Lessons Learned from PYP Exhibition

This year was my first time being the lead teacher on the PYP Exhibition at my school. In the past two years I have served as a mentor, but this year was my opportunity to step up and take on the leadership of the PYP Exhibition.

I was fortunate to be supported by my school to attend ‘The Exhibition (Category 2)’ training the face-to-face format. I found that attending the training was beneficial to fully understanding the purpose of exhibition both in my role as a homeroom teacher but also as the PYP Coordinator. ‘

Lesson #1The Exhibition is the responsibility of all teachers within the programme.
The Exhibition is the culmination of the PYP, and as a result, it is a reflection of everything that the students have developed as learners throughout the programme, not only in the final year. Often, the teacher who is responsible for leading the group of students through the exhibition feels an added level of pressure as they are directly responsible for the group of students. Taking time to establish essential agreements and understandings around the purpose of exhibition and the scope of exhibition will help to lay the ground work for meaningful conversation regarding student’s exhibition experience.

Lesson #2 Invest in developing a detailed timeline in advance, but remain flexible!
There is no prescribed way to deliver the PYP Exhibition; however, there are many requirements as describe in the Exhibition Guidelines document. As a result, it is important to carefully consider what components of the exhibition process are required and allocated appropriate time and resources for them. Providing time for students to take community visits, have guest speakers, contact primary resources are all important elements to student led inquiry and all benefit from having a timeline. That being said, it is important to remain flexible and consider individual situations with professional judgement as learning is not a linear process.

Lesson #3 Build in time and provide tools for reflection throughout the process.
In order to help keep the focus of the exhibition on the process of learning, instead of completely on the final product, make sure to build in non-negotiable time for reflection. Some of the ways that it did this included:

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Daily Tracking Sheet

Daily tracking sheets – Students take a few minutes at the beginning and end of every day to set priorities, acknowledge progress, and identify next steps.
Weekly recap sheets – Each Friday, students had time to reflect on their week by answer open-ended questions and identifying the Learner Profile attribute, attitudes, and Approaches to Learning that they displayed, utilized, or applied that week.

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Open Ended Questions

Video Journals – At the completion of various stages of the inquiry process, students were provided with the same set of questions to answer. This was done multiple times and then students were able to look at how their answers were impacted by their research. By using the video format, it provided another modality for students to express themselves and talk about themselves as learners.


Lesson #4Communication is essential.
As the exhibition unit is a slightly different format from the rest of the programme of inquiry, it is essential to develop strong communication with the involved students, families, and wider school community to maintain a positive climate. It is important to acknowledge that exhibition will challenge the students involved, and there will be difficult situation to work through but at the core the process will be empowering and enjoyable for the students involved.

Lesson #5 – Document, document, document!
Take lots of pictures, shoot video, capture the learning in action. The exhibition process can be exhausting, overwhelming, and is over before you know it. Make sure to use technology to assist in the documentation process to help you remember all of the wonderful moments that happened throughout. Your documentation will be valuable to help with the assessment process, but also provides a vehicle for celebration.

Here is a video produced with some of my students talking about PYP Exhibition.

If you have other lessons that you have learned about PYP Exhibition, please comment below! We are better together, when we share and learn from each other.



Tackling Conferences as a Team

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the IB Annual Regional Conference of the Americas hosted in Toronto, Ontario. The theme for the conference was Learning Together, and there was over 1,400 educators from around the world in attendance. With the conference happening so close to my school, we were able to send a strong team of 19 to the conference from across the PYP, MYP and DP teaching teams within the school.

One of the challenges that I have experienced at conferences is often wanting to be in more than one place at a time. Often, there are two or more sessions happening simultaneously that I am interested in going to. The IB Conference is no exception to this rule! With having a strong team of people attending a conference together, it is possible to use technology to help everyone gather knowledge from multiple sessions that are happening at the same time so people don’t have to worry about not being in two places at once.

The first time that I saw this approach being used was at Integrated 2014 in Portland, Oregon. The conference organizers created a hyperlinked GoogleDoc that listed all of the conference sessions and encouraged participants to record there notes in the document for all of the conference attendees to share. Throughout the sessions, participants helped to build a robust document with notes from all of the sessions. After the conference, participants could read about other workshops, click on links and benefit from the shared knowledge of other participants. Even if you had attended this conference as the only teacher from your school or district, you still had a ‘team’ to learn with and from. Although this document was very useful, it was overwhelming the quantity of notes that it included and the context of note taking varied among participants.

If you are fortunate enough to be attending a conference with a team of educators from your school or district, it is a wonderful opportunity to harness technology to fuel a collaborative team approach to tackling the conference! It also allows members of your team who are not able to attend the conference to benefit from the knowledge gained at the conference as the document can be shared with a wider audience after the fact.

In advance of the conference, an online collaborative document can be created in a tool such as GoogleDocs and shared with the members of your team that are attending the conference. When setting up the document you might want to consider what format would make the most sense for note taking. Is there certain information that you would like from each session (i.e., names of the presenters, email addresses, links)? Do you want the notes to be anonymous or would you like people to attach their name to the notes? How can the ‘comments’ feature be used? Can a highlighting colour system be created to help draw attention to action items? One tip is to use the ‘Table of Contents’ feature within GoogleDocs to create a hyperlinked schedule at the beginning of the document to make navigation easier.

Following the conference, it might be helpful to have one person take a few minutes to ‘clean up’ up the document. This does not mean removing any notes, simply looking for places where there are extra spaces that could be removed, making font size consistent, and other things to make the document visually appealing for when it is shared with a wider audience.

In using this approach at the IB conference, I found that my own experience was enriched by the experiences of my colleagues who were also in attendance. I was able to gain knowledge from sessions I did not attend in person and I am able to start specific conversations with people about the sessions they attended.

I hope that this type of collaboration and sharing becomes a standard practice at more conference in the future.



Making Thinking Visible and the PYP

Last week, I hosted an IBSO (International Baccalaureate Schools of Ontario) Roundtable to look at how Visible Thinking Routines could used in the context of the PYP (Primary Years Programme). I have been working on incorporating Visible Thinking Routines over the past two years into my programme of inquiry but it wasn’t until I stopped and reflected on them that I realized how powerful they are in bringing together all of the essential elements of the PYP.

Visible Thinking Routines have been around for a number of years and were developed through Project Zero a research incubator at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The central idea of the roundtable was: Embedding visible thinking routines as part of the inquiry process, encourages active processing and can contribute to building a community of learners.

The lines of inquiry were:
• Defining Thinking • Features of Visible Thinking
• Connections between Visible Thinking Routines and PYP Essential Elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, and action)
• Core Visible Thinking Routines
• Application of Visible Thinking Routines within transdisciplinary learning

A few highlights from each line of inquiry

Defining Thinking – When we try and define thinking, it quickly becomes very clear that it is a very muddy term that isn’t easy to pin point. There are many different skills or types of thinking that we can use at any one time. The foundation of an inquiry based program involves students asking questions and examining information in order to answer their questions; however it relies deeply on students developing a variety of ‘thinking skills’ in order to do this effectively.

• Features of Visible Thinking – One of the benefits that I have been by using visible thinking strategies in my classroom is the ‘meta-strategic knowledge’ that it builds within my students. In Making Thinking Visible, they discuss the idea of meta-stratetic knowledge as a sub-component of metacognition that was developed by Zohar & David (2008) as “knowledge about the strategies one has at one’s disposal to facilitate and direct one’s own learning.” (Making Thinking Visible, pg. 15). Through using ‘routines’ for thinking, just as we use routines for other aspects of the classroom, students develop an understanding of what type of prompts they can use themselves for specific thinking situations. Another benefit of the visible thinking routines is that they are designed to be easy to remember and implement. Usually they are only a few steps and can be done from memory after you have developed confidence with them.

• Connections between Visible Thinking Routines and PYP Essential Elements – Each of the visible thinking routines provides a plethora of opportunity for development of a wide variety of essential elements. Many of the routines can be done independently or as part of a collaborative process. During the roundtable, we broke into small groups and each took one visible thinking routine and mapped it against the essential elements. One example of this was ‘Compass Points’. Through examining the process of this routine the following components of the essential were identified as having the strongest connections:

Learner Profile – Reflective


IBSO PYP Teachers trying Compass Point Strategy.

PYP Attitudes – Independent
Key Concepts – Perspective
Self-Management Skills – Informed Choices

Core Visible Thinking Routines – The routines are organized into three broad categories (1) Introducing and Exploring Ideas (2) Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas and (3) Digging Deeper into Ideas. One of the recommendations that is discussed in the resources provided is around selecting one or two routines to become comfortable with and make them a normal activity in a wide variety of scenarios.

• Application of Visible Thinking Routines within transdisciplinary learning – The teachers in attendance all were quickly able to think of places where the use of this routines would be beneficial, especially during the ‘Tuning In’ stage of a unit of inquiry. One place that I have been focused on incorporating them is throughout the PYP Exhibition. One of our first activities involved completing the Compass Point in order to gauge where the group as a whole felt about the Exhibition. I have also used Headlines and I used to Think … Now I think … as part of a video journal series students are producing throughout the exhibition process to track how their thinking is changing and evolving.




Mistakes Educators Make With Technology

This morning while going through my Feedly, I came across a article titled 3 Mistakes Parents Make with Technology. After reading through the article that outlined common mistakes including not setting limits, not engaging in family technology activities, and parents also being tech addicts, I was struck with thinking about what are the mistakes that educators make with technology. In thinking about mistakes that I have made with technology and observations I have observed, I have come up with this short list of mistakes that I think are important to address.

The first mistake that I think educators make is focusing on the technology. Often educators start with the technology or add the technology on top of what they are already doing, instead of focusing on how technology can be used to amplify strong pedagogical principles. I utilize TPACK as a framework when I am conceptualizing how technology can support my instruction. Through this process, I help to ground my use of technology with the pedagogical and content knowledge that is necessary to build a strong instructional program. I think that it is important that educators are constantly reflection on the relationship between technology-pedagogy-content to ensure that technology is enhancing the learning process.

The second mistake that I feel educators make is not taking advantage of the expert in the room – the students. Even though I feel comfortable using technology and have been using it since I was in elementary school, the kids in my sixth grade class constantly amaze me with their knowledge – I cannot even imagine what the difference would be in a high school class. With this being said, I think that too often, educators don’t use the strengths of their students. Perhaps, you have one student who is very knowledgeable and keen with technology – they can become your resident tech support and help other students who run into trouble. You can ask your students to think of places where tools they are using can be incorporated in an academic setting. Give students a leadership opportunity by establishing a student tech team to help build teachers technological knowledge.

The third mistake I think educators are guilty of is not having the right mindset when things don’t go as planned. Technology will fail. The power will go out. The internet will go down. Your projector won’t work. There will be a program update and your instructions won’t work. Someone will forget their password. All of these things WILL HAPPEN, I guarantee it. When these things happen, you can either approach the situation looking to place the blame on someone else, or you can make the best of it and have a back up plan. Use it as an opportunity to teach kids problem solving skills – these things happen in real life. As the lead learner, these situations provide a wonderful opportunity for you to model a mindset that students can learn from.

I’m sure that there are other common mistake that educators make regarding technology but I feel that these three underpin some of the stress teachers feel when they consider where to begin with the effective use of technology.

Quick Tech Tip: Simple English

When my students are researching, they often find Wikipedia articles that they want to use to help them grasp a quick understanding of a topic before digging in to find other primary and secondary sources of information. Depending on the topic, some Wikipedia articles can be written at a very high reading level that can provide challenges for Elementary School students or English Language Learners to understand. One ‘solution’ to assist with this is the use of the ‘Simple English’ language from the ‘Language’ options on Wikipedia. Many articles have this as a language option and it does a good job on simplifying the content to make it easier to comprehend.

From the Wikipedia Homepage you can automatically select ‘Simple English’ as the language you would like to search in.

As you can see, the ability to select what language you would like to search in can be found on the left hand sidebar. Wikipedia Homepage Simple English.png

After clicking on ‘Simple English’, you will be directed to an onmibox (search box) where you can search for articles in Simple English.

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You can also perform a search in English and then select ‘Simple English’ from the language menu if you find that the article is too challenging to read.