This year at Bandung International School, West Java, Indonesia, our PYP exhibition came under the transdisciplinary theme ‘How we express ourselves’ and the central idea, written by the Grade 5 students, was: ‘People’s beliefs, passions and life experiences influence self-expression with varying consequences.’ This central idea certainly offered opportunities for the children to extend their critical thinking and develop conceptual understanding. At the beginning of their inquiry the students found out about several people from around the world who have expressed themselves with varying consequences. They were inspired by people like Malala Yusafzai, Nick Vujicic, Beethoven, Jamie Oliver and Steve Irwin and were surprised to find out that even though most of the time we take it for granted, freedom of expression is not a right for many people in the world. Students then explored a wide range of forms of self-expression such as storytelling, music, animation and visual arts, and created a performance to convey the understandings formed during their inquiry.
The lines of inquiry, formulated and revised by the students during the tuning-in stage, were:
- Freedom of expression
- Our personal passions
- The process of performance
Throughout the whole process the students demonstrated all attributes of the IB learner profile. They were Principled in the way they balanced their commitment to the exhibition unit while many of them were also involved in other school events such as the Musical Drama and training for a swimming competition. They were Knowledgeable when exploring concepts and issues with local and global significance, acquiring in-depth knowledge about political systems in places such as Myanmar and China and about cultural issues in the UK. They were Open-minded when they took into consideration the views of the whole class as to what constituted a form of self-expression. They were Thinkers when they thought critically and creatively about how people in different times and places, in Indonesia, other Asian countries and in countries further afield, had expressed themselves. They were Communicators when they worked effectively in collaboration with others, expressing ideas and information confidently and creatively in both English and in Indonesian in the performance and in a variety of modes of communication. Without a doubt they were Inquirers. They were curious about a range of issues and developing their research skills as they independently carried out their investigations into Aboriginal storytelling, Third Culture Kids and shadow puppets, to name but three of the different directions their inquiries led them in. They developed their understanding of the central ideas and transdisciplinary theme through making connections across different disciplines such as Language, Arts and Social Studies.
The exhibition itself took place on 2 and 3 May in the auditorium and the library. Each day began with a performance after which BIS community members and visitors went to the library where the students explained the process of working through the exhibition unit. The performance on the evening of 2 May was exclusively for parents, other family members and adults who had been directly involved in the exhibition.
What struck me most about this year’s exhibition was the element of Choice. During the performance it was evident that students were actively responsible for their own learning and their displays of work also showed many examples of student independent inquiry. During the tuning-in stage, once the students realized that they were becoming more interested in the process of performance they decided to change the lines of inquiry which originally had included a stronger focus on the consequences of self-expression. However, throughout the unit, the inquiry was guided by the teachers who were instrumental in reminding the students to connect their understandings with their central idea and the transdisciplinary theme. The class discussed about whether playing football, a passion of several of the students, was actually ‘expressing yourself’. They decided that sports and games with specific rules don’t give us the freedom to be expressive. They chose all sorts of passions from Jewellery to Clown Dancing, from Storytelling to Tattoos, but even the student who was so passionate about football was able to combine this passion with his love of the guitar and song writing which enabled him to write and perform a song about football.
Another thing that struck me was the students’ ability to make Connections with other units of inquiry, both Grade 5 units and units in previous grade levels. A grade 5 student explained in the performance script that it was a link with ‘Sharing the Planet’ and Malala Yousafzai that started the students thinking about the concept of ‘freedom of expression’. Connections were also made with their ‘Where we are in place and time unit’ when a students considered how a Vietnamese immigrant to Australia expressed himself in his new home. The students found it exciting to discover how many links they could make with previous units of inquiry, even as far back as grades 1 and 2, which gave them a deeper understanding of the transdisciplinary themes.
The third thing that struck me was how clearly the PYP exhibition revealed the PYP attitudes at work, not only the obvious ones in a ‘How we express ourselves’ unit like Appreciation, Creativity and Enthusiasm but also Integrity and Tolerance. All of the students demonstrated Confidence. One student spoke about her passion for ice-skating and, before we viewed a video showing her gliding so gracefully around an ice-rink, she described it as a way to express herself with body language because she doesn’t really like speaking. Another student then explained that watching her skate so well make them all believe that they can try something different and that: “if we work hard we can achieve our goals… [she] inspired us to believe in ourselves”. Another student chose to express himself through mime because it is sometimes hard for him to talk properly. When he uses mime he doesn’t have to talk and can show how he feels using his body language. The narrator explained that sometimes this student feels like his speech is locked in a box and he wishes he could find the key to get out. It was inspirational to see how the exhibition had allowed the students to learn about themselves, to discover who they are. One of the students explained in the performance script: “Exhibition has been many things, exciting, inspiring, intriguing and even heart-breaking.”
The students came to understand that people in power often used the arts as a way to influence others. For example, before their ‘Tari Saman’ dance, a student explained that traditional leaders in Indonesia would give useful advice to the dancers and spectators. They also gave tips and tried to influence the attitudes of the community. They explored the idea of protest songs and learnt about recent Indonesian history through focusing on the lyrics of Iwan Fals, adding their own lyrics to one of his songs to express their feelings about the importance of freedom of expression:
“People with power
Can often say and do just what they like
People like us
Should have the same right too
Malala only wanted to go to school
She was brave
And she knew what she had to do
Aung San Suu Kyi
These people have inspired me…”
The students clearly developed their viewing skills as they interpreted and anlaysed visuals and multimedia, understanding the ways in which images and language interact to convey social, political and personal ideas, values and beliefs. Their presenting skills were evident as they constructed visuals and media to show what they had learnt about freedom of expression from exploring their passions, communicating information through a variety of visual media. Well done to the Grade 5 teachers – Mrs. Taber and Ms. Vici in particular – and of course many congratulations to the Grade 5 students who shared with us their journey of self-expression and discovery!