Exhibition Re-Boot

I wrote last week about how student excitement and nervousness made us jump into exhibition and brainstorm ideas. They had some great results, and their minds are spinning and reeling with ideas. I thought that we had done well, and that we were ready to keep plowing forward.


As a week long writing task, I asked them to write a 4 paragraph response to the question; what is exhibition? Some of the responses I received were revealing:

  • Its a big project where we get a really important grade
  • I excited to see what my grade is, I hope a get an A
  • If we don't do well, we cannot go to grade 6
  • It is for us to prove to the grade 6 teachers that we are ready for middle school
  • The exhibition is a night where we have to stand in front of a bunch of people and wear nice clothes and give a really long presentation
It seems that the ideas for what to do for exhibition are starting to grow, but the actual understanding of the purpose of exhibition is lacking. The why is missing, and that is something we will have to address before we continue. Looks like we will have to tune our instruments for a while before we can begin to play.

Any good ideas for an activity or a provocation that would kick off an inquiry into the purpose of the exhibition? Would love to hear your thoughts.



This was a fun little activity that really helped the kids see the power of descriptive words. I stole this from a workshop with Kath Murdoch, and re-applied it to descriptive writing and meta-cognitive reflection. It is iterative, meaning that each stage is repeated and added onto. I have been playing with a lot of iterative activities. They are powerful, make thinking visible, and allow for constant reflection. Our ideas are constantly changing and evolving, and with iterative activities, you can see and trace those changes. Iteration is something that I am playing with at the moment, kind of like my own personal inquiry this year, and I hope to have more to say about this in the future.

What is under the cloth?

Step One: With your eyes

Describe what you see under the cloth. What words come to mind? What do you know to be true? What are your initial predictions? Write down your ideas and descriptive words.

Step Two: With the palms of your hands (no fingers)

Describe what you feel. What words come to mind? What do you know to be true? What are your predictions? How have they changed? Write down your ideas and descriptive words.

Step Three: With your hands

Describe what you feel. What words come to mind? What do you know to be true? What are your predictions? How have they changed? Write down your ideas and descriptive words.

Step Four: Remove the cloth

Describe what you see. How close were your predictions? At what stage did your predictions become accurate, or go in the wrong direction? Why? Write down your ideas and descriptive words.

Descriptive Paragraph Story

You walk through the door and find yourself in the middle of an all white room. In the center of the room is an all white table. On top of the table is an item.

(finish the story by describing the item)


Exhibition starts today

Well, not really, but kind of.

In a grade 5 class in a PYP school, you can hardly avoid the topic. The kids were talking about it on the first day. The parents were asking about it at "Back to School" night. I am anxious and excited about it.

Several of the kids in my class have been expressing their nervousness and anxiety about the process. Several others have brainstorming ideas for what they can do. I saw two options before me; a) do I reassure them that we will talk about all this later?, or b) do we dive in right now and get our brains working?

I chose b) to dive in.

The first thing I did was get my head around the school outlines regarding the Exhibition. It seems that the Central Idea is set, as well as the Lines of Inquiry, and trans-disciplinary theme. This is something that will have to be addressed before we get into any more detail, as I think it should be much more child directed and student generated. For the time being, I took these ideas and used them as a brainstorming tool instead of something that impairs inquiry. I don't think this rigid structure will impair the brainstorming, and it might actual help it. Or, maybe not?

I wanted the kids to understand that this is a brainstorming session, and that we need to be open to new paths. I emphasized the point that we are not choosing a topic today, merely exploring what topics are available. Later on, we will focus in more detail. For now, we are looking for a wide expanse of ideas. I used the metaphor of a funnel. Right now, we are at the top of the funnel, the widest part. Later on we will get down to the narrow bits.

I made this poster, partly because I love this program and thought it was cool, but party to make the process fun and exciting. It is an amazing process, and there is no reason why we can't have a little fun with it!

Next, I asked them to just come up with ideas based on the central idea, and last years LOI (I tried to emphasis the last year bit, as I am hoping to have the process changed this year to a more student-centred approach). We wrote down as many ideas as we could and stuck them onto the poster, creating a very broad picture of where the inquiries may go.

Several of the students are already very sure of the topics they want, and have already started gathering information. Others are still completely unsure. Both are okay. It is a journey, and we will get there together. For the next couple months, I hope to explore our passions in writing and activities and independent inquiries. My sincere hope is that every student is doing something they care deeply about, and are passionate about. That is, above all I think, the most important aspect of the Exhibition. If the passion and love and engagement are there, the rest will follow close behind.

This is going to be an amazing journey. I am so excited for what lies ahead.


The things I learn from 'Kids'

I asked the kids their thoughts and feelings on this quote. Immediately, the conversation turned to work, and how school prepares you to get a job and make money. One girl disagreed. This was her response:

“Education is not something you do so that you can get some kind of result, it is just a part of everything. It’s like you’re in a play has already started, you can’t prepare because the play is already going on, it is real, you just have to do it.”

What a wonderful metaphor for learning and life!


Data tables can tell stories, or how to get lost

This was an interesting little strategy that kind of happened without any plans.

As we begin our inquiry into Peace and Conflict, I had the students create a table on their page with the headings Who, Where, How, Why.

I asked them Who has conflicts, and they wrote a list of people.

I asked them Where do they have conflicts, and they wrote a list of places.

I asked How do they have conflicts, and I got a bunch of verbs.

I asked them Why they have conflicts, and I got some reasons.

Everything was in place, and all the data had been collected, but I still didn't know what to do with it all. I noticed a child tracing his finger horizontally along the table, connecting the boxes, and I realized that these boxes can tell us stories. The information is built into, all we have to do is join the dots, and then let the story take over.

I asked them to connect the dots, and then to let the story take over. As a group, they wrote out their short stories, including as much detail relating to the background of the conflict as they could (I asked them not to focusing on physically descriptive language, but rather focus on the internal mental states). They wrote their stories in groups, then they presented them to the class. The narrator read the story, while the remaining member of the group performed pantomime.


There are so many paths, so many roads that learning can travel in. It is impossible to see all the possible directions. During the Tuning In phase of an inquiry, I think that open disposition is so important, not only for the teacher but also for the students. Central Ideas (thought I still think they should be questions) tend to be so large in scope that you can get lost in the massive shadows they cast. What I've been thinking recently is that getting lost is a good thing, and learning to orient yourself is one of learning's most difficult tricks, but also one of the most important to master.

It brings me back to provocation selection and visible thinking strategies, and how rich tasks are not enough. They are an aspect, but along with those tasks/provocations/strategies we really need to keep our ears open and listen to how the learners are making sense. When I saw that child tracing their fingers along the tables, that student was making sense of Conflict through the lens of story. Thus, story seemed like an ideal way to allow students to explore the concept. We found our way there by getting lost.

How do you deal with getting lost? Do you embrace it? Do you need a map of where you are going at all times? Are you comfortable with the idea of just wandering and figuring it out as you go? Do you think this way of being in the classroom has a place in education?


Settling in

I am still settling into my new life in Germany. Our new home is scattered with boxes, packages, and piles of various sizes. There is furniture to put together, a long to do list of items to check off, pictures to put up, organizing to do, etc. During all this time, we are still trying to just get out the place and enjoy life. Yet, the mess is distracting, and the mind fades back to it. Excitement sprinkled with frustration.

It has me thinking about the classroom. How do our students feel when entering a new room? It is all new, their are different routines, new people to get to know, everything is in different places, pre-assessments, and different styles to cope with. How long does it take our students to get into a rhythm? How long until they are comfortable enough to focus on learning? Do we expect to much during the first few weeks of school? Do those pre-assessments give us an accurate picture of the child, or are they giving us a picture of a child who has yet to find their comfortable spot?