Food security in the Arctic, genocide, attachment theory in a Ghanaian orphanage, building a ukulele, environmentally friendly architecture, and the very personal, “ADHD from My Point of View”. These are topics that 14-year-olds comfortably discuss with the community during Masterworks season at IPS. These self-selected, self-directed, long-term projects start as a hint of curiosity in a middle schooler’s imagination and expand – with the help of faculty and community advisors and a great deal of grit – into finely crafted Ted Talk-style presentations that leave the audience changed. Expect props, audience participation, images and carefully chosen speaking techniques.

Masterworks is a grade 9 graduation requirement at Island Pacific School wherein students must select an idea of personal interest, work with an Advisory Committee of 2-3 adults (a faculty member and 1-2 external advisors), write a 12-25 page paper, and then publicly present and defend their work in front of an audience of 90-120 people.

Head and founder Ted Spear says, “When we started the school 20 years ago, we knew we wanted a culminating intellectual and creative challenge for our grade 9 students. There is an authenticity here in which students and adults alike investigate a problem of shared interest for the joy or intensity of the thing in itself.”

Every year crowds pick up programs, pore over the topics and then take their seat with 100 others in Cates Hill Chapel. Younger kids crane to get a look at the presenters and wait in line among community members of all ages to ask good questions.

Says Bowen community member Dominic Perroni, “I look forward to getting the list of topics and then attending Island Pacific School Masterworks presentations every year. It is inspiring to see the grade 9 students present their year-long, self-directed project to the public.”

Audience reaction to the presentations ranges from curious to astonished as ideas fly off the screen. Spear is always impressed by the students’ abilities. “The presentations themselves are fairly intense. They are not unlike a TED Talk that may include demos, music, video, and slides and in the past have included novella readings, cooking techniques, science experiments and live plays.  The kids then take questions from their Committee and the audience as a whole.  Although it takes a lot of time and work to help prepare the students, every time I watch a Masterworks, I am blown out of the water by just how remarkable these 14 year old kids can be.”

The big idea here is that if schools can create the right context and support for students to investigate their own ideas, then incredible things can happen: even the start of a lifelong passion. In the context of this distinctly different middle school on Bowen Island, this is just one element of setting kids up for the rest of their lives.

Why Masterworks for Grade 9’s? A short video from IPS Founder Dr. Ted Spear Link address:

Watch a 2015 Masterworks Presentation on YouTube:

View the Masterworks Schedule:

Follow us on Twitter @IPSchool, #IPSMasterworks