The Power of the Portfolio

lights on learning mindset passion portfolio time May 19, 2020

Imagine being in the class of 2020, having worked your whole school career towards your all-important GCSEs, only to have the opportunity of sitting them suddenly denied you. What does a young person have beyond the grades? 

A portfolio of passion-driven, project-based learning can be a powerful record of a child’s experience, make them stand out from the crowd and help them land the job of their dreams.

Last week, Julia Black, creator of Lights On®, spoke to two young people about building a learning portfolio.

Elias is 18, a young engineer in an apprenticeship programme at WMG, an academic department at the University of Warwick, providing research, education and knowledge transfer in engineering, manufacturing and technology.

It is the job of his dreams. He had a clear engineering switch from early childhood, constructing, playing with vehicles, constantly drawing and inventing machines. As he grew, he enjoyed woodwork and undertook maker projects with his Grandpa. 

He always loved Lego, particularly Technic, and when a family car failed its MOT, it was given to 13-year-old Elias to take apart. He asked for a welder for his birthday, and spent many hours watching YouTube and TV shows about cars whilst dismantling the engine, learning all about the different components. He began documenting his learning himself, via his own YouTube channel




Opting into school from age 14, Elias found his practical experience set him ahead of the game when he was recruited to the F1 in Schools team as their design engineer. The team won the national competition at Silverstone, and proceeded to the world finals in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 where Elias’ dedicated work to design the fastest car in the world was rewarded. 

This success led to opportunities to speak to leading engineering firms. Elias recalls how his portfolio, evidencing a broad range of projects around his lifelong passion, gave him the confidence to own the interview space and to speak confidently as a young engineer.

Elias credits his success to being given the freedom to learn, the space to explore for himself. He encourages parents to allow their children to pursue their talent, interests, obsessions, and to trust them. 

Knowing where he was heading, that there was a career pathway he could pursue gave him the confidence to focus on his passion. Now he has financial freedom in a job he loves and continues to pursue his education and interests as a lifelong learner.

James, 11, and his Lights On® Mum, Emma, talk about how she has come to see the threads of projects developing in his learning. From finger boarding to fake wounds and prosthetics to whips, as Emma has learned to validate and support James’ interests, she has seen ongoing project work which is deepening over time. Giving James the freedom to develop his ideas and pursue his interests, Emma can see his skillset growing. 

James has crafted fingerboards, critiquing and improving his designs, and made some amazing ramps and obstacles, moving from working with cardboard to wood, from plan to reality. He has learnt to do scale drawings, measure dimensions and use SketchUp for 3D modelling. He is open to continual improvement, underlining his work with excellence as he is in the driving seat of his learning journey. 

James is evidencing not only practical skills, but presentation and filmmaking skills, too. Looking forward, there are many potential career pathways for James, possibly in film or television.

With multiple talents, perhaps he will grow to be more of a portfolio worker, working across several fields. These talents need not be exclusive, but can be complementary.

As parents are enabled to facilitate this kind of learning, we need to continue our own growth and development in order to keep up. As we document the skills of the 21st century evidenced in our children’s learning, we are recording their development in a way any employer would be delighted to see. Collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication. 

Both these young men advocate for freedom and the right to learn in their own way. As parents, we need to observe what our children are doing, the projects unfolding right before our eyes, and go with them, trusting that learning is happening and that the journey can be deep, meaningful and filled with potential. There are no limits to where a child’s learning might take them. We just need the confidence to trust the process.

The Lights On® Academy can help future-proof your children beyond the grades, enabling you to facilitate project-based learning in your home and build your child’s learning portfolio.


Alice Khimasia
Seeing her eldest son's lights go out when he was 7, Alice took action to ensure his freedom to learn. She has been speaking and writing about her family's learning adventures ever since, and gave a TEDx talk in 2016. Alice is part of our Lights On® Academy and lives with her husband and 4 Lights On® Learners in the West Midlands.


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