Do the thing you think you cannot do. It’s the quote I display in my classroom to start off every Exhibition Season. That’s what I think of Exhibition as now, after more than ten years of being a final year PYP teacher. It’s a season. While students in other grade levels are winding down the year, looking forward to their end of year picnic, fifth graders are gearing up to share the biggest project most never even dreamt they could accomplish.
It’s a love-hate relationship that I have with this thing many misspeak and call Expedition. Really, the misnomer isn’t completely wrong. According to Webster Dictionary, the definition of an expedition is: a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, scientific research or war. There are days during Exhibition Season that I honestly feel I’ve been through a battle. So the misnomer is fitting, not to mention the other keywords journey, group, particular purpose and research. Furthermore, it’s a much more appropriate word substitute than the one I made up after a particularly tough day of battle.
Technically, the exhibition is an authentic, student driven culmination of the Primary Years Program. In layman’s terms it is a collaborative, research-action based project that is presented. That’s how I explain it to people who ask what exhibition is but don’t need to know all of the dirty details. In reality, it’s so much more. Like how it’s an experience where students gain conceptual knowledge (using key concepts as a guide). Like how students use transdisciplinary skills and attitudes they’ve acquired along their PYP journey. Like how students initiate the learning and have lots of support from their classroom teacher, mentors, and usually an expert in their topic area. This is TMI for most.
Because of my logical sequential nature, I think of Exhibition as five main phases:
- Topic selection- Students choose a globally significant issue related to one of the PYP themes.
- Becoming an expert- Inquiry/guiding questions/key concepts/gain conceptual knowledge
- Central Idea and lines of inquiry- Focus inquiry and continue becoming an expert
- Presentation- Share and reflect on learning, attitudes and the overall exhibition journey
The personal action I take and will continue to take is to remember what the end looks, and feels like. Through the reading I was also reminded that Exhibition can be guided, student-led or somewhere in between. I do the somewhere in between (with the most capable groups nudging the student led type) which is why it’s messy and hard. There are anywhere from 5-8 different groups (and topics) in a classroom which contributes to the messiness and level of difficulty to manage as a teacher. I could simplify and do a class wide guided exhibition or use the elements of guided exhibition for struggling groups. I also need to remember the process is more important than the final product.
My recommendations for what PYP schools should do for a successful exhibition are:
- Elements of the PYP need to be focused on and mastered in prior grade levels.
- Keep Exhibition in mind with in every other unit of inquiry.
- Find mentors and experts for each group because these people make all the difference!
- Embrace the messiness of Exhibition...remember, it is magical to see your kids do great things and makes feeling like you’ve survived something like a battle or a marathon so worth it.