The “What?” of the PYP Exhibition at ISHCMC

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:

  • Simplicity is powerful. Always strive to keep things simple for all the parties involved. If this involves re-educating the community and toning things down… do it.
  • Is it worth it? Teachers should continue to ask themselves this question when planning the PYP Exhibition. It may not be worth doing some of the things we make kids do. A good example is writing central ideas… if your students are used to the process of writing central ideas, or being involved in the writing of central ideas, make the most of that in the PYP Exhibition. If not, don’t. It probably isn’t worth it.
  • Process, not product. The exhibition is not a show. It should not be all about one or two days of “performance” and then it is all over. It is a process of learning, and one that should be sustainable and ongoing, even when the actual unit is “finished”. Help students to realize this and the learning becomes much more meaningful. Help your community to realize it and the learning becomes deeper than just what is on display in the actual “exhibition” part.
  • It is too late. Don’t get caught in the trap if trying to get the kids to learn and memorize all the elements of the PYP, like the key concepts, and the transdisciplinary skills and the Learner Profile etc… Focus much more on making sure their learning and their process is rich in these things. Make it your job to “notice and name” what the students are doing as they demonstrate them, not to explicitly teach them at this late stage!

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:

  1. We will work collaboratively towards one, teacher-created central idea.
  2. There will be four lines of inquiry. The first and fourth lines will be written by teachers, the second and third will be written by students specifically for their inquiries.
  3. Students are free to collaborate spontaneously and according to their needs. However, they will not be forced to cooperate in groups.
  4. The “staging” of the Exhibition will be simple. Each student will produce one piece of visual work to get people’s attention. Their process, their knowledge, their understanding and their emotion should then become evident to speakers through conversations.
  5. The timetable will remain as normal until two weeks before the staging of the PYP Exhibition. After that, students will continue to go to PE and World Languages but will remain in their classrooms for Music and Art. The Art and Music teachers will come and work with students in the classroom at those times. Students working on artistic or musical projects will do so in their classroom, not in specialist classrooms.
  6. Classes will open up for “Checkpoints” each week and parents will become active participants in the Exhibition process by attending as many of these as they are able to. There will be a focus each week and parents will be briefed about what they will see in the classroom and how they can be of help.
  7. There will be an informal mentoring system – members of the whole community are asked to drop-in regularly to see what students are working on and how they can make connections with them. Other people may evolve into mentors as students seek them out, rather than by them volunteering as a result of a school-wide appeal. This opens up the mentor role to people other than teachers – admin and support staff, parents, students and people from outside the school.

The “Why?” of the PYP Exhibition at ISHCMC

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.”

Creating the Conditions for “Action”

We recently discussed the “5th Element” of the PYP – Action. Often misunderstood, Action is a pretty abstract notion that many schools find hard to pin down. In our discussions, we came to the following understandings and agreements about it:



Would you have anything to add?

Looking for the Cultures of Thinking in our school

Cultures of Thinking


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”.

  • In Monwei’s classroom, I really did get the feeling that the “classroom is a curriculum in itself” (I love that idea!). Students clearly feel very relaxed and at home in their classroom. But, beyond that, there is also a very strong and palpable sense that it is a place of purposeful learning. Students move thoughtfully and carefully around the room and preserve a sense of calm. Students have a variety of options available to them so they can make independent decisions about their learning – in my time in her classroom, I was not asked “what do I do next?” once, and neither did I hear that dreaded line… “I’m done, now what do I do?”. Students who had completed the tasks Monwei and I were working on with them just simply moved on to something else.
  • Robert, Ms. Ha and I began to make thinking visible as the students collected their knowledge about the food they eat. We interviewed the students as they were working and tried to find out how far their knowledge went tin terms of where food comes from, how it gets to us and where it (and its packaging) goes when we are finished with it. All of the student’s knowledge and thinking went on to the wall as we were working, showing the students that their thoughts are valuable and also making sure we, the teachers, are able to refer to it so we can figure out where to take them next.

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.


Getting out of the room!

I found students from Ms. Rupal Joshi’s class working on their spelling in different locations around the school. Not too far from their classroom, but far enough for it to feel like a change!

“I trust them” said Rupal.

Many of us forget what a profound effect changing things up a bit can have on students. To us, as adults, it may not seem like a big deal. But, to students, getting out of the classroom and being given the chance to work in different spots around the school can feel like a very big deal. Give it  a try!

Grade 1 Trip to Snap Cafe

Grade 1 went to Snap Cafe as part of the culmination of their unit of inquiry. The focus of the unit was on the relationships between daily choices and our well-being. The students were given choices of food, drinks and play options. Teachers observed them to see if the unit had affected the choices they make.

Click here for all the photos.

Yes… younger kids can do that

It’s funny how often we don’t get students to do things because we think they are too young, or too old. Actually, it’s not that funny really is it?

I was reminded of this two times in the last two days. Yesterday, some Grade 5 students were putting their inquiry questions on to some fish templates for a big display we’re making (you can see the Storify about this project here). Some of them were really eager to colour them in and yet my first reaction was to think that it would be a waste of their time.

This morning, I took a chance and ran a Harkness/Spiderweb Conversation with four Grade 2 students. This is a strategy that is “normally used” with much older students, but these kids took to it very quickly and ended up having a very powerful conversation.

We began by using a previous piece of work that had provoked some controversial thinking:



Then, we began our Spiderweb Discussion… I was tracking the flow of the conversation and writing down salient points that the kids came out with.



At the end of the conversation, we talked about how the conversation flowed between them and I pulled out some of the things they said that I felt took us to a deeper place by the end:



This is an amazingly powerful strategy on a number of levels. If you’d like to give it a go in your class… let me know!