Category Archives: Inquiry

Playing With Time: Friend or Foe

Time has a way of marching on in spite of us. In schools, the clock on the wall is either friend or foe. Time can propel us or it can paralyze us. I’ve had a life long love-hate relationship with time. I’ve tried to master it, manage it, conserve it, speed it up, slow it down…the list goes on. A wise mentor used to laugh at me and tell me that I needed to be more playful with time. Play with time? How can you play with something that is always moving, never still? While I couldn’t see it all those years ago, my mentor was right. You really can play with time. It’s in the very forward motion of time that the beauty of time playfulness lies.  At that point in time, he knew something I did not: time is only scarce if we think it is. I used to think of time as my enemy – it grinded me and wore me down as I constantly tried to battle and slay it. There was never enough time, and worse still, there was no way  for me to somehow get more of this fleeting trickster.

In my own inquiry into how to play with time, I discovered a great book by Elizabeth Saunders called, The Three Secrets of Time Investment. While this book is not written specifically for educators, and my motivation to read it was more personal than professional, I still found myself reading the book through my educator lens and thinking about how Saunders’ principles could be applied to teaching and learning. Saunders proposes that time should not be managed. Instead, she challenges the reader to look at time from an investment perspective. Ultimately, we can choose how we invest our time. Instead of spending time, we need to invest our time. When we look at time from a perspective of scarcity, we are in fact hoarding it. If we always think there will never be enough time, there never will be enough time. However, when we look at time from the perspective of abundance then, and only then, can we have a magical play date with time. Here are some of my key applications of Saunders’ time investment “secrets” to an educational setting:

1. Accept the fact that time is finite. Every school day has a definitive beginning and end and there are only so many hours in a school day, and so many days in a school year. You can’t do it ALL. Face it and move on. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a learner, so why do we try to cram everything under the sun into a school day? The more time you spend on one discipline, activity, etc., the less time you can spend on

“If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.”  ― Elizabeth Saunders
“If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.”
― Elizabeth Saunders

another. A typical school day is approximately 6 hours long. Factor in recess breaks, lunch and transitions and there are about 4.5 hours of quality learning time in a day. How we play with that time is essential. You know you will see your students for a finite portion of their learning day so you have some choices to make about how that time should be invested. To play with time, focus first on the big picture before you start dialling it down to daily specifics. Think about all of the factors that might pull away your time…relational issues that need resolving after recess, assemblies, accidents, unexpected events like fire drills, absences, etc. Stuff happens in schools – there are a lot of variables that can’t be planned for or controlled. Leave room for these and focus on the time you DO have.

2. Clarify priorities. Knowing your curriculum well is the first step to knowing how to prioritize learning time. If you aren’t sure where you are going, how can you decide where to make curricular time investments? Be realistic when you decide on your curricular priorities. Real is not always ideal, and as Saunders puts it, “reality always wins.” Educators tend to have a bent towards the ideal, and in doing so, we lose sight of what is real. Plan with reality in mind – who are your real students (not the ones you imagine)? How much time do you really have (not how much time do you wish you had )? What is really worth knowing and doing? Decide what is essential – less is more. When we put the less is more principle into practice we can make wise time investments that bring playful learning yields. We leave room for learners to have the time to play, explore and inquire. We model prioritization for our students – a pretty necessary skill in today’s fast paced, time challenged world.

3. Habit Patterns Rule. Establishing routines and systems creates stability and security. When you feel stable and secure, fear is replaced by playfulness. One thing I’ve learned is that kids thrive on routines – not rigid routines, but consistent and predictable routines.  Predictability creates the space to for spontaneity. Spontaneity invites inquiry. Inquiry invites motivation. Motivation invites learning. Learning invites growth…  Habit patterns also enable us to make informed choices when setting priorities. (See #2) How often do we “fly by the seat of our pants” in the classroom? When there is a lack of routine, we lose sight of priorities, and we are right back in the trenches fighting the war against time.

Our relationship with time has significant impacts on how we approach every aspect of teaching and learning, from deciding which learning outcomes will have the highest priority, to how much time learners will need to spend on a task or engage in a learning opportunity, to how much room there is for students to engage in inquiry and reflection. If we are hurried, our students will feel hurried. If we are weary, our students will feel weary. If we are playful, then our students will feel playful. How will you invest your time, so that the learners in your classroom will see the value of how they invest theirs?

For more information on the work of Elizabeth Saunders, visit http://www.reallifee.com/

Advertisements

The URGE to Inquire

Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by urges: primal urges, creative urges, instinctual urges, relational urges…When we have an urge we are propelled to act by either delving into the urge, or repressing it. Learning urges are a necessary part of inquiry. Urgency in learning tells us that we must take action to know more or do more to find out or come to a new understanding. Urges move us forward in the construction of meaning – they are like itches that have to be scratched. If we don’t tend to our urges we can become disengaged or even resentful. In today’s world, when a learner isn’t given the room to follow his/her urges, they often say, “I’m bored.”

When educators see themselves as learning architects who are designing learning spaces built on a strong curricular foundation for learners to inquire and construct meaning while developing skills, they must be open to exploring how to create urgency in learning by both igniting and propelling the urge to inquire.

How do learning architects create urgency within curriculum?

First, they define the inquiry purpose by clearly knowing what knowledge is essential for the learner to come away with after all is said and done. They do away with all the fluff – there’s no urgency in that. Then, they design provocations, opportunities and open-ended engagements that ignite the fire of urgency by inviting learners to connect, explore, wonder, puzzle, collaborate, problem solve, think and apply. They carefully plan opportunities for skills that fit the concept to be introduced, practised and/or mastered.

The learning architect also knows the importance of sharing/modelling their own learning urgency by literally selling the curriculum to the learner so they buy in with their learning currency. Curriculum is much like stock – learning architects are the designers and marketers of that stock and learners are the investors. The more the learner feels the urge invest in the curriculum stock, the higher the learning yield will be.

Finally, learning architects know that less IS more. Because they see curriculum AS architecture, they understand the importance of careful design in the learning process so that learners have plenty of space to explore and construct meaning. Learning architects do away with the seemingly but usually unconnected laundry list of activities and instead design open learning structures that invite the learner to take on the meaning construction process. The learning architect coaches and guides the learner by carefully providing the structural support that a learner needs to grow and thrive.

Teacher or Learning Architect?

“I think…”, “I feel like …”, “Try this…”, “It sounds like…”, “I’m not sure how exactly to describe it, but it’s like…”, “Ahhh…”, “I’m not sure…”, “There has to be…”, “It is…but it isn’t…”, “It’s not…”, “How do you…?”, “I think you are right…”, “What do you think…?”, “We need to think about it in a different way…”, “Can we…?”, “Is that because…?”, “Ohhhh!”, “Ooooo…”  ….

All of the above statements are the inquiry utterances of a group of adult learners engaging in inquiry learning at a recent inquiry based learning workshop that I had the opportunity to facilitate. One of the biggest misconceptions about inquiry based learning is that it is only about asking questions and finding answers. Go back and read the list of utterances again. Inquiry is so much more than asking questions and seeking answers.

Kathy Short put it best when she described inquiry as both a stance and a state of tension. When I share this definition of inquiry with adult learners, they often ask, “but what do stance and tension really mean?”

According to dictionary.com, the second definition they provide for stance is: a mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something. So, inquiry is a mental or emotional position we adopt with respect to learning. Inquiry tension lies in the mental or emotional position of the stance. When we think, feel or believe we have to figure something out, or find out the truth by either confirming something we already believe to be true or dis-confirming something we’ve assumed to be true, or figuring out something that is totally new, we are activating the inquiry stance. As educators, it is our role to be the inquiry architects as we take learners on a journey through an inquiry cycle (there are many! just pick one or make your own hybrid!). Many times I hear other educators lament, “but they just don’t ask questions. How do I get them to ask questions?” Therein lies our first mistake. When we limit the inquiry stance to just asking questions, we limit the potential for meaningful and contextualized inquiry stance learning. Take a step back and really listen to what the learners in your classroom are saying. If you don’t hear anything, then perhaps the flaw lies in the designer and not the learner. Inquiry begs us to examine and challenge our own beliefs and assumptions (our own mental and emotional position) about teaching and learning. Do we see ourselves as teacher or as learning architect? 

The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition: Exhibition Day!

Image
Sharing the Planet
A graphic collage of student art work depicting the sharing the planet theme descriptors. This graphic was used on all posters, invites and thank you cards.

A collective exhale was joyously experienced by our students and faculty as our Grade 6s came through their big day with flying colours! The celebration began with an opening hosted by all of our Grade 6 students where they introduced the exhibition and welcomed guests (in French and English), shared a reflective voice collage where each girl shared her sentence, “Exhibition Is…”, and four students walked guests through a brief outline of the exhibition process from start to finish. Following the opening, guests were invited to view the formal presentations and exhibits. Guests were aslo invited to post their thoughts, feedback and impressions on a live blog site, called Cover it Live! It’s a great way to get feedback. Four of our Grade 5 students served as roving reporters, ipads in hand, gathering comments from guests and posting their own comments throughout the morning.

My writing can’t do justice to what the students contributed through their presentations. Here are some photos and feedback as quoted from our Cover It Live! site to paint the rest of the picture. Thanks for following along on this journey with us – it’s been so great to reflect and share with you!

“Here are some of the amazing things I learned from the exhibition on Friday from the girls in 6R5 and 6r6: 1. The population of the earth is increasing constantly — it grew by more than 2,000 people during the Population presentation alone–yikes! 2. I need to take shorter showers to preserve water and energy (I promise to work on this.) 3. The healthcare system in the UK is much better than the ones in either Canada OR the U.S. (who knew?!) 4. A bystander can be extremely helpful to someone who is bullied, so speak up and help out. 5. It’s possible to light a light bulb with a solar panel from Canadian Tire–cool! 6. Don’t underestimate the power of the media OR social media in transmitting messages about body image. 7. The Grade 6 girls at Branksome Hall are amazing. Thanks for all of these learnings, girls, and for a fantastic morning. Enjoy the last few weeks of school!” (Grace’s Mom)

A model house showing sustainable building options as presented by the Sustainability Group.
A model house showing sustainable building options as presented by the Sustainability Group

 
“The presentations were great: the verbal exposition, role playing, interactive audio-visual on Smartboard all very well executed and educational. The videos were professional quality. Students were well-informed beyond the prepared narrative, and had excellent and informed answers to questions, so it is clear that enquiry went deep.” (Perry’s Mom)

“What a fascinating and powerful morning. As I listened to each of the groups I attended (Sustainability, Food, Social Media), I was so impressed with the depth of research, the professionalism of the presentation skills, and the desire by the teams to impart to their audiences a sense of the importance for changes to our outlook and habits.”(Emily’s Mom)

“This was a very well organized presentation. It was clear that everyone in grade 6 was proud of their work and participation.  What a great start to future group endeavours.” (Claire’s Dad)

20130510_105702
A reflection from the final week.
The Social Media Group examines the negative effects of cyber-bullying.
The Social Media Group examines the negative effects of cyber-bullying.
“Very powerful video, social media group. They spent their time very wisely on how to show people about social media. They educated everyone so well I think many people will think twice about posting things after this presentation. They made an amazing video and really helped build people’s self esteem. Really good job you made me think so, so much about social media now.” (Callista and Sima, Grade 5 Roving Reporters)

“The body image group had an amazing booth that I learnt so much just from the pictures at the booth, and I was amazing how they photoshopped Lochlan’s face. The weapons group also had a great game that we all enjoyed participating in. Now we are watching the water group presentation which has been so interesting so far. Great job girls in 6R6 and 6R5!!!” (Bessie, Grade 5 Roving Reporter)

 

“The healthcare presentation was great! Good work girls. I liked the way you used a debate to compare the 3 different countries’ healthcare (pros and cons). The word wall was a very interesting idea – to uncover people’s real thoughts and emotions about healthcare. Good job!” (Hannah’s Mom)

A book written by the Water Group.
A book written by the Water Group.
OilExperiment
An experiment showing the effects of oil on the environment and birds.
20130510_104132
The Population Group begins their presentation with a visualization, inviting guest to imagine a world…When we open our eyes, we are told this world we imagined is the world of TODAY!
20130510_110556
The Body Image Group challenges observers to undo the effects of negative body image by adding positive (blue) comments to counter all the negative (yellow) thoughts.
20130510_111258
A diorama presented by the Food Group showing the effects of fast food consumption.
A page from the Water Group's Book.
A page from the Water Group’s Book.

The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition, Weeks 6 & 7: Transferring

Our Exhibition is tomorrow! The last week and half have been filled with a busy energy as learners engaged in the hands on work of creating the different components of their presentations and exhibits. Week 6 is all about constructing, creating, collaborating and communicating as students work in their inquiry groups to bring the plans they created in Week 5 to life. Learning spaces become construction zones and Grade 6 student can be found in every available space in the school engaged in the realization of their plans. Sometimes students find challenges in making a plan become reality. It’s our job as the adults to give them the space they need to approach their challenges with their team members to find solutions, and to not step in unless we’re asked for support or to be an objective “third eye”.  It’s amazing to watch the students bring their ideas to life – this is a time to see their confidence and creativity shine. All aspects of the presentations are created and completed at school. They have lots of time to make it all happen and by the end of week 6 each group is feeling ready for the “beginning of the end.”

Image
A web page created by the Water issues group designed to raise awareness and funds to support the building of wells.

Week 7 begins with time for rehearsals. Each group presentation consists of a 10-15 minute presentation where each group shares their issue, perspectives, solutions and action. Students also have the option to have a table where they can share artifacts, art work, statistics, interactive components and any other visuals. All students display their Exhibition journals and planning as well. Students work in their groups to rehearse and interact with their props. Because we believe that Exhibition Day is a day of celebration, group presentations are formally assessed during the “dress rehearsal” in class presentations. They are given immediate feedback (stars and wishes) from their peers and their teacher provides them with feedback and evaluative data as well. We find that this de-emphasises marks and instead places the emphasis on opportunities for continued growth. Students have the opportunity to reflect prior to exhibition day and this means that each group uses the feedback they receive and applies it to their public presentation on Exhibition Day. There are no clip boards, rubrics or check-lists on Exhibition Day – just passionate students sharing their learning . As I watch the dress rehearsals I am in awe of the girls’ Exhibition journey and the diversity their work shows. Every group has chosen unique ways to share their learning about their chosen issue. Passion and commitment are highly evident; knowledge is delivered in creative ways; students show they are risk-takers through their provocations and their confidence.

The range of emotions I experience as I watch our learners transform into teachers leaves me at a loss for words: goose bumps, discomfort as my thinking and assumptions are challenged, teary eyed from shocking facts and statistics, inspired by messages of hope and action, and even laughter. These reactions tell me that the PYP journey is coming to an amazing end for these learners. They are living proof of the power of the IB framework and philosophy in action in our school.

Image
A student working on a model house that will show building materials that support a more sustainable future.
Image
Artwork created by the Animal issues group showing the impact of pollution and waste on habitats.

The exhibition is a process that reflects the development of the Learner Profile and the 5 Essential Elements of the PYP over time. In short, it acts as a school’s summative assessment of its entire PYP program, not just the final year of the program or one day. It is a milestone day that represents a significant journey for every learner and teacher in a PYP school. Presentations should be significant, relevant and engaging. They should also showcase each learner’s unique skills, talents and perspectives. Our job is to set our learners up for success by both challenging and supporting them. Today as I walked the spaces and interacted with our grade 6 students as they made their final preparations, my question to each of them was, “Are we ready?” Their resounding response – “YES WE ARE!”                                    

Image
An interactive game designed to help players compare 3 different health care systems.

The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition, Week 5: Processing

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

Image
Pros and Cons to explore perspectives on a debatable question.
Image
A visual sketch of a presentation plan.

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!

Students meet with the teacher and Technology Integrator to share their plans and ideas.
Students meet with the teacher and Technology Integrator to share their plans and ideas.
Image
Brainstorming ideas to meet the required components of the Exhibition presentation.

The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition, Week 4: Exploring

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.

Image
Fact-Question Response (F-Q-R) Research Format
Image
Deepening Research Through Key Concept Lenses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?
Image
Debatable Question Planning Sheet

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.

Image
Mentor Meeting Tracking Sheet. The students are responsible for completing this each week.
Image
Research Skills Self-Assessment
Image
On going reflections each week for students to share their thoughts and feelings about the exhibition process, etc.

The PYP-X Files: Chronicles of An Exhibition, Exploring – Week 3

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.

Image

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!

Image
Weekly check in reflection.

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.

The PYP-X Files: Chronicles of an Exhibition, Preparing – Week 2

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. 

Image

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. 

Image
Central Idea: Understanding current issues can help us to actively engage as members of the local community.

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.)

Image
Moving from concepts or topics to deeper issues.

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. 

ImageImage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

Image
In this class, a common element emerges – the right to be human. The graph in the other grade 6 class looks very different and the concepts and issues are much broader. It’s important to honour the differences between the two learning communities as we move forward.

The PYP-X Files: Chronicles of an Exhibition, Preparing – Week 1

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?

Image

Image

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! Image

Image