To set up a PYP Exhibition so that students can all be successful is no easy feat. Far too often, everybody gets carried away and the best interest of the students get left behind, hidden by all the adult worries, the pressure, the community expectations, what Exhibition was like before etc… etc…
Some schools have learned the following:
To help us stay true to these principles, a number of key decisions were made about what the PYP Exhibition process, and end product, will look like. They are:
Our PYP Exhibition will be conducted under the trans-disciplinary theme of “Where we are in place and time”. This decision was made as the Exhibition is such a pivotal time in the lives of these students, a turning or tipping point, and so it offers a great chance for them to consider where they have been and where they may be heading next. To consider their own personal histories, and futures. Giving them such a personal starting point, as in all inquiry, is the most powerful way to allow students to build on their knowledge and experiences.
The next step was to consider how we can set things up so that we do, indeed, provide students with such an experience. The key factor in this is the central idea. Having a powerful, yet open-ended, central idea is crucial for any unit of inquiry… but even more important for the PYP Exhibition. The central idea should offer the chance for all students to exceed their own expectations.
Our students will work towards a collaborative understanding of one central idea. Writing central ideas is not something these students have experienced before, so expecting them to do it now would be both forced and artificial, as well as time-consuming. During their planning retreat, the Grade 5 Team wrote the following central idea:
“Being retrospective and introspective empowers me to act on what matters.”
Some of the thoughts we grappled over with this were:
Amazing how much meaning can be contained in the words of a central idea, isn’t it? Which is why it is so important for all teaching teams to get those words right. We owe it to our students.
No other group of teachers and students in the Primary School comes under such public scrutiny as the Grade 5 teachers and students do during the PYP Exhibition. The eyes of the whole community are upon them as they make their way through the culmination of a PYP student’s time in primary education. As a result, it is vital that the teachers are provided with plenty of meaningful time in which to lay down plans for how they will set up a powerful context for the students and guide them through it.
This week, the Grade 5 teachers spent an afternoon out of the school so that they could begin work in earnest. Suzanne kicked this process off by taking the team through the process of designing a PYP Exhibition purpose, or “mission”. Having a clear purpose – beyond the expectations set out by the IB – gives the PYP Exhibition a very strong grounding and creates a foundation for all decision-making. PYP Exhibitions can get out of hand as the expectations of the community seem to inflate each year! As a result, very often, the true purpose can be lost.
After much thought, deliberation, negotiation and compromise, the Grade 5 team wrote this mission statement for the PYP Exhibition in our school this year:
“The PYP Exhibition exists to provide students with the time to initiate a personal, self-directed and empowering inquiry that celebrates, values and reflects their life and learning so far.”
Learning in the Real World, a set on Flickr.
Taking the Grade 4 students for a walk around the neighbourhood, as always, turned out to be a remarkably simple yet incredibly powerful experience for us all.
With enough adults to be able to split the class into small groups of three and four, it was possible to go in different directions and focus on different aspects of life as we walked around. Students need to learn the “art of looking” and really benefit from being given a specific lens to look through when doing something like this. My group had selected the lens of “globalization” as their focus. Naturally, they found it hard to “see” globalization and that is where the role of the adult/teacher becomes so important. As we walked, I was able to help them see the evidence of globalization, such as Coca Cola signs and bottles, the rubbish caused by the packaging of multinational companies, Japanese cars and motorbikes, international construction companies and so on.
By the end of the walk, because the students had the chance to actually look for, and see, the evidence of globalization, their understanding of such a complex concept was much more advanced than it would have been if they were simply researching it on Google!
It is so important to give our students these experiences. The learning experiences they have just from something so simple are powerful on many different levels, as long as we, as their teachers, are aware of how multi-faceted learning actually is. I will list here just a few aspects of the learning I saw:
So, are you taking your students out and about soon?
Over the last two days, I spent some time in Grade 1 and walked away with a strong sense of the importance of these two principles of the “Cultures of Thinking Project”.
These two principles are incredibly important and powerful. Students need to be immersed in a culture of learning, and they also need to be immersed in their own thinking.