The PYP Exhibition – where students combine agency with passion within the framework of the PYP essential elements

This year our school, decided to venture into having the PYP Exhibition outside of the Programme of Inquiry – the 7th unit of inquiry, so to say. Grade 5 students expressed their culminating understanding of the Primary Years Programme by choosing a concept they are passionate about inquiring into. This was a complete demonstration of student agency – students shared what they were passionate about and wanted to inquire into in detail for a significant period of time.  They decided how they wanted to express their understanding and what action they wanted to take.

Some criteria were shared beforehand to ensure depth of thinking while choosing the concept-

  • What is your big idea?
  • Does the topic provide an opportunity for exploration or inquiry? Is it long lasting, and will it extend your knowledge (4 – 6 weeks)
  • Does it provide an opportunity to use variety of resources?
  • Taking action – Does the topic gives you opportunity to design something (awareness campaign, survey, poster, video for awareness, polling, innovate/change the design of any object to make it better)  
  • Does that action affect the world at large? 
  • Does it provide an opportunity for collaboration with peers, teachers, parents? Does it have scope for development of ATL skills?

The concepts were shortlisted based on the criteria shared – exploring ancient civilizations, sustainability, marine life, climate change, technology, artificial intelligence, solutions to the pandemic, media etc.

Students were grouped according to their areas of interest and assigned mentors.

I was assigned mentor to a group that wanted to inquire into the broad concept of sustainability. We initiated the Exhibition process from February 2021. Setting the stage to lend a structure to the process was crucial before deep diving into the inquiry. The planning stage included –

  • Framing essential agreements for the group
  • Making a timeline of the process – planning backwards from the date of the exhibition on May 22.
  • Signing a pledge for academic integrity

Student ideas were scattered – theory of evolution, ancient civilizations, modern and ancient medicines, art and architecture. However, the common thread of sustainability brought these ideas together.

We mapped our ideas with Sustainable development goals of the United Nations – SDG (Goal 11) – sustainable cities and communities. This goal states –

‘By choosing to act sustainably we choose to build cities where all citizens live a decent quality of life, and form a part of the city’s productive dynamic, creating shared prosperity and social stability without harming the environment. As of May 2020, the majority of national and city governments are revisiting urban planning to help prevent the next pandemic’ 

This reassured us about the relevance and criticality of the concept we had chosen to inquire into.

Students shared that they wanted to explore past civilisations for their sustainable practices and make connections to see which of those could be implemented today. Some wanted to inquire in depth into the good practices followed by their grandparents, whereas a few wanted to research modern vs traditional medicine. All these trains of thought helped us in framing our broad central idea.

Central idea – Version 1

Understanding and adopting sustainable practices from past civilizations can positively improve our quality of life and the environment’

Central idea – Version 2 

‘Understanding and adopting sustainable practices can improve our quality of life’

We mapped each version against the following criteria 

  • Can it be linked with the transdisciplinary theme?
  • Is it a big idea that will allow in-depth inquiry?
  • Would this Central idea be worth studying in any part of the world? 
  • Does the Central idea remain relevant at any point of time – in the past, present and future?
  • Are we able to take action because we have better understanding on this idea?

Central idea – Final verison

which fit the criteria of being a broad, universal statement with enough scope for inquiry, and action

‘Sustainable practices can improve our life’

Students also brainstormed and listed their wonderings – this facilitated the process of identifying the key concepts to narrow down our scope of inquiry and framing the lines of inquiry.

In this post I would like to focus on how student agency was integrated seamlessly into every aspect of the process.

What process would we follow?

Students had learned the Design Cycle process in their ICT classes and they felt confident about expressing their understanding through the phases of the design cycle. This is the one they chose, as it covered all the aspects we wanted – from inquiring right upto action

What understanding did we want to display?

Here as the mentor, I explained to the students that they had to understand the main purpose of the exhibition unit –

  • display of an understanding of the chosen concept of sustainability
  • display of a culminating understanding of the essential elements of the PYP – knowledge, ATL skills, learner profile attributes and action

How would we display this understanding?

What transdisciplinary elements could we integrate to enhance the depth of understanding?

Students shared some of the ways they wanted to express their understanding of the concept of sustainability –


following the design cycle process for inquiry

creating a chatbot as a means of addressing queries about sustainability


students wrote and recorded a song on sustainability under the guidance of the music teacher


expressing data on waste management in the form of bar graphs and pie charts


students created posters to raise awareness on sustainability


students wrote poems to spread the message of sustainability and summarised relevant newspaper articles to express their understanding. 

Scope for developing international mindedness

There was ample scope for developing international mindedness throughout the process –

  • exploring civilisations around the world (Indus valley, Greek civilisation, Roman civilisation) to understand their best practices towards sustainability through water conservation systems, waste management systems and architecture.
  • Developing solutions at individual, community and global levels
  • Some students also expressed a desire to connect with their grandparents to understand the practices they followed in their days which were sustainable. This brought in multilingualism (students conversed with their grandparents in their mother tongue – Hindi and Tamil) thus bringing a refreshing perspective to the inquiry.
  • Students bonded with their grandparents, connected with them through technology (recording podcast interviews with them) and shared some doable practices that we could integrate in our daily lives. Eating regional, local and seasonal foods, drinking water from clay pots and using home remedies in the form of our kitchen herbs and spices were some sustainable practices shared.

Evaluation and Reflection

Following the design thinking process, students evaluated their understanding by expressing an enduring understanding of the central idea ‘Sustainable practices can improve our life’ through the thinking routine ‘I used to think … Now I think’ – which helped showcase how their understanding developed over the course of the exhibition.

Students reflected on different aspects of the process to understand their strengths and their areas of improvement for the future.

  • Reflecting on our journey together
  • Reflecting on the skills developed
  • Reflecting on the learner profile attributes and dispositions developed

The exhibition process was intense, exhausting and confusing at times, yet so rewarding! I was able to consolidate and reinforce my understanding of PYP elements and student agency further while mentoring the students.  It was immensely gratifying to witness on the exhibition day, the comprehensive presentation of knowledge, conceptual understanding, skills and dispositions from this enthusiastic group of children. As a mentor I was so proud to be able to nurture my students passions and build ladders to help them achieve their dreams. You may go through the entire Google site presentation using the link below. I have deleted the student images to maintain their privacy

The sustainable squad – A virtual PYP Exhbition


1 thought on “The PYP Exhibition – where students combine agency with passion within the framework of the PYP essential elements

  1. What a powerful message and thought which would enable and help the students to think , work and understand better. Your knowledge , intelligence are a great source of inputs to the students . Keep enriching with innovative ideas .

    Liked by 1 person

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