A reflection on Exhibition

How do I even begin to sum up our first Exhibition adequately? It’s difficult to get all of my thoughts, reflections and emotions down in a coherent way. The past 7 weeks has been quite a trip for me. It’s not something that I can say I’ve ever experienced before. I was given advice at The Exhibition workshop I attended in February to soak it all in. To step back and just enjoy the Exhibition as it unfolded. I really tried to take that advice, but, you get so wrapped up in the mechanics of putting the Exhibition together to make it successful, that it’s really hard to do! I took lots of pictures, tried to blog weekly about my experiences with Ex (but that fell apart after week 3!) and tweeted a TON to document our first Exhibition. It’ll be nice to go back to the #pwex14 hashtag and revisit the Exhibition from the start, 7 weeks ago.

When I got married, I was given another tidbit of advice – similar to that, which I received at The Exhibition workshop. Your wedding day will be the longest, shortest day of your life – enjoy it as much as you can. I can say, with certainty, that the same could be said for Exhibition. It seems like it was so long ago that we began planning and preparing for Exhibition, and yet, it’s over already. In a flash. Like a blur. It’s over. That 7 weeks flew by like nothing. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I have learned SO much. As much, or maybe more, as the students did! My mind is absolutely, positively, over-the-brim full of new knowledge from this experience. I can only imagine what the students are feeling!

So what are my thoughts on Exhibition. Now that it’s over?

As a Coordinator –

It’s exhausting:

  • Emotionally: You are rooting for every student to be successful. You empathize with them on the tough days, when they just don’t think they can do it. You celebrate with them on the great days, when the lightbulb goes off or they discover something so fascinating that they vibrate with excitement when they tell you. You be their cheerleader on the lead-up days, when they get nervous about presenting to a large audience. You be their coach on the learning days, when they are trying to put all of the pieces (lines of inquiry, conceptual questions, academic honesty…) together. You be their biggest fan on Exhibition day, when they knock their presentation out of the park.
  • Physically: You are run off your feet. Sore, blistered feet were the norm for me. Sleep in the last couple of weeks has been at a minimum. My dreams were filled with all of the possible scenarios where things go wrong, or I’ve forgotten to address some key aspect of Exhibition. The actual evening and day of Exhibition is something else! Talk about feeling like you’re in a hundred different places at once!
  • Mentally: Exhibition is always on your mind. What can I do to spread the word to a bigger audience for the students? Who can we connect with for students to interview or visit? Do we have enough projectors? Where will we possibly put 57 groups of students in our already overcrowded school? Will we have enough mentors to support our groups? Do the mentors feel supported enough in their role?

It’s all-consuming: Like I said above. You constantly think about it. Sorting out students’ interests and grouping them accordingly. Days spent on mini-lessons in the class with the students to prepare them for the different aspects of the Exhibition process. Organizing mentors and keeping them informed throughout the process. Informing parents through information sessions and keeping them updated via emails and newsletters. Planning the actual exhibition evening (invitations, guest list, promotion, setup/layout). Mentoring groups yourself. Checking in with students at every opportunity you get. Troubleshooting problems with technology (both in the research and the presentation prep). Connecting with other schools who are also in the midst of Exhibition. Meeting with the teaching team to keep on schedule and ensure that they feel supported through it as well. If there’s one thing that I didn’t like about this part, it’s that I felt like the rest of the grades didn’t receive as much of my attention and support as they should have. It felt like all of my energy was focused on the 5’s and Exhibition. For 7 weeks, I felt very absent from the other grade teams. I hope to improve upon this next year.

It’s intense:  Enough said!

It’s a juggling act: Like I said, I felt like I let the ball drop a little on the juggling act in terms of splitting my time equally amongst all of the grades in the school. But in terms of Exhibition, there are so many aspects to juggle in a day – hence why it’s all-consuming and intense!


To see the students grow into their own with their topics; they became confident, enthusiastic and energized about sharing their learning and inspiring others to take action, just as they did. When we started the unit, we encouraged the students to think creatively about how they could take action. The one stipulation that we put into place was that they couldn’t choose ‘fundraising’ as an action. All too often, it is the default way to make a difference. Sure, it works – but there are so many other ways to create change, or make a difference and we wanted to kids to experience that. It was really hard for some of them, to think past collecting money. But at the end of the unit, it was so neat to see them come to the realization that there is a multitude of ways to spread your message, create change and take action. The pride that our students showed was clearly evident at our parent/community showcase. They knew that everyone was there to hear what they had to say,  and not only that, they VALUED what they had to say.

It was so impressive to see these students step up the to plate and approach people, and encourage them to come to their presentation. Something that most of them had NEVER done before. Taking that risk to initiate conversation with people that they didn’t know was foreign to most of them, but they nailed it! One of the most common feedback comments on our Today’s Meet Back Channel chat from parents was that they were so impressed at how knowledgeable, prepared and approachable the groups were. They didn’t shy away from inviting adults to talk to them. And that’s the key — When it’s something that the students are passionate about and WANT to share with others, because it’s THEIRS and it’s IMPORTANT – all the shyness of presenting and speaking disappears; because they are confident in speaking to the topic and want to speak about it. They invested a lot of time and effort into learning about something that they CARE about and they are proud to show that off. It’s easy to talk about something that you love, or are passionate about. So often, when we do in class presentations, it’s on topics that are chosen by the teacher, or required by the curriculum. Of course the students aren’t going to knock it out of the park, because it’s not theirs. There isn’t the investment. A lot of it is most likely done with the assistance of an adult – be it the teacher, an assistant or a parent – there won’t be buy in or passion if someone else does it for you!

Of course, every group was different in their level of success. But, EVERY group achieved their own personal level of success – and I’m confident that we have prepared these students to move on to middle school and continue to push their success further.  Their experience with Exhibition has strengthened their skills, their attitudes, and their understanding about learning and creating. They see themselves as capable change makers, in whatever capacity that may be.

And that is worth it…every time!


Exhibition ~ Week 3

The ‘groove’ of Exhibition has finally been found at Prairie Waters. It is so exciting to hear about all of the enthusiasm being demonstrated and research being undertaken by our grade 5 students. I’m still blown away by all of the connections our students and their mentors have been making to primary sources of information.

We’ve had Skype interviews with Professors to ask questions about the impacts and effects of Cyberbullying. We have Skype interviews lined up with an avalanche rescue volunteer from Colorado and an organization in Hawaii dedicated to cleaning up the Pacific Garbage Patch. Skype

We’ve been emailing with countless contacts to ask questions about many different Exhibition topics


We’ve invited experts into our building to be a guest speaker or have a one-on-one interview with groups. We’ve had an organization dedicated to therapy dog training, a visually impaired community member with his service dog, the organizer of the World’s Longest Hockey Game, a Prairie Waters staff member who has adopted a rescued greyhound, an addictions counsellor, a local community member who is taking action to preserve the wetlands around the town and many more!

We have groups going off-site to visit different places and organizations to see first hand how they operate, and what they do. Some of our visits include the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Zoo, Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, Calgary Humane Society and The Police Dog Training Centre in Bowden.


In our attempt to be environmentally responsible, we have tried (as much as possible) to keep everything related to our Exhibition in a digital, collaborative space. Google Drive and our Exhibition Blog have been our best friend (and sometimes, our worst enemy. The Apps for both of these tools can sometimes be limiting in their capabilities, and our network – oh my, our network! There are days that our network is so s…l…o…w because all of the students are using their iPads at the same time: working on Google Drive, streaming videos, posting blogs, uploading images. The kids, for the most part have become more patient when things are lagging, and oftentimes, going into these tools through their Internet browser works much better, but, not always! All things that we have learned in the last 3 weeks!).

Some of the digital tools we’re using with our Exhibition group this year include:

  • Our students’ Exhibition Guidebook was shared with them, their teacher and their mentor on Google Drive
  • Our Mentors fill out a meeting form each time they meet with their group, again, shared on Google Drive with students, teachers and the mentors so everyone is able to see and collaborate. It’s also a great anecdotal assessment piece.
  • Each week, our students are reflecting on how they are demonstrating the elements of the PYP, as well as talking about things that are going well, things that are tricky and things they will try to work on to improve for next week. They are completing these reflections by blogging on our Exhibition blog, and this week, some groups even made movie reflections of how they think their Exhibition is going.
  • Students will also be filling out self and peer assessment forms (Thanks to Kristen Blum for the idea on her blog of what to include in the reflection!) via Google Forms. They will assess themselves and a group member on the Attributes of the Learner Profile, the Transdisciplinary Skills, and the Attitudes.
  • The EasyBib add-on in Google Docs arrived at just the right time! Our students are using it to compile their bibliography of all the sources they are using for their research.

It’s exciting to see all of the skills and knowledge the students are developing by using digital tools for all of the aspects of Exhibition. Even though there have been speed bumps along with way, the resilience the students have demonstrated, the patience that they’ve gained, and the level of collaboration that they’ve shown has been worth the headaches and hiccups along the way.

Exhibition – Week 1 & 2

Note – I had intended on writing a weekly blog reflection on Exhibition, just like the students. This has been sitting on my dashboard, in draft mode since last week! The level of ‘busy’ with Exhibition was more than I had anticipated so I haven’t found the time to complete that first week’s reflection. I finally did, and now it’s pretty much the end of week 2, so I’ll throw that in here as well!  I’ll be honest…week 1 was rough! Week 2…I think we’re finally starting to get our sea legs and things are taking off… 

We are winding down our first week of our very first Exhibition. It has been a whirlwind; with much excitement, some nervousness and a little bit of frustration thrown in the mix. I can see where the challenges are emerging. This year included, our grade 5’s have been involved in the Primary Years Programme for 3 years. 3 years that everyone in our school has been learning about and beginning to implement the elements of the PYP and the inquiry process. Needless to say, many aspects of our grade 5’s completing their own planner for their Exhibition have been quite difficult for them. We’re not yet at a place in the Programme where we have a fully defined scope and sequence of how we will address the Key Concepts, lines of inquiry and generating deep questions related to the Key Concepts with our students in the younger grades. That’s not to say we’re not doing it at all, we just need to continue working on doing it in a more purposeful, deliberate way.

When I was at the Exhibition workshop in Vancouver in February, one of our workshop facilitators, DJ Thompson made a comment that struck a chord with me.

Everything about the PYP is transparent; with students, with teachers, with parents. Nothing is hidden, HOW teachers plan a unit and the elements that are included in the unit should be shared with and explained to the students. Even including them in the planning process. Why do we feel that we need to keep what we do, how we plan and what we ‘tell’ our kids we are inquiring into hidden, or a secret?  In order for them to understand the WHY, it’s important for them to be ‘in on the secret’.

This transparency:

  • allowing students to understand what the key concepts are, how they are used to generate deeper questions
  • how and why we determine a Central Idea
  • how we come up with lines of inquiry
  • why developing the Transdisciplinary Skills is important for students to become independent inquirers

will better prepare our students for the independence required in grade 5 to successfully complete their own Exhibition planner as they dive into their personal inquiry.

Even though developing lines of inquiry and conceptual questions has proven to be quite challenging for our students, they have been very committed to doing the best that they can do, with the understanding and knowledge they have about these elements of the PYP.  That’s something that is very exciting to see. Our students are working through the frustration, being ok with not knowing, trying their best anyways. That is one of many celebrations!

Week 2 is now almost complete as well, students began to move into more researching and connecting with primary sources of information. Encouragement of academic honesty and recording their sources of information as they go along has been heavily stressed this week and we’ve had discussions about Image Copyright. Finding images that are creative commons-licensed, and giving proper attribution.

I find it amazing the number of connections we have been able to make in the span of 1 week. Almost every Exhibition group (we have a whopping 53 groups!) has at least one primary source lined up to speak with. Some have already had their first face to face interviews, some are preparing to Skype next week, some have been in contact via email while others are getting their field trips lined up. This just blows me away. Not only how many connections we’ve made, but how willing all of those ‘experts’ have been to help our students with their inquiries. Along with the support of ‘experts’, I cannot imagine how we would be getting through Exhibition without the support and dedication of our mentors. They have been beyond phenomenal!

Today, while I was in one of our grade 5 rooms, talking with the students about Image Copyright, I wanted to get a pulse check. I asked the students now that they were 2 weeks into Exhibition, how were they feeling? At the start, when we had them share their feelings, we got a lot of:

  • Worried: I don’t know what I’ll choose. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. What if my group doesn’t get along or pull their weight?
  • Scared: What if I do it wrong? What if I run out of time?
  • Nervous: I won’t get the help I’ll need. I’m unsure of what this will look like

But this time around, now that they’ve had a bit of time to experience Exhibition, we got a lot of:

  • I’m feeling good!
  • I’m Excited!
  • I’m Pumped!
  • I wish I could do this all day, every day, for the rest of my life!

The enthusiasm was palpable. The students are discovering themselves as learners, and what they’re capable of. They are pushing themselves to do things they may have never done before, they are dealing with the frustrations of not knowing all the answers, or how to do something the first time, and taking risks to try anyways, without fearing that what they’re doing is wrong. All because they are exploring a passion or an issue that is near and dear to them. It’s real. It’s magical!

I can’t believe that next week is the half way point – I can understand why some schools have Exhibition run as a 7, 8, or even 9 week unit! For our first one, we thought we’d stick to 6 weeks, but already I can see that in order to let students get to the depth they want to go in their research, plan and prepare their presentation, as well as perform their action, 6 weeks likely won’t be enough time!

The very first Exhibition

This month marks the beginning of the very first go at the PYP Exhibition at Prairie Waters. Before we even had our authorization visit in October, and finding out that we had been authorized in November, we decided at the beginning of the year that we would make our first attempt at the Exhibition this year.

I’ve been spending many evenings and weekends trying to learn as much as I can from others about how they go through the Exhibition process with their students, and figuring out how best to integrate some of those ideas into our first Exhibition to make it as successful for everyone as possible. I can’t go any further without expressing my appreciation for the connections and support that I’ve gotten from my PLN all around the world, related to all things #pypx. From the Google Plus PYP Exhibition group, to the many experienced and knowledgeable PYP educators on Twitter (#pypchat is a lifesaver!), to the other PYP schools that are geographically close to us, to those that blog about the Exhibition process at their schools, with their kids – I have gained so much knowledge and inspiration from all of them, that I can’t imagine being on this journey without giving them the huge THANK YOU that they deserve!

Because this is our first foray into Exhibition, our grade 5 teachers felt that for this year, they needed to choose the Transdisciplinary Theme (How We Express Ourselves) as well as the Central Idea (Passions and beliefs inspire people to action). We intend to start ‘planting the seed’ with our grade 4’s this year, so that we can branch out and have the students create the central idea next year. The unit itself begins on March 31, but starting tomorrow, we begin tuning in to the idea of Exhibition with our grade 5’s. So here’s the plan for the lead up:

  • Share the PYP Exhibition guidelines with the students (written in this Prezi in student-friendly language) – pre-empting this discussion to focus students in on the key concepts of Form (what is Exhibition?), Function (how does the Exhibition work?),  Connection (how does the Exhibition connect to other things you have done?) and Causation (why is the Exhibition the way it is?)
  • Introduce the Central Idea and our Prairie Waters’ PYP Exhibition blog (on this blog, there are links to different resources for our students to access to explore issues or topics that may be of interest to them, as well as to assist them with research once they begin delving deeper into their inquiries later on)
  • Work through the Compass Points Visible Thinking Routine with each grade 5 class to get a pulse check on their beginning understandings, hesitations and ideas about Exhibition.

Once we’ve kickstarted their thinking about Exhibition, we’ll have them brainstorm some ideas to some prompting questions (Thank you Kristen Blum (@namastececi) for the idea to do this! Your blog is such a fantastic resource!)

  1. How do people express or share their ideas?
  2. How do we discover new ideas?
  3. What kinds of ideas are we most likely to express?
  4. Why do people find it important to express their ideas or passions?

Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll have students (and teachers, and myself!) bringing in ideas, issues, passions, topics, etc. to share with the class as we generate a gallery for all of them to contribute to. This will assist students as they try to sort out which topic, or issue they would like to take up for their Exhibition inquiry.

Our next step will be to explore good questioning. By focusing on questioning conceptually, we will assist the students in generating deeper, more thoughtful, open-ended questions. Using the Visible Thinking Routine of Question Starts, we’ll get students practicing creating questions about a shared topic. Once questions are generated, we can then sort them using the Visible Thinking Routine of Question Sorts, where students can explore both the genuineness and the generativeness of their questions. Sonya terBorg also shared a great document that provides students with each of the Key Concepts, their definitions and then some samples of those types of conceptual questions from each of the different subject areas. We will practice generating questions, and then sorting them into the concepts which they fit within.

All of this work will lead up to Week 1 of our Exhibition Unit, where students will have chosen their passion or issue to explore, and then begin developing their questions to guide their inquiry.

The excitement begins! Wish us luck!

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor


accessed from etsy.com

In my role this year at my school, I’ve seen staff navigating through some pretty big initiatives and changes to their mindset on teaching and learning. The year thus far, has been…intense…to say the least.

Our PYP verification visit has just concluded, and we’ve been provided with extremely beneficial feedback on where we need to go next in terms of inquiry based, conceptual, transdisciplinary learning – but I can understand the perspective of staff who say, “But, I feel like I’m JUST starting to get how to do this Inquiry thing, and now we need to do more?” The beauty of this programme is that it will continue to push us to improve. To make us think more critically about our practice. We’ve been used to the status-quo for so long that this is a difficult paradigm shift for many.

We are implementing a new division-based report card that will take some time for staff to learn. The focus is more on student’s development as a 21st Century learner, using the general outcomes of the curriculum as our guide to developing skills and processes to explore concepts (as opposed to content) more deeply. Again, something that is quite different for many educators who are used to just “covering” the curriculum.

We rolled out 2 more ways that we will communicate to parents on their child’s learning; a school-wide teacher blog and student digital portfolio initiative. For staff that are new or unfamiliar with digital documentation tools, this is a huge learning curve that they are working through.

Did we bite off more than we could chew for one year?

This leads me to the title of this blog – a quote that really resonates with me. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I find it quite fitting for the shift that education (and our school) is going through. Sometimes, the boat needs to rock in order to learn how to sail it better. Sure, it’s simple enough to coast along over a smooth sea, but when times of challenge or unfamiliar situations present themselves, you sure aren’t going to have the knowledge or the skills to get through it, if you’ve never experienced a rough patch or a time of transition. This is a time of opportunity to hone our skills as educators. To support each other on our journey. The waves and bumps and motion will enable us to become more skilled in our roles. Yes, it’s daunting. Yes, it’s different. Yes, it’s fast paced, but think of the difference we will be making for our students!  We are well into the 21st Century – it’s no longer 21st Century education – it’s just education. That’s it. And we’re learning how to sail through it, together. The rocky seas will ultimately make us more skilled sailors. We may not get there this year, but at least we’ll be well on our way. The level of support that I’ve seen the staff at our school provide one another has been phenomenal. We are all in this together.

The desire to feel successful as a teacher is intense and innate. We want to be the best that we can be for our students – so they can be the best that they can be. Our success as teachers is in direct correlation with our students success in our classroom. Right? I’m not so sure! Maybe it’s not so cut and dried. We now know that learning should be challenging, should take time, should be reflective, should be collaborative, should require students to think deeper about how they will find the solutions to their questions or problems – the rough sea. We know that this will ultimately make our students more skilled learners who will be able to apply what we’ve provided them with to new situations when they arise. Why is it any different for teachers? What matters is that we know that we are there for each other, that our relationships matter, and that we will all work together to make sure we navigate the rough seas and enter into smooth sailing – and be all the more skilled because of it.

So did we bite off more than we could chew for one year? Nah – we just rocked our boat. Let the adventure begin!

At the beginning of the school year, my kindergarteners wrote a letter to our school principal asking if we could start a plastic recycling program at our school. Along with our letter, we attached a picture of all of the plastic from one day’s worth of snack that we would be needlessly be throwing into the garbage. Our principal was very enthusiastic about our idea, and posted our letter and photo on the window into his office, for others to read as well. Eventually, one of the grade 2 classes – Mrs. Anderson’s class – saw our letter and agreed that they wanted to take action and start recycling in their own room as well. This led to a grade 5 class – Ms. Carter’s class – to take up the initiative as well.

So, with 3 classes now taking action, we brainstormed how we could bring all of our classes together and somehow make a visual impact to share with the rest of the school reflecting the amount of plastic we consume in our school. We decided to provoke our students through our Units of Inquiry – posing the question to our students, “Now What? What should we do with all of this plastic to help educate the rest of the school on the importance of recycling plastic, rather than throwing it away?” In all of our classes, we showed our students some images of recycling art – artists who use trash to create sculptures and pieces of art. In Kindergarten, our Unit of Inquiry is How We Express Ourselves. Students are exploring all of the various ways that humans express their emotions and feelings, so this project fit perfectly! We are using our art to communicate with our peers that it is important to take action and do something about the huge amount of plastic that we are throwing into the landfills.

Today was the big day! We gathered all of our classes into the common area of our school, put out our 3, overflowing containers of plastic and let the cross-graded groups collaborate, cooperate and communicate together to create their visual representation. The process was phenomenal! Listening to the conversations all around the space, and watching the cooperative working teams was just as enlightening for us teachers as it was for the students.




In the end, the students had come up with some AMAZING pieces of plastic art to display for the school. What was most incredible was the variety of ideas that were represented! From animals (a jellyfish and a dog) to structures (the Calgary Tower) and everything in between, these students produced some amazing art together – and sent a strong message at the same time (they didn’t even use all of the plastic from the 3 classes, we still have some left over).

After we came back together as a whole group to reflect on the process and hear some of their thoughts and ideas, the whole group came to the realization that this was only THREE classes worth of plastic – that means that there are about 20 other classes that do not yet recycle the plastic that they consume in their classroom. For many of the students, this was a real eye-opener to them that this is an issue that we need to address. All of our classes were buzzing afterwards, and they are very excited for other students to see their pieces of art. And they are hoping that they inspire others to take action with us!


Birdhouse                              Teacher                                  Castle


The Calgary Tower               The Eiffel Tower                          UFO


Robot                                    Train                                 Helicopter


Rocket                                       Dog                                    Truck


Jellyfish                                Tower                          Space Shuttle


Plastic Art Gallery

A new year brings all new opportunities

Well, a new year brings the opportunity to work with new students, in a new grade with a new job description! This year, I am so excited to be teaching a half time kindergarten class in the mornings and in the afternoon, I am the PYP Coordinator. This means that I get to work with not only our youngest minds, but also all of the grade teams on our staff. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with my colleagues as they develop, refine and implement their planners for our Units of Inquiry. No only that, I am thrilled that I get to work with one of the most curious bunch of little minds….kindergarteners! What a perfect age to implement inquiry-based practices. Since they are naturally full of inquisitiveness, why not teach them to start developing good questioning skills at that age? During a discussion about our names, I handed each student a card with their name on it. I asked them to observe their name – we had already discussed that the word observe means to look at something carefully – then tell me what they wonder about it. It took a few prompts, but eventually the questions started coming. “I wonder why some of the letters are bigger than others?” “I wonder if my name is the longest in the class?” “I wonder why we use letters of the alphabet to spell our names?” By setting them up with the prompt, “I wonder…” I felt that their questions had more depth to them.

The four and five year old minds are fascinating things. They are like little sponges! They absorb everything at a rate that is incredible, and with very little repetition, it begins to stick! From day one in my kindergarten class, I began using the vocabulary that is common across the grades in the Primary Years Programme. I introduced this during the lead up to centre time. We talked about some of the attitudes that we need to show during centre time:

showing Respect, Creativity and Cooperation

We also talked about some of the attributes (who we are) that will make centre time successful:

being Caring, Principled, Thinkers and Communicators

Every day, we discuss what each of these words mean (in Kindergarten-friendly language) and what it would look like during centre time. By day 5, all I had to do was ask what attitudes and attributes we must have, and as a group, they came up with all of the words (using the correct vocabulary) on their own and were able to explain what the words meant. You can only imagine the HUGE smile on my face!

The potential for learning these young students demonstrate on a daily basis amazes me! And I feel so fortunate to be able to play a part in shaping their minds for all of the years ahead of them. I am so excited for what the year holds in both areas of my new job description!