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1 + 5 + 7 = Project Week: Culminating an incredible learning journey

Kate Lewis, Teacher of High School Geography, Environmental Systems and Societies and Theory of Knowledge, Project Week Coordinator, Dover Campus
Viki Cole, Project Week Coordinator, East Campus
19 April 2017

Project Week is the highlight of High School for many UWCSEA students, representing a chance to travel outside Singapore with a group of like-minded peers to work on a worthwhile project. In this article, we will discuss how the three core elements of one week, five stages and seven learning outcomes, come together to create an incredible learning journey that culminates in Project Week.

One week

All Grade 11 students are taken off their regular timetable for one week in order to complete a Project Week trip. The trip is not a holiday, in fact it is quite far from it as students only gain approval for a project with a worthwhile purpose that helps fulfil the official International Baccalaureate Diploma Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) requirements.

Project Week is also the culmination of the Outdoor Education programme, providing an opportunity for students to pull together and implement prior learning from their Outdoor Education trips in earlier grades, into one, practical week. Experiential trips are planned to give students skills they need for a successful and safe Project Week. It is also a rite of passage and a coming of age experience that demonstrates the faith and trust our community has in the abilities of our students. Independent travel for teenagers is not undertaken without significant trip preparation and protocols.

Five stages

Months before Project Week, students begin working on the five stages of CAS requirements of the IB Diploma. Grade 11s start with the Investigation stage where they identify their personal interests and how they might use their skills for a meaningful CAS experience. Students share Project Week dreams and ideas.

Next comes the more arduous Preparation stage. Students form groups of three to five, and take on different responsibilities to ensure they plan a safe and worthwhile trip. They follow a checklist and clarify their roles to ensure sound trip planning procedures such as budgeting, First Aid, considering the impacts of ‘voluntourism’, and, most importantly, risk mitigation.

After multiple checks by the group’s teacher supervisor, Outdoor Education staff and Project Week coordinators, the students are ready for the Action stage. After months of meetings, assemblies, iPAL uploads, ID cards and form checks, the students are finally free to travel, without parents or staff, to their chosen destination and project. They implement their plan and become the decision makers and problem solvers.

Throughout the process students are encouraged to consider the Reflection stage, to focus on what they have learned, not just about trip planning, but about themselves as individuals and their ability to work in groups, especially when challenges arise. They might reflect on how they have changed as they become more mature and empowered.
When the the trip is completed, the Grade 11s enter the stage of Demonstration; they consolidate their learning by explicitly stating in their CAS portfolios, what, and how, they learned and what they achieved. This brings the formal assessment to a close. In addition, they informally share their accomplishments with their peers, friends and family. So what exactly do they learn?

Seven learning outcomes

For students to successfully graduate with an IB Diploma they must complete seven learning outcomes. Through Project Week students are able to demonstrate all seven learning areas and that they have:

1. Increased their awareness of their own strengths and areas for growth

They are able to see themselves as individuals with various skills and abilities, some more developed than others, and understand that they can make choices about how they wish to move forward.

2. Undertaken new challenges and develop new skills

A new challenge may be an unfamiliar activity, or an extension to an existing one. As with new challenges, new skills may be shown in activities the student has not previously undertaken, or in increased expertise in an established area.

3. Planned and initiated activities

Planning and initiation will often be in collaboration with others. It can be shown in activities that are part of larger projects, for example ongoing school activities in the local community, as well as in small student-led activities.

4. Worked collaboratively with others

Collaboration can be shown in many different activities, such as team sports, playing music in a band, or helping in kindergarten.

5. Shown perseverance and commitment to their activities

At minimum, this implies attending regularly and accepting a share of the responsibility for dealing with problems that arise.

6. Engaged with issues of global importance

Students may be involved in international projects but there are many global issues that can be acted upon locally or nationally.

7. Considered the ethical implications of their actions

Ethical decisions arise in almost any CAS activity (for example, on the sports field, in musical compositions, in personal relationships). Evidence of thinking about ethical issues can be shown in various ways, including journal entries and conversations with CAS advisers.

The reality however, is that Project Week is not about the numbers. It’s about the development of skills—independence; initiative; communication; collaboration; conflict resolution; cultural awareness; community action; leadership and responsibility. The numbers 1, 5, 7 represent the logistics that help to create empowered individuals who are better prepared for the transition to life beyond UWCSEA.