This year for the first time I am teaching the PYP and also guiding Year 5 students through the PYP Exhibition. It basically involves the students taking themselves through a unit of inquiry where they have full autonomy over the lines of inquiry and culminates with a public exhibition of their learning. I’ve regularly mentored groups as a non-Year5 staff member (which is part of the process) but have not been directly involved in planning and delivering the unit before.
Something that always stood out for me as I observed it from afar was that there seemed to be a lot of time and energy spent by the students in making or constructing something as a result of their inquiry. For example, an inquiry into waste and recycling would lead to students ‘Taking Action’ by creating and building a new type of bin. An inquiry into the needs of the elderly might lead to the design and mock-up of a new type of emergency pager. And so on. The reservation I have about this final construction phase is that there is a big potential for the students to lose sight of the learning and context for the product and get wrapped up in the fun and excitement of building. True, building is exciting and fun, but I think it compromises the learning and investigation that precedes it in the process.
Past Year 5 teachers have said that the kids ‘run out of time’ due to the construction phase. It seems to me that rushing an inquiry, for the sake of what is usually a tokenistic creation, is feeding the notion of ‘bells and whistles’ in learning at the expense of deep learning. Like any use of technology, physical building of something needs to enhance the learning outcomes. Since the exhibition primarily addresses research skills, I see no place for a construction element to be so prevalent, or lead to taking student focus away from their lines of inquiry.
This year we have changed the approach for the exhibition unit. We are deepening the scope of research the students are required to do, and are taking away the building part at the end. The ‘taking action’ aspect of the inquiry will take the form of the students presenting links between a piece of technology, the scientific principles that underlie it and the human need that it satisfies. Students may approach this from any of the three angles, but there is no creation of something new. This is quite a change in the culture of the unit, but one which I think will lead to deeper learning, and a better appreciation of how technology helps our society.