This article is a detailed description of grade 5 students’ journey of discovery and learning in relation to the PYP exhibition.
The students and teachers of grade 5 always await the most interesting part of the academic year which is the exhibition unit. It is the unit in which each and every concept, attitude, profile and skill can be touched upon, refined and enhanced. It is a period over eight weeks in which the teacher and student can explore the canvas of worldly knowledge with freedom, foresight and anticipation.
However, to necessitate the same, the exhibition unit has to be one which has substance, depth and width in its scope and inquiry. The students decided the unit to be studied under the transdisciplinary theme Sharing the planet. But, deciding on an exhibition unit called upon students to brainstorm about an issue with truly local to global significance. What could it be? What issue or issues could be bothering and affect 7.15 billion people all at once? The answer was simple – water; a resource without which all life is impossible.
A string of activities and learning experiences had to be planned out in such a manner that an inner calling, awareness and concern linked to the issue of water would be aroused in the mind and heart of each child. For the same:
- The students went for a field trip to the animal hospital in Worli, Mumbai to have a look at a rain-water harvesting project.
- They also saw videos linked to individual households, educational institutes, corporate houses and universities that have successfully invested in rainwater harvesting projects. These projects have lessened their reliance on water from municipal sources and brought about financial benefits.
- The students were also exposed to YouTube videos that spread the awareness of water crises across the world and the little bit each individual can do.
- Apart from audio-visual experiences, the students read a book entitled A long walk to water by Linda Sue Park. It is based on a true story of a boy named Salva Dut, hailing from Sudan who escapes ethnic violence back in the 1980s. He migrates to several refugee camps and then to Ethiopia with a group of people facing loneliness, hunger, thirst and threat to life. Once adopted by American couple in New York, Salva, then nearing his 20th birthday, raises millions of dollars to set up tube and bore-wells in home and rival territories in Sudan.
- Newspaper clippings of drought worn Maharashtra and any other local or global location facing water crises began to trickle into class.
- The students also saw a documentary entitled The agony of the Ganges which spoke of the effects of civil and industrial pollutants on one of the mightiest of rivers-one that supports the sustenance of over 400 million people.
- It seems the students of grade 5 were doing exactly what they wanted to do – consider ‘water’ as the exhibition title.
- The above activities had succeeded in ushering their interest towards ‘water’ as an issue under the transdisciplinary theme. To take this ahead the school had more experiences lined up for them.
- A three day excursion to Pune and Ralegaon Siddhi was organized by the school for the students. The students visited Ralegaon Siddhi where they observed how villagers had indigenously set up check dams, wells and water catchment and rainwater harvesting facilities to mitigate the issues of water scarcity. They also learned about the role water plays in the life and financial success and stability of villagers. Apart from the above, the students visited one of the largest dairy farms in India to study the role and function of water in the cheese and milk processing plants.
- Orientation to how to write a bibliography and citation, search for trustworthy web pages and sites; adhering to the universal norms of academic honesty made students realize that they had to research in ways that not only would end up bringing knowledge their way… but also that they had to do so in a responsible manner.
- Orientation to the exhibition blog (an on-line database and interactive interface of teachers, mentors students and parents)… viewing of a PowerPoint of the exhibition guidelines and a run through of the exhibition process journey (2012) gave the student an idea, direction, guidelines and a road map on which they could see themselves going.
- The students now exposed themselves to books in order to get an exposure to several topics that could be linked to water. Right from the role of water in experiments to global warming; from droughts in Africa to the industrial uses of water; from water pollution to the actions of individual and NGOs who work tirelessly around the clock to ease the crippling issues all over the world.
- Guest speakers poured in to give in their perspective on water. Right from speaking about the industrial use of water, to ‘life-straws’- a hand-held tube, filtration device that allow people to drink right out of polluted waters. They also spoke of how bottled water was over 1900 times expensive as tap water- and just as safe. The students were just amazed at what was coming their way.
- Teachers took the students to the chemistry lab to explain the water cycle and conduct other experiments which involved water in them.
- A teacher of English came in explained how to write poems on water with the help of literary devices and figures of speech.
Students had now, over the past month, read, seen, heard and exposed to enough stimuli to make them narrow in understanding the wording of their central idea and lines of inquiry. However, this was a process that had to be approached with meticulous care and time-tested methodology. Why? This is because the heart of any unit lies in the depth, validity, scope, accuracy and applicability of the central idea and the lines of inquiry that stem out of them. In its correct formulation, alone lies a success to a great measure. Identification of the central idea and coming up with the lines of inquiry was a time-consuming process, but one that was done in a very systematic way.
The students placed themselves in groups of four and began making a place-mat. Following the above, students in groups of four, engaged themselves in a concentric circle activity in which they had to create three ‘circles’. The second shell or circle from outside had to be filled up with the topic of choice. The outermost one needed to be filled up with the concept that the topic under consideration would tap. The central circle (the innermost) had to be filled up with a central idea that borrowed the concepts from the ones stated in the outermost shell/circle. Each central idea was assessed by other students with the help of a check-list.
Alongside the formulation of the central idea, the students went for field trips on their own in society in order to understand what issues people faced linked to water supply in their locality. They conducted interviews by formulating relevant questions by themselves. These field trips made the students realize that water issues are prevalent everywhere in society; and a growing concern that the citizens can no longer ignore.
Armed with the knowledge explained and imbibed above, the students formulated several central ideas which were then analyzed, refined and altered. Subsequently, the students came-up with four lines of inquiry for the same with concepts that they highlighted or enhanced.
What is our purpose?
To inquire into the following:
- Rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things
- Communities and the relationships within and between them
- Access to equal opportunities
- Peace and conflict resolution
Transdisciplinary theme: Sharing the planet
Central idea: Water management plays a role which influences the environment
Lines of inquiry:
- The role of water in the environment (function)
- The relationship between water management and the environment (connection)
- The change in the environment due to water management (change)
- Our responsibility to maintain this balance in the environment (responsibility)
Once the central idea and the lines of inquiry were decided and finalized, the students approached their mentors and began to work under their guidance. Each student accessed a range of on-line and off-line resources, books, encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, interview transcripts and field trip findings to decide upon a personal topic of their own. This was a very crucial step as each child would have a different nature and mode of inquiry as compared to everyone else. Students formulated concept questions linked to their topic and then had to select concept that they would have to showcase the understanding of on the final two days of the exhibition.
Using a range of multiple intelligences, the students began their research with much earnest. They made attempts to understand each aspect and fact, make sense of it and checked if it made sense and relevance to their personal topic of inquiry. They researched on each of the four lines of inquiry stated above… and then wrote their understanding of each line of inquiry as a part of the formative assessments. At each and every step of the way, the students created self assessment tools such as rubrics, anecdotal records and continuums to assess their understanding of the concepts and the lines of inquiry. Of utmost importance, students began to write a continuum before and during the exhibition to identify the profiles, attitudes and skills enhanced or brought out by each state of the exhibition… and any activity or learning linked to it.
Once the students had enough, data, information and facts, they began with making models, charts, PowerPoint presentations, HTML, drop-freezes, place-mats, comparative tools and projector based presentations. They revised all their data keeping in mind the lines of inquiry and the concept.
Students simultaneously worked in groups to practice for a skit, drama, mime, jingle, puppet show or a song that addressed water issues across the world.
The action component saw the students meet people in society to ensure responsible usage, management and distribution of water, enroll themselves in an NGO that supplies water to drought stricken parts of the world and raise funds in their thousands of rupees to help pockets of society vulnerable to water scarcity. Others distributed devices that would filter dirty water at very low cost. The list could go on. After weeks of hard work and rock solid determination by each student under the guidance of their mentor… individually presented their understanding of the topic and the concept they chose to focus on, to parents and the school community. They also put up the skits, mimes, songs and jingles they had had been practicing since days on end. Their efforts were appreciated by one and all. The students showed great creativity in their presentation but moreover, they showed a deep conceptual understanding of their topics at hand.
In a nutshell, the exhibition proved to be a journey of discovery and learning; of deep realization that we humans, animals and plants reside on a planet which owes its life to a finite resource called water. It dawned upon the students that humans were responsible for much of water wastage, pollution, mismanagement and scarcity. They awoke to the dreadful reality that if the current trends of water mismanagement continued, future generations would face the risk of civil war and global war. To end on a good note, the students awoke to the fact that the future of the planet lay in their hands and in those who gained knowledge by listening to their final exhibition day presentation.
The original article can be found in the 2nd edition of the PYP Mumbai Network newsletter (2012).
Sarosh Baria has been in this current position for the last two years and prior to that he was a grade 3 homeroom teacher. He has been a football coach for a period of ten years. He teaches children and adults in the science of astronomy and sky-watching.