An inquiry into how the world works…

Headphones on, each member of the group watches their assigned video and considers how it fits into the PYP trans disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’…

Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

We’re watching things as diverse as the longest pedestrian suspension bridge, how fish breathe, a poo powered flame thrower, a man-made forest on a river island in India and ice cream that doesn’t melt

Sharing back with the group provokes discussion about what excites us, connections we see, problems solved and issues raised and the varied aspects each of us might find interesting to explore further. We look at the ways people apply scientific knowledge to solve problems, meet needs, create art…

We check which of the science strands are addressed by the videos and highlight the relevant concepts in each.

This is not a classroom, it’s a collaborative planning session.

The goals are as follows-

  • To get the teachers excited about what’s possible
  • To highlight the fact that science is everywhere
  • To encourage us to observe and notice science around us
  • To provoke thinking about the ways humans apply scientific knowledge
  • To create a context in which to plan for student learning and inquiry.

We’re planning for our PYP exhibition* unit and it’s the first time we’re exploring it in the theme of ‘How the World Works’.

The teachers are already excited about…

  • provoking our learners’ curiosity
  • inquiry that is real, relevant and engaging
  • opportunities for exploring passions
  • the possibilities for creativity and innovation
  • observing and really noticing the world
  • the potential to change perspectives
  • opportunities for learners to use a broad range of skills
  • scope for hands-on making and doing
  • bringing all the learning from previous years together
  • the potential to include the natural world, art, technology, ethics…

And concerned about…

  • ensuring it goes beyond being ‘just a science fair’
  • opportunities for action as a result of the learning

We’re keen to hear from other PYP practitioners who have explored ‘How the World Works’ for their exhibition units, in particular if it was a dynamic, student centred, passion driven, authentic learning experience for all.

* I hope in the IB PYP review, they decide to replace the term ‘exhibition’. It makes it sound as if the focus is on the product, when the most important aspect should be the process of meaningful, in-depth, personal and collaborative inquiry, drawing together all the skills and attitudes they have developed over time – Learners taking responsibility for their own learning. 

 

Student Ownership…

‘It was great last year’… 

‘The kids loved it’… 

‘No need for change’… 

‘Why fix what isn’t broken?’

It’s exciting to note that we rarely hear these comments in our planning sessions any more!

Change and growth are embedded in the way we plan for learning. We prefer to start afresh and reinvent, in light of our current understandings, new teams collaborating, different students…

And every time we plan,  we try to ensure more opportunities for students to take ownership of the learning.

Two years ago we had our first social justice conference for Year 6 students. The event grew from a random idea, blogged and picked up by a teacher on the other side of the world, who breathed life into the vision. We developed her ideas further and the conference was a great introduction to the PYP exhibition process.

The aims were-

  • To expose students to a range of issues relating to ‘inequity’, raise awareness and provoke thinking on related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to help right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

Last year the Year 6 team improved the structure of the conference, adding time for the kids to reflect in small groups after each speaker and opportunities to express their learning creatively at the end of the day.

While the conference was outstanding, with  kids choosing what sessions to attend and actively engaged in learning on the day, essentially it was still organised for them.

This year, it’s obvious what needs upgrading. The kids need more ownership.

So we’ve called for volunteers who will write to the speakers, organise groups, make programs, welcome and thank the speakers, take photographs, film, tweet, blog… and whatever else they decide!

I’m on leave at the moment, but delighted to find emails such as these in my inbox this morning:

My name is Jared and I am in Mrs B’s class and she told me that you were looking for volunteers to help with the conference next term. I would be very happy help with all the organizing that needs to be done. Jared

I would love to volunteer to help organise anything. I enjoy writing so I could make a blog post about the speakers, and I am very organised so I can organise anything. I could make programs or welcome the speakers too. I don’t really mind, I’m just happy to help. Thank you. Liora

Dear Morah Sackson, I am very interested in this project. Any jobs available will be fine for me! Thanks a million! David.

Hi Morah Sackson, I would love to volunteer to be an organizer for the conference. If I could I would like to write messages to the speakers with information. Thanks, Taylor

I would love to cooperate! I would love to do anything… I am passionate to help out! Mia

I would like to volunteer to work at lunchtimes. I would like to help create the program if I can. I am a great organiser and I really enjoy when things are in place. Ellie

Next year the kids can do the whole thing!

Process vs Product

In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.

As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.

Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:

‘What should we avoid?’

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 9.25.52 AM

Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.

The participants expressed their ideas on the purpose of the exhibition, we discussed the IB guidelines and we called on the global community to add their thoughts.

I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning.  The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.

Then and Now

Keeping the ‘why in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…

On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-

What should we avoid?

  • over complicating
  • anything that isn’t purposeful
  • teachers controlling the learning
  • focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning

While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.

Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.

Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?

Extra-ordinary learning…

Despite help from her teacher, a student is finding it difficult to organise the information in her head. Another teacher is disappointed that a bright student has relied on pre-existing knowledge and suggests he research his topic more diligently. A girl gets teary when she has to compromise with others in her drama group who prefer their ideas to hers. A video clip that a boy has posted to the class blog is too explicit and has to be taken down in case it upsets other students. A group of children who have  been painting with rollers have left paint on the floor and are sent to clean up…

Ordinary learning for 12 year-olds?

It is, however, a joy to be involved in the learning, as these Year 6 students develop an awareness and understanding of inequity, pursue individual inquiries and prepare  for sharing their learning with the wider school community at their PYP exhibition this coming week.

At any given time, if you walk through the building, there is evidence of real learning taking place. There are groups of children collaborating in the open space between the classrooms. Students are inquiring by researching on laptops, interviewing people, creating surveys and contacting organisations. They communicate their learning to children and teachers from other grades across the school. There are opportunities to explore the big ideas creatively through drama, music, art, poetry, photography or animation. Every student has time in between to reflect on the learning process, through conversation, in their journals or on their class blogs. Engagement is high, especially as they have chosen what to explore , thought deeply about why and planned how. Learners have ownership of their learning and they feel empowered…

Extra-ordinary learning for 12 year olds?

In last few days before the exhibition, everyone is relaxed. It’s because the focus has been on the learning process and not on the exhibition, which will simply be a celebration of the learning that has taken place. Students are excitedly putting the final touches on their presentations, but that’s not what is important. What matters is that on the day, every one of our 85 students will be able to talk confidently about the knowledge they have acquired and the skills they have mastered, how their thinking has changed and their understanding has deepened, and what they have learned about themselves as learners. (The teachers too.)

The story so far…

What really matters

What would you do if you could change the world?

A different kind of conference

A different kind of conference -2

Student Voices

Talking about learning

And more on the class blogs here, here, here and here.

Talking about learning…

Our approach to the PYP exhibition unit is very different this year. 

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Within the context of this broad conceptual understanding, students choose to inquire into a variety of inequities, ranging from racial stereotyping to school bullying, homelessness, animal cruelty, support for people with disabilities, and more.

After our opening conference day and other provocations to encourage engagement with the big ideas, students are provided with many opportunities to unpack the issues and think deeply about what matters to them, by talking… amongst themselves, with their own and other teachers, with students from other classes, with their own and other parents. 

One-on-one conversations…

Having the support of the entire upper primary teaching staff (and others!) for at least one lesson a week, allows time for every student to discuss what interests them and why, one-on-one with an adult . In some cases it takes several such conversations before students discover what they care deeply about and would like to explore. It’s a safe, supportive forum in which to explain the reasons behind their choice and the connection to their own life. As their inquiries unfold, these conversations serve to encourage, guide and validate. Some questioning and probing help them articulate their learning and plan how to proceed.

Unconference…

Students post up sticky notes indicating what they would like to discuss. By the afternoon these are sorted and like-minded groups are formed, across the four Year 6 classes. With a teacher to facilitate if required, the students share what they have learned so far, generate ideas, raise questions and concerns. They use a Google doc to record the conversation and share resources. It’s an opportunity to find  learners outside their own classes with whom to collaborate.

Checkpoints…

At several points along the way, an audience is invited in, providing another one-on-one opportunity for learners to share and take stock of new learning, respond to questions and reflect on the process so far. On one occasion it is parents who volunteer, on another it’s a Year 5 class. The students’ reflections indicate that the checkpoints are beneficial in keeping them on track, building confidence, receiving authentic feedback and helping them consider where to head next. 

The exhibition…

Last year, every group had a booth, backboard and table and a great deal of time was spent making these look attractive. There were posters, signs, presentations, games, cards and decorations. This year students are recording and reflecting on their learning journey in notebooks or on blogs, but for the exhibition itself each student will choose one mode of presentation only. It might be a poster, a movie, a painting, a photograph or a song. Whatever they choose needs to be a powerful and effective hook to engage the guests in conversation.

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The story so far…

What really matters

What would you do if you could change the world?

A different kind of conference

A different kind of conference -2

Student Voices

Beautiful cello music track in the video played by Michael Goldschlager.

 

A different kind of conference -2

‘ Every speaker was engaging and interesting which taught me a lot.’ (Timmi)

‘I thought it was an unbelievable experience and really increased my knowledge of the world’. (Jack)

‘I thought it was fun way of learning, instead of teachers just talking to us and telling us what to do, it was more interactive. It was like a big class discussion and we got to have different fun activities. I liked the breakout groups because we got to share what we learnt with everyone.’ (Jackie)

Thursday’s conference for students was highly successful if, like me, you gauge success by the potential for learning, the level of engagement, and the depth of students’ thinking. You can read about the details of the day in an earlier post. The students’ reflections and the images from the day should tell you the rest of the story…

What some of the kids said:

Corey:

Yesterday was a fun learning experience. I loved all of the stations and I did not believe some of the things they were telling me. My favourite session was the Glenallen School on overcoming challenges. They brought in two of their students, named Bella and Kim. Kim and Bella both made a short speech for us telling us about themselves and why they have to use a machine to talk. After their speeches we got ask them questions, and some of the answers were really interesting. Some people asked them how does your machine work and the answers were unbelievable, I never knew machines could do those type of things, like estimate what their sentence is going to be or there’s like a brain switch that can read what she’s trying to say! Some of my friends even got to go up to Kim and Bella to see both of these machines. I asked Bella how she became school captain and she said to me without her machine “all of my friends voted for me”.

Ella:

I noticed:

1. That one person can make a change.
2. If you set goals for yourself anything is possible.
3. That disabled people think just like us and even though they may look different they still have feelings and should be treated the same.
4. That there is way more animal cruelty in the world than I thought and that we have to stop it.
5. Just one life can help the world and make a change! to never give up!

Jackie:

Learning about what 12 year old girls and Ethiopian woman do every day has made me a very grateful person. Knowing they have to walk 3 hours carrying 15 kilos, back to their families, has made me realise what a struggle their life is compared to mine. Every day I have to go to school for 8 hours, when most of them can’t go to school because they are busy helping their families. What I am able to do every day, I take for granted. When I come home I have dinner made already and sometimes we go out for dinner, and our delicious food is made for us. But these women have to make unappetising food, by hand, every day, for 3 hours. 1.3 billion People live on just $1.25 per day, while we live on hundreds. I learnt that I am a very lucky and I should be more grateful for everyday that I live. I want to make a difference for these girls and one day.

Daniel

My favourite part of the day was when a woman named Bianca talked to us about homelessness. I learned that there are three types of homelessness and that a reason that many people become homeless is when there are family issues and the child moves out early and doesn’t have any money. I think that it was a good learning experience even though it was on Skype. I never knew that there were 45,500 homeless people every night in Australia. I wonder why Australia doesn’t give them a home because Australia is a wealthy country but 45,500 is a lot less homeless people than in a lot of other countries in the world.

Monique

I noticed:
1. …that everyone can do something to help others.
2. … that I am really lucky to have a roof over my head and to have food and clean water to drink.
3. …that not many people are as lucky as I am.
4. …that the speakers were passionate about what they spoke about.
5. …that lots of people try to make a difference.

Next: Any tips on how to create an un-conference?

What would you do if you could change the world?

Do you ever wish you were eleven again?

Melbourne film maker Genevieve Bailey looks back fondly on that age as a time of simplicity and hope. So much so, that she chose to interview eleven year old children on her travels around the world and make a documentary. We saw the film yesterday with Year 6 students (mostly aged 11) and loved it.

 

What would you do if you could change the world?

This was my favourite of the questions Year 6 teachers asked the students to consider before seeing the film. It was one of a series of questions Genevieve asked all kinds of eleven year olds she encountered in fifteen countries over a period of several years.

Responses from Year 6 at my school…

 

  • The first thing I would do if I could change the world is distribute money evenly to all the countries so no one would be in poverty.
  • The thing I would do to change the world is to give everyone a house and an education or occupation. I would also put a cheap supermarket near every village or city.
  • Make sure that every one got on with each other.
  • Give everyone the same rights.
  • Make everything free!
  • I would stop homelessness and build wells so people could have clean water.
  • I would ban cigarettes but do it in a way that nobody will get angry or sad.
  • If I could change the world I would have world peace and there would be no war.
  • Make Australian footy a world wide sport.

 

Other questions included ‘What do you like most and least about being eleven?’, ‘What do you worry about?’, ‘Would you rather be clever or good looking?’ How could we take better care of the environment?’ and ‘What do you think will happen in the future?’ (You can see the remaining questions and responses here on their blog.)

After the showing, the students met Genevieive for a Q and A session. She seemed delighted to have an eleven year old audience share their wonderings about the eleven year olds in her film. As a non eleven year old in the audience, I was taken with both the thoughtfulness of the questions and the unaffected enthusiasm of Genevieve’s answers.

Back at school, the students reflected on the film…

‘I was really was blown away when the girl in India said that if she could have anything she would want money to build a house, and then the girl in the USA said she would want a four day weekend’.

‘People may look and sound different but we always have something in common…People who have more want more but people who don’t have a lot want everyone to be happy. People who don’t have as much as me still think the same as me.’

‘I now think that how you feel at a certain age depends on where you live and who you are. I think that someone who lives in an orphanage at 11 and someone who live in America or Australia with a family and a big house will think differently.’

‘People with a lot of things don’t think about what they have they just want more while people with nothing only want what they need to survive. I think that we should be grateful for what we have and not always wanting more. I think that the orphans enjoyed there life the same as the people with stuff’.

When I was eleven, I doubt I had the capacity to express my thinking in this way. If I thought at all about important issues, it certainly didn’t happen at school. Learning about the world consisted of knowing the names of capital cities and recognising flags. I remember learning historical ‘facts’ by heart without evaluating their truth or considering different perspectives. And I don’t recall ever being encouraged to think about changing the world…

I am often struck by the depth of thinking witnessed in many of our students today. Is it because through concept driven learning and an inquiry approach, students engage with big ideas from a young age? Watching, and thinking deeply about, this film is just the beginning for these students, about to explore the notion of inequity for their PYP exhibition unit.

Their central idea is: Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act. Thinking about who you are, your place in the world and what you’d like to change seems like an excellent start.