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.



Why can GAFE be so powerful?

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Google (GAFE) Summit in Kitchener. I think I might have been one of the only people from a non-GAFE school/board but I was still able to learn many things that I can apply to my teaching practice (another blog post!). For me, I try to make technology integration not about the technology but a focus on maintaining strong pedagogy and utilizing the tools to allow us to reach beyond what is possible without its use. Over the weekend listening to many of the other educators talk, I couldn’t help but thinking about why GAFE was such a powerful tool when mass adoption in an organization takes place. I also developed a greater understanding of how GAFE can enhance teachers ability to hit the sweet spot in the TPACK framework .

Here are a couple of the strengths I identified:

(1) Everyone speaking the same language – Having a common ‘toolkit’ allows all teachers to speak the same language in terms of their technological knowledge (TK). There are still ways to customize the toolkit through the use of add-ons and 3rd party tools; however, the core set of tools provides amazing flexibility and adaptability across K-12 (+higher ed) and subject area. As everyone is familiar with the same tools, teachers can ‘collaborate’ and assist each other, sharing their knowledge and ideas, strengthening the technological knowledge. With greater technological knowledge, teachers are better able to see where technology can be selected to work together with their pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge.

(2) Workflow – The GAFE suite makes distributing and collecting student work a streamlined process, but it also allows teachers to observe students ‘during’ the learning and can help shift the focus from being solely on the product of the learning but also to the process of the learning. With the ability to monitor and support students throughout the learning process, the teachers role can shift to being a facilitator and guider of the learning process, rather than the keeper of knowledge (pedagogical knowledge). This is not to suggest that it is not possible to do this without the use of GAFE because of course it is; however, it could require a greater level of technological knowledge to ‘hack’ other tools to preform similar functions and be more time consuming to monitor.

(3) Enhanced Assessment Capabilities – With the shift to monitoring the process of learning, the GAFE suite has a number of built in tools that allow for teachers to provide timely and effective feedback throughout the learning process. The ability to provide ‘comments’ and have students respond to the comments while they are working, allows for personalized feedback without the student having to ‘hand-in’ their work, the teacher sitting down to look over all of the tasks, and then waiting until the next time they see the student to return the work. Another function that is beneficial to the assessment process is the ‘revision history’. This is particularly useful if you are looking at shared-documents where students are working in groups and you can see each members contributions, or if you are looking at how students are able to apply feedback and make changes to their work. In terms of TPACK, having more formative assessment information during the process of learning allows the teacher to identify concepts that students are having difficulty with and better match their ‘content’ with the students needs.

(4) Takes the focus away from the technology – This kind of seems silly but I actually think that when students and teachers are using a common toolkit and develop fluency with the tools the focus of the learning doesn’t need to be the technology. I personally thinking, that often the sweet spot in TPACK is reached when the focus is not on the technology but on the harmonious blending of the technology, the content, and the pedagogy. Currently, I find that I have to spend a lot of time teaching the tools that I have selected for my students to use because they have often not used them in previous grades. Although students today are fast learners, and often figure out things that I didn’t even know were possible, it still takes time and shifts the focus away from our other learning. With GAFE, the toolkit can become a ubiquitous part of their learning environment instead of an add-on.

What other reasons have you found that make GAFE a powerful toolkit in your organization?
What drawbacks have you found to GAFE?

Sometimes you just want to jump for joy …

… When you are evaluating student’s work and you can tell they have had that lightbulb moment!

On a recent unit reflection based on the transdisciplinary theme “Where We Are In Place and Time” and the central idea “Global societies change and evolve due to major influences of an era.” this was one students response to a specific question.

Question – What does the theme “Where We Are In Place and Time” mean to you now that we have investigation previous civilizations and societies?

Student Response – “We are very advanced now compared to previous civilizations and societies. I like to think that the things that we think are impossible will be possible in the future. Don’t you think people in the past would have never thought flying was possible until some curious people including the Wright brothers came along.”

Sometimes, these sentences make it all worth while!

The Benefits of Video Analysis

With the ease of access of video recording equipment (iPhones, iPads, built in webcams on laptops, digital cameras), helping students to use these tools effectively to develop their metacognitive skills is one strategy that I have been implementing over the past few years. What initially started as a great way to share student performances in class with parents has turned out to have other benefits for students’ metacognitive development, and assessment and evaluation purposes.

Throughout the school year, students are provided with multiple opportunities to make oral presentations to their classmates. While students are preparing to present, I encourage them to record themselves practicing and watch back their preparations and self-identify strengths and weaknesses. This helps them to focus in on what they need to practice prior to the actual presentation. Often students are surprise when they look at themselves because they have habits that they do not realize. We have discussions about self-assessment and assessment for learning throughout the process.

On the actual presentation day, I have 1 student who has the task of being the ‘videographer’. This is a great task for students who need a meaningful job during presentations or they may drift off or cause disruptions. Depending on the grade level of your students, you can discuss camera angles and get into fancy post production; however, in Grade 4 I tend to stick with the straight forward video camera.

After the presentations, I find it helpful to be able to re-watch performances to look for specific elements (i.e eye contact, posture, gestures) and be able to provide detailed feedback to students. I provide students a copy of their own video on a USB stick to watch at home and share with parents/caregivers. I have found that USB sticks limit privacy concerns as there is really no need for other people to be able to watch the videos. While they are watching their performance, I ask them to identify things they are proud of and areas of improvement. Following this step, I am able to conference with students, compare our assessments, and if necessary show them a certain section of video to help explain to them their assessment and discuss next steps.

Eventually, students develop a portfolio of their performances over the year and they are able to look from September to June and see their development. As some other teachers also use these strategies, students will be able to compare their development year over year as well.

As a teacher, having a library of previous performances also assists in developing ‘exemplars’ and providing students with examples of approaching expectations, meeting expectations, and exceeding expectations.

Student Led Conferences: Round 1

This term my division (Kindergarten to Grade 6) introduced Student-Led Conferences as a method of reporting student learning to parents. This was the first time we formally held these conferences and it was a learning experience for everyone. Although I had not conducted student led conferences myself before, I had heard a lot about them and had done some research. We were also fortunate to have another teacher on staff who had done them before. One excellent resource that my team used was from The Ontario Ministry of Education: Student-Led Conference Webcast Series.

Preparations for student-led conferences took various forms. Beginning in September students began keeping a portfolio of their work samples with reflections attached. I have chosen to have my students do a hybrid-portfolio with a traditional paper/binder component and a web-based electronic portfolio ( I think that this provides a nice balance for keeping record of students work in different forms of media depending on the task. It also allows the web-based electronic component to be accessible to parents at any time, so students can be frequently sharing those components with parents. In the portfolio binder, students have divided their binder into various sections – Math, Language, Units of Inquiry x 6, Specialty Subjects, Extra-Curricular, and place any work samples they would like into the binder. Most students want to select samples that would be considered their best work, but students are welcome to place any work samples inside. All formal assessments (i.e. math assessments, summative tasks, published writing) are also included in to the portfolio.

Approximately 1 week prior to the student led conferences, students began role-playing their student led conferences. As this was our first time doing these, it was also the first time for many of the students so this was a really important phase for developing their comfort level and confidence. Each student selected 2 pieces of work that they wanted to share with their parents – 1 piece from a homeroom lesson (i.e. math, language, unit of inquiry), and 1 piece from a specialty subject (i.e. french, music, art, phys.ed). If students wanted to include a performance in their portfolio from a task, students were able to use video recording equipment and show their parents a video during the conference.

The evening of student led conferences, appointments were made so that students would arrive every 5 minutes and stay for 15 minutes (i.e. 4:30-4:45, 4:35-4:50). This would mean that there would be 3 or 4 families in the classroom at any given time to allow for appropriate space. When the parents arrived, they were provided with a generic list of questions developed by our PYP Coordinator that they could ask their child to help them explain their work. Very quickly it was clear that 15 minutes would not be enough time, as once students began sharing they were quickly headed in their desk to find more things, over to the iPads, and to get their French binder. It seemed like sharing was infectious! The smiles on their faces as they were showing off their work was wonderful! Luckily, I my schedule was not full so the room was never over crowded but in the future I would schedule the conferences every 10 minutes for 20-30 minutes.

Following the conference, in class students were asked to blog about their experience! The feedback from the students was very positive. A lot of students were surprised how interested their parents were in their work – the steps they took to learn it, what connections they made to the Learner Profile, questions they still have.

We are going to hold student-led conferences again in the spring and I am looking forward to seeing the development. I am hopeful that students will be able to show their growth from September by comparing their work from the beginning of the year with more current work.

Although portfolios do take a large amount of class time to manage and organize, when you host events such as student-led conferences it makes it clear that it is a good use of instructional time. I am going to continue looking for new strategies for students to reflect on their work/artifacts as this seems to be the most challenging part for students.