Our virtual PYP Exhibition was a challenge not only technologically but also in keeping true to the IB thought premises when faced with remote learning and all its complications. Leveraging our IB beliefs helped us, as a learning community, to face and overcome the difficulties, turning it into a learning opportunity for all the stakeholders.
By Lina Melki
Never have we as a learning community felt the impact of the PYP pedagogy on our lives as we did when the school went digital this year! We were risk takers as we tried new ways of reaching our students, we cared and we showed it, we used our knowledge and researched to gain new understandings that help us meet the challenges and make a difference, we were agents of our own learning!
Though given the option of not going for a virtual PYP Exhibition by the IB and our school administration, we decided to give it a go.
We all had so many questions to answer:
- Should we go for personal inquiries, passion projects or group/teamwork?
- If we opted for group/teamwork, how would we manage the teams in the online setting?
- Should we have mentors; aren’t parents and other teachers in our community already overwhelmed?
We had so many worries too:
- Would the students manage on their own without the teachers’ physical presence and mentors’ guidance?
- Would their inquiries be authentic?
- Would their parents support their independence rather than manage their work for them?
- How would they meet for group work and who will be present to give guidance?
- How will they present their findings, the process and the action taken?
But we forged ahead.
We, as a whole team, had a Google Hangout meeting to go over the plan and tweak it, based on the teachers’ input. Then, we started addressing our concerns and brainstorming possible solutions. “Agency” was our theme song throughout; it was primarily our guiding premise. We prepped our PYP Exhibition website to accommodate our online needs, adding in resources for the students and the parents, providing clear information about the process to parents as well as some current resonating thoughts on education. A section was dedicated to the students to post/publish their journals, as well as for the invitation links when presentation time came, and the Google Meet recordings once done.
The teachers decided to give the students the choice of either working individually on their own personal inquiries, or to work in groups based on their common interests. The students were given a clear idea of what each choice would entail with regards to roles and responsibilities. We ended up with some groups in each class, along with a few students who decided to go solo. Essential agreements were drawn up with the students for each work mode along with all its ins and outs:
- Work ethics and responsible use of resources
- Submission of work
- Time management
- Attendance to Google Meet sessions.
- Management of Google Meet sessions: recording, having a clear agenda, staying on task…
Each teacher chose a different way to launch the process to help students decide on what they connect with the most and would like to inquire about. Some teachers and their students started from global issues, zeroed in on the local ones, tied them in to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and on to their own personal connection to these issues. Some started from the immediate current circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic, and then moved on to how the world was dealing with it and other similar global issues, tying it in to world cooperation and then on to the SDGs.
Some started from the provided central idea “Significant world events highlight the importance of international cooperation”, brainstormed world events and what the students know about how these events are usually dealt with, including the current Covid-19 pandemic. Some teachers started from the SDGs, what their students knew about them and their related issues, their connection to the current pandemic and how the world usually deals with global issue and how it is currently dealing with this one.
No matter where their starting point was, seeing how the world was reacting to Covid-19, the action each country was taking to stop its spread and the global international cooperation that was going on to support this endeavour, helped our students see the central idea from their own personal lens and connect with it at a deeper more significant level.
As we are a bilingual school, the classroom teacher and the Arabic teacher teamed up and worked with the students simultaneously using a translanguaging approach, whereby, discussions were started in Arabic to be continued in French or English depending on what section the students are in (our school has an English and a French section) or vice versa. The Google Meet sessions were held by both teachers, the guiding questions, and lines of inquiry sometimes in Arabic and sometimes in either French or English. The students’ journals evidenced this translanguaging by having some sections in Arabic while others were in English or French.
Some parents got caught up in the excitement and, though not enlisted for the role, started mentoring their children’s groups. The teachers held some individual and some group meetings with the parents to clarify the parent/mentor role and provide them with the needed support. On one occasion a video call was held in one class between the parents of that class, the teacher and the PYP coordinator. The discussion was an eye-opening experience for all parties involved, as it shed light on what it means to support students during the PYP Exhibition when the students are at home full-time with the parents. Reinforcing the Approaches to learning and providing access to needed resources were discussed as a great way for parents to support and scaffold their children’s learning experience.
When D-day rolled round the students were the ones running the show and handling the presentation of their sessions:
To view the compete sessions of all our different groups please click here to go to our PYP Exhibition website section dedicated to this.
Action this time round was of a different nature too, due to the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 confinement. Students thought of ways they can make a difference from their homes; they brought awareness to others through campaigns on social media and by creating websites, they rallied support by creating videos of songs and dances they wrote and choreographed themselves, they enlisted support from the community by having pledge campaigns to support their causes. They rose above their own situation of being confined at home and showed commitment and enthusiasm to their causes unhindered by any obstacle or hurdle.
To say that it was smooth sailing, would be untrue. There were many challenges that arose because of the virtual set-up we were in. Managing the groups and their work, ensuring students’ effective use of video call time, guaranteeing the active participation of all group members, walking the thin line between remotely supporting the students and leaving room for their voice, choice, and ownership, supporting the parents in a new role that they did not sign up for, are just a few of these challenges. How did we deal with them? One at a time. We met regularly as a team, we shared our challenges and suggestions for possible solutions, we met with the parents and came up with strategies that work for the benefit of all members of the learning community, and finally we took things on with an adventurous spirit, as open-minded risk-takers, willing to try new things, fail at times, learn from our mistakes, and try again! As one student so aptly said;
“In the beginning, I did not know what I was doing, I worked so hard, was upset on many occasions because communicating with others in my group was not easy, but then things started getting better, we all started knowing how to go about using our Zoom sessions effectively and dividing the tasks. We started enjoying our work and felt so grown-up while doing so, especially when we put it all together for Presentation day. We realized how much we had done and learned”.
When we say that education is about preparing our students for life, well life is about constant change and nothing prepares them for it better than an inquiring mind, knowledge, skills, and character attributes that make them not only better adapt to this change but be agents of it!
Lina Salem Melki, a PYP coordinator at International College, Ain Aar, Lebanon. Classroom teacher for 25 years and PYP coordinator for 4 years.