Week 5 is very much a bridge week as students begin to process all of their research and new understandings about thier issues. It’s all about consolidating research and shifting gears into presentation mode. The week begins with students working in their collaborative inquiry teams to share their research by exploring the polarities of their debatable questions. They work together to generate pros and cons for each side of their debatable question. Through discussion and brainstorming, students then choose a side and compose a short essay outlining either the pro or con response to their debatable question. This provides an opportunity for learners to consolidate their understanding of their issue and synthesize their research and thinking as they prepare to move forward into presentation mode. The essay is a formative checkpoint, as students must have enough research to be able to explore the two sides of the response. It’s important that each group member shares her key research points with her group members as this helps to ensure that each girl’s thinking and understanding about the shared issue is brought forward to the final presentation. Students use a wiki to share the most significant aspects of their individual research with their group members
Students also begin to visualize and plan what their Exhibition Day presentations will look like. Students use two formats to brainstorm ideas and propose an overview of their intended presentation. Each presentation must include a written component, a visual component and an interactive component. Once groups have an initial plan, they meet with their teacher and our Technology Integrator to pitch their ideas. Our Technology Integrator ensures that the IT requirements are realistic and serve to enhance the overall presentation. We encourage students to think creatively about their presentations and which tools will best help them to get their intended messages about their issues across to their audience. Students are encouraged to “think outside the powerpoint” and “beyond the poster board.” Each group’s presentation will take 10-15 minutes of time, so what they choose to do and how they do it is very significant! This year we have a wide variety of presentations which include movies, animations, models, debates, drama, student composed songs, poetry, Prezzis, art and more! We are thrilled, inspired and blown away by the variety and creativity the students demonstrate. By the end of the week, all groups have a plan in place and students begin moving into the construction of their exhibits and presentations. The excitement is high as the week ends – 10 school days left until Exhibition!
Week 4 is all about research, research, research! Now that learners have a defined focus through their central ideas and lines of inquiry they go full-on into research mode, building on the preliminary gathering of materials in Week 3. This week students focus on building a bank of key concept related questions to help them deepen their research and inquiry into their issues. They use an F-Q-R format (Fact-Question-Response) to organize their research, show accountability/academic honesty for their chosen primary and secondary sources, and to think about their research as they conduct it.
A key piece of research is also sourcing out primary sources who can share unique perspectives into the various issues. Students make contact with local organizations, politicians, businesses, museums, etc. to arrange interviews (in person, via Skype or by e-mail) and learning trips.This year students are experiencing a great response to their requests and have taken part in some very meaningful learning as a result. Primary sources help to provide a real life lens into the issue and help students to gain local perspectives. E.g. One group visited a museum lecture and spoke to activists with varying perspectives; another visited a homeless shelter; another interviewed a police officer about gun control and visited a news paper office and interviewed the editor about guns and weapons in the news, etc. Our parent community provides essential support in helping us to make connections and chaperones small groups of students as they embark on learning trips to support their exhibition issues. As students reach out into the community they are also inspired to start taking action. While we do not require that every group must organize an action component beyond the exhibition itself, spontaneous action ideas begin to arise as students become more knowledgeable and passionate about their issues and make meaningful connections to local organizations and people through their learning trips and interviews.
As the week rounds out each group works together to frame a “debatable question” which will help them to analyse perspectives relating to their issue and synthesize the most important aspects of their research. They will use this question in Week 5 to write a persuasive essay arguing points for(pros) or against(cons) in response to their debatable questions. Each group meets with me and their teacher to discuss their debatable question ideas and share their preliminary thinking. We are so impressed with how the girls are able to confidently and articulately share their ideas and already tie in facts and information from their research to back up their thinking. That F-Q-R sure works to get learners thinking about their research while they are doing it. I was struck by a couple of comments students made during our discussions. Izzy said, “you know it’s a good debatable question because you have to think hard about which side to choose.” Fiona remarked about how she woke in the night thinking about her issue and the question she proposed to the group just hit her. (“They” aren’t kidding when “they” say the PYP is pervasive!) Some sample debatable questions:
Is the issue of body image properly addressed in our society?
Are we doing enough to preserve the earth’s supply of potable water?
Should children solve their bullying problems without adults intervening?
Is crowding people into cities an effective way to use the land?
During the week students meet with their mentors to review their research and set new goals. At the end of the week they complete reflections on their research skills, as well us update their open-ended “Tree People” reflections.
Week 3 begins with much excitement and nervous energy. It’s officially “decision day” and students begin this week by indicating their top 3 choices for topics and related issues that they are interested in pursuing for their in depth inquiry. It’s important that students understand that their collaborative inquiry groups should be formed not based on their friend choices, but rather on an issue that they feel passionate about. Passionate enough about the issue that it will sustain their interest as they structure their inquiry over the next several weeks as they move into the exploring phase of our inquiry cycle. They also have the opportunity to indicate a topic and related issue that they really don’t feel passionate about. The teachers and I meet later in the day to lay out all the decision forms and begin to form the groups in each class. We look for patterns and connections. Each group will consist of 3-4 members and it is our goal to try to ensure that each child is placed in their first or second choice. We want to honour their choice and passion. We know that the weeks ahead will bring tremendous personal growth as students engage in such deep inquiry and attend to their differences in learning styles, thinking and application of their knowledge.
Students are excited to finally have a focus for their inquiries and to learn who they will collaborate with. Another milestone of this week is the matching of groups with mentors. At our faculty meeting we review the role of the mentor and teachers sign up with a topic that they have some prior knowledge with, or feel interested in supporting. Later in the week they will receive an e-mail invitation for their first meeting with their group from the students.
Now that student groups are formed and mentors are assigned, students begin to do some wide reading relating to their specific topic and related issues. They begin to brainstorm key concept questions related to their issues and begin to gather resources. Our teacher librarian supports this stage and is quite involved in ensuring that students understand how to use Destiny to create lists of resources and maintain an ongoing bibliography as a part of being academically honest.
Towards the end of the week students begin to brainstorm their ideas for their central ideas and lines of inquiry. Each group then has a one-on-one session with me to formalize these very important components. I am amazed by the thinking of this year’s groups – this is our ninth exhibition, and this year it is evident that students have made the connection between the central idea and concepts and the lines of inquiry as defining the specific issues that will help to illuminate their lines of inquiry. One students comments to me, “Mrs. de Hoog, isn’t the exhibition like a unit of inquiry except it’s us who are writing the central ideas and lines of inquiry and deciding how we will inquire instead of the teachers?” BINGO! As each group meets with me they share their ideas and thinking. I listen closely as they speak and share. I help them to word-smith and ensure that they see the importance of concept driven central ideas and clearly defined lines of inquiry. Students are ready to move into more serious research now that week 4 is upon us!
Some of our 2013 Central Ideas:
The pressure to keep up with the changing idea of beauty affects the way people perceive themselves.
Sharing and caring for the earth’s water will help ensure a safer future.
Understanding the harm bullying causes within communities can enable people to take a stand against it.
Population growth is a global issue that impacts quality of life.
The increasing availability of weapons has significant and lasting consequences.
There are consequences for communities where there is a lack of available and adequate health care.
During our second week of preparing for the exhibition, the goal is to take students deeper into the issues that connect to the transdisciplinary theme, Sharing the planet. They begin by completing a web of possibilities, where they independently explore the range of different topics connecting to the four aspects that define the theme. They connect back to the charts they created during Week 1.Students then use their independent thinking to facilitate small group discussions to further extend and define the charts created during the provocation the previous week through the lens of the four theme descriptors. A carousel strategy is used to facilitate small group discussion, thinking, sorting and classifying of the different topics brainstormed the previous week. Students also have the opportunity to add topics to these charts as they are passed from group to group. Part of the sorting process also involves eliminating redundancies, and as the charts are passed around students make further connections to the commonalities across the four theme descriptors.
Our grade wide central idea is also shared with the students early in the week and they are asked to work in groups to augment this central idea. The grade wide central idea helps the students to focus in on the purpose of the exhibition and reminds the students of the importance of issues in guiding the decision making process as they get closer to defining the specific issues that will shape their exhibition. It also serves as a preassessment of the students’ understanding of key exhibition concepts and exposes them to the components of a central idea in the context of the exhibition. While each group will write their own central idea relating to their specific issue, the grade wide central idea defines our shared purpose as learners and collaborators.
To further emphasise the importance of moving from topics to issues, we explore one of the topics that was added to the charts. We choose “mega cities” as the topic and place it at the centre of the web. We use a code to examine how the topic connects to the theme (FR=finite resources; CR=communities and the relationships between them, etc.). The students are surprised to see that this topic connects to all aspects of the Sharing the planet theme in some way. Once they see this connection, the issues start to pour out and we brainstorm some of the issues that connect to this topic. Many aha-s can be heard around the room as the students start to truly realize how a topic becomes an issue. We think about it through a hierarchical lens: concept – related issues -facts/truths/assumptions. (We note that assumptions will need to be proved or disproved through the research process.)
As we finish this step together, I am floored by the learning energy that fills the room. I can literally see all the whirring and colours of the students’ collective understanding as little figurative light- bulbs brighten above their heads. The air is electric and the students’ thinking is charged! Students are now ready to try this on their own. They are asked to choose three topics from the charts that they are feeling passionate about and want to explore further through this lens. This will help to guide them at the start of week 3, as they make their decisions about what they want to explore for their exhibition.
Once students independently web three different concepts into possible issues, we poll the room and graph the issues they are passionate about. This gives us an indication of where different student interests lie and where possible groups might form. It’s a good visual for the students, as after they have the weekend to think and further expand on their webs, they will choose their top three issues, which will lead to the formation of their exhibition collaborative inquiry groups.
This year our Grade 6 PYP Exhibition falls under the transdisciplinary theme, Sharing the planet (an inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution). In order to prepare students for their inquiries into issues connecting to the theme, we began with some wide/open-ended brainstorming relating to the following questions:
~What do we share? ~How do we share the planet?
~With who/what do we share? ~Why do/should we share?
Students engaged in round robin brainstorming using charts and stickies to begin framing their thinking into the Sharing the planet theme. As they travelled from chart to chart, they began to make connections across the different aspects of the theme. This led to a powerful and spontaneous discussion about “what if we don’t share?” Already, they were beginning to see that issues often arise from what ifs. What if we don’t share natural resources? This can lead to conflict or scarcity. What if we don’t share our emotions? This can lead to depression, misunderstanding, and even bullying. What if people don’t have access to clean water? This might lead to health problems, or girls might not get to go to school because they have to walk to get water instead. What if, what if, what if? = Issues, issues, issues. Getting 10-12 year old students to think beyond topics or concepts and into the deeper, more complex issues that relate to them can be a challenge at the start of the exhibition process. Providing time early in the process to explore not just the range of issues within a theme or themes, but how concepts and topics can become issues is essential to creating a purposeful context for the research process.
After sharing our Student Guide to the Exhibition, students also had the opportunity to ask questions relating to the exhibition process, and ask they did. More what ifs! What if I don’t get along with my group members? What if I miss a deadline? What if I don’t have any ideas? How will the mentors support us? How are we assessed? Do we get marked on exhibition day? How much time will we have for research? What if I am scared?
At the end of the week, students completed a reflection to indicate what they thinking and feeling about the exhibition. Taking the time to pause at this point was essential to see what impact our initial conversations had on their thinking, understanding AND feelings. Even though most of the students attended the previous year’s exhibition as Grade 5s, they still felt a lot of fear about the process and Exhibition day itself. Back to those what ifs again! In sharing aspects of their reflections with each other, students understood that they were not alone in their thinking and feelings. They were already constructing shared meaning and creating a safety in listening to and supporting each other. In one conversation a student asked, “What if we fail?” That lead to an analogy about safety nets – Me: “When someone falls and there are safety nets in place, what happens?” Student: “Well, the net catches you and you bounce back up to try again.” Me: “Exactly!” The moral of the story: lean INTO your fear – you will be surprised what you learn and discover! So much of the inquiry process is about facing our fears through experience; taking our inexperience and turning it into INexperience through constructing meaning collaboratively. Here we go – off an running! One week down, 6 to go!