Pivoting on Passion Project

In prior posts, I have shared our experiences around the WNS Passion Project, the annual 8th-grade capstone that asks students to take on a project that addresses a local or community issue with a foundation in one of the 17 United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (See 1 , 2). The project is an opportunity for students to apply the Design Thinking process toward a topic of their choice while taking into consideration the broader, global issues facing all of us today.

With the onset of COVID-19 and the cancellation of on-campus school, the Passion Project faculty were faced with a decision to make. Do we cancel the Passion Project given the closure of public places, lack of access to our maker space, inability to collaborate in person, and other logistical limitations? Or, do we envision something new?

Given the empowering and engaging nature of the Passion Project, we did not want to cancel. It was also clear that a new global issue was staring us in the face. How do we deal with life in the era of a pandemic?

Under regular circumstances, student project choice is extremely open. The conditions are a focus on a real-world local or community issue, the ability to align that issue with a Global SDG, and approval of project proposal by the Passion Project faculty. We take into consideration the breadth of the project, feasibility, innovative nature, and access to needed resources.

While we hoped to maintain the open nature of project selection for students this year, there were several problems related to COVID-19 that seemed logical to address given the need and what was attainable under stay-at-home conditions. As such, we developed the following pathways:

  • 3D printing – Print PPE (personal protective equipment) for local health care workers.
  • Sewing non-medical masks – Sew masks for health care workers and others in need.
  • Paper crafts – Create and write cards for health care workers, senior centers, and others who may benefit from words of encouragement and support.
  • Future solutions – Research topics related to the pandemic (or other global problems) and develop a presentation to support potential future solutions.
  • Work with younger kids – Create activities and storytelling for our younger students during this time of remote learning.
  • Community connections – Create activities for keeping our community connected while we experience isolation and stay at home orders.
  • Other – Develop a project of your own that relates to solving problems and supporting others during the pandemic.

The response from our students was incredible. They were disappointed that their original projects could not happen, but they pivoted with renewed focus. These pathways, while not aligned with students’ original project ideas, addressed issues that all could immediately relate to under current living conditions.

We normally require that each project has its own dedicated website. We then compile the links for each website on the WNS Passion Project site, organized by Global SDG. Here you can see the class of 2019 page as an example of this.

This year, with students working from home and dedicating themselves to specific pathways, we chose instead to create shared Google docs to serve as a place to journal students’ daily experiences during this process. These journals document their actions, their future plans, comments and responses between faculty and students, and any related photos and links. The class of 2020 pathways can be seen here.

The chaos that was the Spring of 2020 served to set expectation levels fairly low. Students were adjusting to remote learning, and coming to the realization that the 8th-grade trip, the Spring Musical, graduation, and many other important moments in their final year at WNS were just not going to be the same. And while the scope of this year’s work on the Passion Project was narrowly defined, by comparisons, we were extremely pleased with the outcome.

In real terms, students provided 40 PPE and over 50 sewn masks to a local hospital. They gave hand-designed care cards to health workers and senior centers. They provided instructional videos and engaging learning activities for their lower school counterparts and delivered food and other goods to neighbors and relatives in need. Students created songs of hope, donated books, and offered policy solutions for future generations. We are so proud of their work.

It is our hope that in the coming years we can return to a focus on the UN Global SDGs, but we will take it once step at a time. We have the fall school opening to think about. If you are an educator or a parent of a school-aged child reading this, I wish you the very best in the coming school year. We are all in this together.

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