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The Primary Years Programme Exhibition: Independent study starts here

For many IB students, the Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition is their first major experience with independent study.

As the culminating assignment of the PYP, the exhibition is challenging, empowering, and rewarding for students, teachers, parents, and the community.

For two perspectives on the implementation, development, evaluation and long-term benefits of the exhibition, we spoke to Jimena Taboada, PYP coordinator at St. Brendan's School in Uruguay, and DJ Thompson, PYP coordinator at Stratford Hall in Canada.

The joy of learning

Ms. Taboada describes the exhibition as a “rite of passage and a celebration of learning.” Ms. Taboada finds that it brings the community together. “Everyone learns from each other: students, parents, teachers, and the community.”

Mr. Thompson believes that the PYP exhibition is “a culminating task with endless potential.” He explained that students are involved in the entire process, including the determination of what is going to be taught, and how it will be taught.

Selecting an overarching exhibition theme

For many IB World Schools, the starting point is selecting a transdisciplinary theme from which students will choose issues to be explored.

In past years, St. Brendan’s involved students, parents, and the community in the theme selection process. This year, exhibition leaders chose the theme”where we are in place and time” and asked students to revisit the learnings from the units they had explored in previous years under the same transdisciplinary theme.

At Stratford Hall, Mr. Thompson and teachers select a transdisciplinary theme that addresses local issues in their community. “We then look at elements within that transdisciplinary theme that students can explore for their exhibitions.” This year, the school selected homelessness in Vancouver, and students will select related issues or connected issues. “For example, students may explore affordable housing, the development of effective homeless shelters, food banks, even drug and alcohol addiction.”

How transdisciplinary themes are selected varies from school to school and year to year. “We try to keep it fresh for students as well as teachers,” Mr. Thompson said. “We often look at issues in the community. For awhile, we were exploring environmental issues and now we are looking at human rights. If an exhibition is designed properly, it can be on just about any issue.”

Ms. Taboada also mentioned community needs as an influencing factor in selecting a transdisciplinary theme.

Facilitating student initiatives

Both Ms. Taboada and Mr. Thompson see themselves as facilitators. “I have coordinated exhibitions since 1998, and I used to go frantic undertaking every detail. I have learned to empower students to act more independently, while I coordinate and create synergies. I help the students bridge gaps and accomplish what they set out to do, whether it’s visiting a museum or getting in touch with a key person.”

Mr. Thompson maintains a policy of keeping exhibitions student-driven. “I should not control what or how they inquire, but I control the process to ensure that it is consistent from student to student.” Mr. Thompson has created a process manual to guide students and to monitor their learning throughout the process. Mr. Thompson describes the process manual as “a living document that evolves based on our ongoing experiences with the exhibition.”

Strong teacher and parental support

St. Brendan’s and Stratford foster strong school and parental involvement in the exhibition process. Mr. Thompson commented on getting parents involved early in the process with parent information nights. “We introduce them early to the selected transdisciplinary theme, so if they have access to relevant information or resources, we can capitalize on it.” Mr. Thompson also stresses the need for parents to act as a support group for their children as they undertake their first major independent project.

Ms. Taboada holds coordination sessions early in the process to invite teachers to become exhibition “tutors”. She also aligns other school departments in support of exhibition needs, such as ensuring that the maintenance department can provide students with the equipment and materials they need for presentations.

An important step in a student’s future

Both Ms. Taboada and Mr. Thompson see the exhibition as an important step in a student’s ongoing education, career, and life. Mr. Thompson commented on the importance of students getting a better understanding of themselves. “My biggest goal is for students to complete the exhibition and to develop an understanding of who they are as learners—what their strengths are and what they need to work on. That makes the exhibition really serve its purpose.”

Ms. Taboada concluded, “If we can help students achieve something substantial and feel good about it, we will enable them to be one step ahead as they move on. When you enjoy learning, you feel like you can learn forever.”