Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making the PYP Happen!

Making the PYP Happen - Through the Performing Arts

This year, the Lower School’s Performing Arts department overhauled the traditional holiday concert program, rejuvenating our senses with something new and wonderfully significant. In this unique programme model, each grade level is given the individual opportunity to demonstrate, elaborate and celebrate aspects of their current learning in a show called Let’s Make It Happen. For all the hard work and passionate dedication, I’d like to draw some attention, a sort of tip of the hat, to the Performing Arts department of our Lower School.

So far, CDNIS has hosted five of the Let’s Make It Happen shows, with a sixth just around the corner. As a homeroom teacher, I’d like to share my perspective and reflections with you detailing what I’ve seen, heard and discovered about how the Performing Arts department is making the PYP happen. 

In an energetic little cul-de-sac on the 8th floor, I stand my post as the 5D Homeroom Teacher and Grade Level Leader. In December 2010, Mr. Marshall Shaw began his intricate planning for the Grade 5 Let’s Make It Happen concert. Students began crafting their own montages of skits, dances, poems, and songs, specifically about their current unit of inquiry. The students developed their own enduring understandings and emphasized the concepts that were most pertinent to them from their inquiries. The teachers allotted intermittent practices and rehearsal times over the course of approximately four weeks. Next came two critical days of rehearsal in the LLAC where the teachers gave feedback as we watched their pieces  - almost 30 in total. The theatre staff supported us with technical requirements, helping students become familiar with the equipment, cues, stage direction and time structure. Collectively, the adults involved with these practices gave feedback about the flow of the show, its critical content and the delivery of their performances. We didn’t, however, try to influence the students with our own ideas or agendas; we handed the reigns over to them completely. Try to imagine us all working collaboratively in the theater; 135 ten-year olds, seven teachers and three theater staff. What we saw inspired us. Their performances were evolving as they practiced. They took our feedback, incorporated their own intentions and then applied changes to their work to make it better. The students were definitely running the show, every step of the way. This is PYP in the Performing Arts!

On show night, the final performance was truly wonderful. One thing that many people of the audience noticed and appreciated was that this was obviously the authentic work of the students. No longer do we have annual school concerts, showcasing the polished performances of students who have learned to follow someone else’s instructions or a performance recipe. No longer is our annual school concert the result of teachers’ hard work, teachers’ expertise or teachers' dedication to education! Why was it ever about that in the first place? Now, we boast annual grade level performances that highlight the hard work, expertise and dedication of the star performers themselves - the students! And the students are making it happen. From what I understand, they feel proud, empowered and far more attached to their performances than ever before.

Making the PYP happen through the Performing Arts showcases is a real testament to the value of student ownership and awareness surrounding one’s own learning, growth and development. These celebrations promote self-confidence and self-awareness, allowing students to show off their own creativity and interpretation. Students taking action is a powerful and inspiring sight to watch. Such a wonderful celebration of talents, accomplishments and achievements has only been made possible by the Lower School Performing Arts department, their vision for something different, hours of organization and preparation, as well continuous commitment to teaching and learning.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Recently I was fortunate enough to attend the annual EARCOS Teacher's Conference in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Not only was it a 3-day event full of amazing presentations, workshops and networking, in a beautiful setting, it was also a time for me to practice giving my own presentation, honing a skill set that I hope to develop over time. I've acknowledged lately that while I love giving presentations and often feel like I have so much to share with others, the bottom line right now is that I am just not very good at it. Yet. But I one day I will be.

My presentation was about promoting global citizenship and school-wide community through school blogging programs. You can see the Prezi or check out my Bitly Bundle, which all participants had access to during the workshop. Luckily, I had a few stellar participants who chose to spend their time in my session. These stars, including Kim Cofino, whose work I admire and owe so much of my own inspiration to, flattered me with their presence. I was beyond excited as I began the presentation to a room of about 25 keen attendees. After the session, I was happy to see a few tweets - 'shout outs' about the presentation - tid bits of positive feedback and sharing of my presented resources and examples. I was pretty happy. A few days later, Grant Franke, who I had the pleasure of connecting with with during the conference, posted a review blog post about my session as well. Even though the first line bites a little bit, it only stings because he's right :) and I appreciate that he wrote it. It's definitely the clearest and most useful feedback that I received. Thank you.

Highlights of the conference included seeing Geoff Green, environmental Arctic explorer and educator, talk about everything G related. This set me off on an energetic tangent, aside from my regular line-up of teaching with technology talks, into my other (mostly untapped) passion of outdoor and experiential education. I went to a number of workshops lead by educators who are leading inquiry-based learning in the science and outdoor education field. Notably, I enjoyed a morning session with Nick DePreter, from Portland Oregon, where we played games and learned about cool things he does to get his kids outside the confines of the school buildings.

The EARCOS Teacher's Conference is such a special place for meeting people. I loved the back channel chats and the tweets shared amongst workshop sessions - I met people first online and then found them through making plans to attend workshops together later in the day. I loved the freedom to multi-task, tweet, chat and interact online while I was attending sessions. There was no pressure or expectation regarding how delegates should attend or contribute to what was happening. It is also so wonderfully motivating and fun to be around 1,000+ people who were ALL excited and interested in authentic professional development and growth. We were all happy to be there and know that it's a good place to be.

I've been to ETC 2 years in a row and want to offer up my place to someone who's never been next year. It is such a great privilege to have the support of my administration and the opportunity to attend such a fantastic conference.