What really matters?

What do you think is unfair?

We take some time to think individually and write each idea on a separate sticky note. One teacher finds it difficult to get started. Another finds it cathartic getting all the injustices she sees around her down on paper. Someone wrestles with the difference between annoying things and unfair things. Once we’re on a roll, most of us could keep going at this for ages!

What we find unfair ranges from trivial to extremely serious, from intensely personal to global….

  • playground bullying
  • that sweets are fattening
  • uneven distribution of wealth
  • favouritism
  • lack of access to education
  • the price of petrol
  • lack of accountability at work
  • racist comments

The next stage is to arrange these injustices on a diagram of concentric circles.  Does it relate to me personally?  To my family? Or is it a local, national or global issue? 

At first we take turns to place our notes and explain our reasoning, but soon everyone has something to say, opinions differ and there is vigorous debate. We discover that deciding where to place our injustices is not so easy. Some could go in several circles. Some could go in all. Sometimes it depends on the perspective of the writer. We realise that it doesn’t matter where we place them, it’s about the process.

In the process of the debate, different examples are presented, new issues are raised and a range of perspectives are explored. In a way, the process draws us closer together as we reveal what bothers us and find commonalities. We make connections between the different injustices and relate them to our own experiences. We shift back and forth between personal and global perspectives.

We discuss how global issues might affect us personally and how personal issues might be relevant in broader contexts. Visualising students sitting in groups having the same sorts of discussions, the  teachers are excited to try this with their classes.

This will be the first step in setting the scene and provoking thinking for our PYP exhibition unit.

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act‘. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will find what they are passionate about to explore in depth. 

Last year we focused on social inequities in the world. While the learning was rich and the exhibition highly successful, some students inquired into issues beyond their grasp and there was limited opportunity for really meaningful action. This time, everyone will have the opportunity to find something to which they can relate deeply. We hope to use tools and experiences such as the one above to help them find what really matters to them. 

As a learning community, my school is further down the track in our understanding of inquiry learning than we were at this time last year. Teachers talk about how much they have changed. There is a greater awareness of what’s possible when teachers let go and learning is more student owned.

Our exhibition will be a celebration, not just of our students’ learning and growth, but of our own. Watch this space to read about how the learning unfolds…

With thanks to our (virtual) friend, Sam Sherratt , not just for sharing the concentric circles idea, but for inspiring us to let go and really let the students lead. 

12 thoughts on “What really matters?

  1. Discussions like these are SO valuable. Apart from beginning a formal inquiry unit, I can see this activity as a great vehicle for discussions by ELL students and a source of writing ideas.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi, Edna. Concentric circles are great for showing how the traditional distinctions between the local, national, and global etc. have become blurred. The teachers’ wonderings sounded incredibly authentic and reminded me of students’ discussions about the difference between needs and wants. It sounds as though all of this will lead to a conceptually-driven inquiry as opposed to students in groups looking at different aspects of a single topic. Last year the Grade 5 students at our school considered equal opportunities for their PYP exhibition. Let me know if you’d like me to send you the planner. One suggestion – Real Lives proved to be a fantastic resource!


  3. Dear Ed,

    We did some real world experiences as students used media to express local and national issues. Real people served as super provocations and such experiences surely help students to think about new questions and take the inquiry further.


  4. This activity is wonderfully provocative. I used it in a meeting for the Wodonga CRT Support Network just the other day (with a different topic) and the discussion prompted by the responses was positively insightful. I can’t wait to try it out in a classroom too!


  5. What a small world! It is always nice to see a familiar face or read a familiar name when live and teach in so many different parts of the world. I had the pleasure of working with Sam Sherratt (the about six years ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was a creative educator back then and clearly continues to be today!
    The organization of ideas through the concentric circles can provoke deeper conversation and help students uncover multiple perspectives and their personal connection to the issues. I love the idea! Thanks for sharing.
    From initial conversations like these where students discuss local and global issues that are important to them, we generate a list of possible issues that we could inquire during the exhibition. We then ask parents from the class, many of which work for NGOs, or we contact local agencies and invite guest speakers into the class to provide more background information on the different issues. Once we’ve learned more about these issues we look for common threads and then write a central idea for the exhibition with the students. This stage in the exhibition is so important because students have the opportunity to learn more about issues they were interested in. Sometimes this inspires the students to inquire into the issue further and other times they learn that they would actually like to learn about something else.


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