The “How?” of the PYP Exhibition at ISHCMC

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:

  • The words “retrospective” and “introspective” are difficult words. Despite these concerns, we felt that using advanced words does honour students and their ability to work with new vocabulary and concepts. We exhausted all other alternatives as they just seemed simplistic or patronizing by comparison!
  • Empowerment has been a common theme throughout our discussions since the start of the year and has cropped up in our Exhibition mission and in the central idea. The whole team feels strongly that PYP Exhibitions should be all about the empowerment of students – setting things up for them to be their best – and not, as is often the case, the disempowerment of students as they are forced to jump thr0ugh a series of hoops.
  • The use of “me” rather than “us” or “people”. In our recent IB Evaluation visit, we were criticized for the use of pronouns like “we” and “us” in central ideas. However, in our experience, the use of such pronouns gives units of inquiry a personal feeling and starting point and is, therefore, very powerful. So, we have gone one step further with the central idea for the PYP Exhibition and used the word “me” in the central idea! We feel this will give license to our students work very independently.
  • The idea of what matters comes from two sources – the Stanford University MBA admissions exam, and Angela Maiers’ “You Matter” movement. We want our students to believe that they matter, and we also want them to have the chance to consider – in depth – what matters to them.

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.