What if students could choose what they learned about? What if students could explore their passions and curiosities at school? What if students could be in collaborative groups with teachers and students with similar interests? What if we entrusted them to befriend how they learn, to navigate certain questions on their own, and to find more of the creative courage they already have?

Those were some of the big questions that led to the creation of iProject over 9 years ago in the Upper School, along with some inspiration from Steve Jobs. Bo Adams, one of the original architects of iProject, explained in this video from 2021. “When we originally designed iProject we had Steve Jobs in mind, we thought, what could have kept Steve Jobs in school?”

Since its launch, iProject has become a Mount Vernon graduation requirement. Students have completed over 600 projects in the last two years, with approximately 370 more launching during the 2022/23 School year. Some notable projects over the years included:

  • The Hearing Wheel, a steering wheel for the hearing impaired equipped with LED lights to respond in different patterns based on the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) signals produced by different emergency vehicles.
  • Numerous students-written novels, plays, short stories, and film scripts.
  • 3D-printed prosthetic hands in collaboration with Enable.

The next chapter in Mount Vernon’s evolution of iProject is coming to life this fall on the Lower Campus, with the launch of iProject Mini. In collaboration with Middle School Teacher Kevin Day, Impact Design Lab students, and fellow Lower School Teachers, Grades 3 – 5 students have the opportunity every Friday afternoon to journey into a new learning experience where student ownership and agency are the main drivers.

In late August, Director of Lower School Molly Hudson visited each classroom during Morning Meeting to ask the questions, “What do you want to learn about? What would you do on your ideal day? What passion is part of your story?” Students talked about hitting baseballs, cooking treats, going for a bike ride, playing video games, and drawing. In homerooms, Grades 3 – 5 students clustered their big ideas on sticky notes. They explored why those ideas were important, how they connected to their story, and pondered about their big wonders. After honing their topics to a more specific focus, groups began to emerge.

  • We have sports groups where students want to perfect their baseball swing, make their own tennis rackets, learn the history of sports team names, or design a fly fishing rod.
  • Artists are exploring specific mediums like shading, shadow work, cartoon imagery, and clay design.
  • Performers want to learn how to perfect a magic trick, tell the perfect joke, or edit a movie.
  • Chefs are cooking up new recipes for their mom’s upcoming birthday, an energizing after school treat, or creating a piñata cake for a friend.
  • A fashion and design group where students are interested in redesigning sneakers, learning to sew to make clothes for their baby cousins, and exploring interior design.
  • Others are interested in researching their family’s history in World War II.
  • And one student has an interest in learning more about Roller Coaster Design

Teachers with similar passions across Lower School are facilitating these interest groups as experts and fellow learners.

As iProject Mini enters its research and discovery phases, MVXperts will share their knowledge and expertise from their real-world passion. Across our campuses and the country, students are being paired with experts to help them learn more, push their thinking, and challenge their ideas. Some of the MVXperts lined up to support our students include Scott Fujita, a former NFL All American, a professional chef and a SCAD artist. As students continue pushing towards the next question to consider, they will have the opportunity to write interview questions and collaborate with their topic teams.

In October and November, students will design and create prototypes to showcase their learning to others, give and receive feedback, and iterate their prototypes. In mid-November, Grades 3 – 5 students will tell the story of their learning journey to Grade K – 2 learners who will then begin their own iProject Mini experience in the spring.

With iProject Mini Mount Vernon students don’t have to wait until Grade 9 to participate. Now both Lower and Upper School students will manage and create their own projects through mini-investigations in areas of interest. The students start with a curiosity, pursue a research project, and present their findings beyond the walls of the classroom. Design thinking guides them through ideation to creation. We can’t wait to see the outcomes from each student’s iProject Mini.

Follow iProject Mini on twitter #iprojectmini