their particular topic of interest. The scary bit comes in trying to explain that topic to an audience, and then in answering the questions that come from their committee members, the students, and the general public.
It turns out that the kids are magnificent. With the benefit of tremendous support throughout the year, they end up knocking their presentations out of the park. More than one professional in the field has remarked that the understanding and ability of these 14 year-old kids matches and sometimes surpasses that of that of adults just entering their respective fields.
When unleashed to pursue their own passions, they demonstrate a remarkable depth and breadth of interests and abilities. Here are just a few examples of the hundreds of Masterworks projects that have been undertaken:
The Many Worlds Interpretation in Quantum Mechanics
Between the Lines (A Film Short)
Playing God: The Ethics, Science & Legality of Gene Editing
Remixing the Moonwalk: Teaching the School to Dance Like the King of Pop
Fractals and Chaos: Exploring Reality
Chad Is Making a Guitar!
The Pressure to Be Perfect: Western Society’s Approach to Body Image
Is Euthanasia Morally Defensible?
So how is it that a bunch of 14 year-old kids can punch above their weight by offering interesting investigations of things like quantum mechanics, contemporary body image, dream analysis, and video game coding or by creating original plays, films, fashion lines, and guitars? Part of it, to be sure, is the level of support that their teachers and the external advisors provide throughout the year. But the real catalyst is precisely this opportunity to pursue something completed outside the prescribed curriculum.
So her is the simple question: if this is what we get when we ask kids what they are truly interested in, then why don’t we do this more often?
Click HERE for more information on the Masterworks program and it extended possibilities.
Dr. Ted Spear is the founding Principal of two independent schools in British Columbia, Canada. Using research on contemporary educational innovation, and drawing on 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in public and independent schools, he just recently finished a book on the future of K-12 education, which will be coming out in late July/early August.