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The big picture of the PYP exhibition

Kristen Blum, grade 5 teacher, International School Dhaka, Bangladesh

Kristen Blum, grade 5 teacher, International School Dhaka, Bangladesh

In this article you will see how the big picture of the PYP exhibition is based on both the ideal and real world examples.

“What is the big picture with the PYP exhibition?” My inquisitive colleague, who is new to the PYP exhibition, asked me this at the beginning of our journey. It is a wise question. What is this all about?

Ideal world

In the ideal PYP world, the PYP exhibition is the culminating event of a primary students’ education. This ideal internationally-minded student has progressed through a collaborative, critical thinking journey of inquiry throughout their primary years. They have explored local and global issues throughout their education and have learned conceptually with concerned, passionate PYP educators. These students can make connections and dig deeper.

The real world

Many students in international schools do not fit this mould. Many students in international schools have had a series of temporary teachers who have floated throughout their school lives, all with different perspectives on the PYP, many of them new to the programme. Students may or may not have a firm command of English. Many have come from other programs and jumped into a PYP school, even in 5th grade. Some students are at “international” schools that are really national schools with the PYP framework in place. Many students have learning challenges and need a much more guided education.

Big picture in our real world

So, the big picture in our real world for students…is a good continuing discussion. Most importantly, I believe that each school’s learning community needs to sit down and discuss their students’ journey, asking some critical questions:

  • What are the students’ strengths at this school?
  • What are the challenges students at this school face?
  • Where are the students developmentally in terms of learning in the PYP?
  • What glimmers of passion/interest have students shown already during the year?
  • What kind of community is the school in?
  • What kind of resources are in the community?

The PYP exhibition guide needs to be adapted based on each school’s needs. Yes, the IB will look at certain things regarding the exhibition and documentation is key. But, it is important the exhibition process is meaningful to the students at that particular school.

The guide does mention that the exhibition is for and by the students, and this does need to be taken literally. Our students, for example, are very different than the students at my previous school. My students have had less consistent teachers; they have experienced a variety of people not familiar with the PYP. They live in a community very different than my previous school. Everywhere around us there is a dire need for action and my students seem very aware of this. They want to help. They know that many people are helping.

Yet, my students struggle to find the independence to help and have always struggled to take responsibility for themselves and their learning. Many of them have learning challenges that make it very difficult to do online research. In a group, they have had a lot of opportunity to do nothing and let others take control.

The big picture

So, what is the big picture in the exhibition? In answer to my colleagues’ question, it depends on where we are in place and time. As a school, we need to use the exhibition as a reflection on teaching practices and to better support these students throughout their primary years. Then when they get to grade 5, we need to assess our students and to listen to them. We need to listen to where their hearts and their brains are and go from there. When doing so, we need to keep in mind all aspects of the PYP: the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, learner profile and action. We need to give enough breathing room, not so we have enough time to prepare for the final presentation but so students and teachers can explore.

The big picture is that it is about the students. Listen to them. Care about what is going on around them. Question everything. Act on it. The exhibition should be a fun journey where everyone is breathing, learning and growing.

Kristen Blum is a PYP teacher, currently teaching grade 5 at International School Dhaka in Bangladesh. She has taught in IB world schools in Japan and Turkey for the last 8 years and is passionate about inquiry, visible thinking and allowing students to have a voice in their education. She has been a literacy coordinator, elementary reading project coordinator and grade 4 and 5 teacher. She has facilitated the PYP exhibition for 6 years. Kristen blogs about education at: and you can also follow her on Twitter @Namastececi.

One Response to The big picture of the PYP exhibition

  1. Charlotte 23 January 2021 at 8:49 pm #

    Despite this blog post being 5 years old, I find it immediately relevant to my current situation. As our school enters our first Exhibition it is great to have these practical starting questions to pose to the staff team as well as the students. We know that there will be many challenges for the Exhibition but it’s essential to keep in mind that the important thing is what the students can gain from it.
    The idea of ‘the big picture’ is surely an everlasting thought in our profession.
    Thank you for the post and for providing a next step forward in our Exhibition journey.

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