Past, Present, Future Exhibition.

This is the last of my Exhibition series. This one is about the most slickly developed exhibition yet; time, honing of skills, and the collaboration of multiple actors were all contributive towards the particular refinement and quality that came about.

The five to six-year-olds in the school in China had an ongoing unit of inquiry for a few years. This was the one to do with personal histories and the significance of family artefacts or heirlooms. In the post ‘cultural revolution’ world of China, there was a deeper resonance and political relevance for this.

So the instant this unit would begin, the classrooms would be flooded with whatever artefacts the families could salvage. Both the students and their families took a great deal of pride and were deeply invested in this sharing of objects of value and meaning to their families. Hence the teachers decided this would be the unit that would lead to an exhibition.

Before handing over the reins to the teachers to curate this exhibition, I expressed my desire for it to be conceptualized as sections representing different time periods. The only other input of mine was that as much as the teachers would want to exhibit the voices of the children in this presentation, their own i.e. the teacher’s voices and thinking should be equally evident in the exhibition. Below is the deck of their thoughts about the process.

With the above as the premise and two teachers leading the curation, the work proceeded. Homeroom teachers and specialist teachers were equally involved.

The exhibition was divided into three areas: 1, the artifacts from the past and what they meant to each child, 2. the corresponding items in the present, so students could understand and convey the evolution of these items in the present, and 3. conception of the future. In a separate room dedicated to the future, each student presented a shoebox they would open when they grow up and contained objects of personal meaning and significance. Parents contributed letters to be read by their children in the future.

As you can see there was an immense opportunity for family involvement in this project and hence a shared responsibility and ownership. Below is a video of the day put together by the then early years curriculum coordinator.




Making Teachers’ Thinking Visible

During a collaborative planning meeting towards the end of the academic year, I was nudging the K1 teachers, these are the teachers who teach three-year-olds, to do an exhibition about their process, about what they think about, plan, research, observe, etc when they work with children. This was a very eclectic and talented group, each with a different strength but once again there was an art teacher in the group, and undoubtedly the one who would be invested with the visualization of this exhibition to be. I cannot drum up enough the importance of having an artist in every teaching group.

She the artistically inclined one was requested to curate this exhibition and immediately set about conceptualizing children’s learning through the skills they acquire in the IBPYP, these are Self-management skills, Communication skills, Research skills, Thinking skills, and Social skills. She also wanted to make explicit the Attitudes that remain subsumed under other more prominent elements of the PYP. The Attitudes are: Appreciation, Commitment, Confidence, Cooperation, Creativity, Curiosity, Empathy, Enthusiasm, Independence, Integrity, Respect, and Tolerance. The team next sifted through literally hundreds of photographs that represented each of the skills and attitudes, and this resulted in a photographic exhibition; visual impact with a minimum of text was the plan.

At the end of the exhibition, what I realized was that we were a little ahead of time with this sort of experience in the city we lived in, the parent community was only focused on their own children, they were not ready to move beyond the immediacy of their loved little ones to the bigger picture, i.e. that this was an exhibition from a teacher’s perspective. It was a looking back of sorts for the educators and an opportunity for them to tease out certain important aspects of how and why they teach the way they do.

Yet the brilliance of the display and the conceptual framework of it was very impressive, and validation for educators to continue with such endeavours. I think these photographs will be showcased on the walls of the school for some time to come.

Here is my thinking behind the process, which was part of the display.

K1 Exhibition 2.001

Looking back my message to all gifted teachers would be, ‘Never fear to do something just because it has not been done before or will not be understood. There will come a time others will emulate you and even if they may not give you credit for it, you will know that you tried out an idea before its time had come.’

Culmination Exhibition and Entrepreneurship


When educational pundits talk about developing students’ entrepreneurial skills being necessary for the 21st century, I was never quite sure about what exactly that would look like. As an International Baccalaureate Primary  Years Programme (IBPYP) Head and Coordinator, I needed to see my charges to the end of their primary years’ schooling, so career and preparing them for the market place were not pressing requirements anyway.

The culmination of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) is the Exhibition (PYPX). The PYPX entails the consolidation of all the elements of the PYP, and the students begin the process right at the inception of their final year of primary schooling i.e. grade five, or grade six in some schools, but arguably the day they start their PYP schooling even at age three.  They have to understand the process of developing an inquiry all on their own, they have to then dig deep into their own passions and proclivities, and finally, they drive their own inquiry.  The PYPX is only the culmination and presentation of this process, but what is interesting is it can be curated in any fashion that the inquirers find fit.

As a PYP coordinator (PYPC) you are required to facilitate the process and support the students and teachers through every step. However, when I was doing this for the fourth time albeit in a new (for me) school in China, I did not think the experience would hold any big surprises. Crafting and putting together an inquiry that incorporates all the student’s interests is a tooth pulling exercise, but I had been through it before.

Since the PYPX is also the end of primary school assessment, and assessments are expected to be authentic in the IBPYP framework, the process and learning every step of the way and not just the end product were assessed. It requires some ingenuity and skill to keep student-focus on this and not jump ahead to the preparation for the display at the end. Fortunately, the teachers and mentors were more than equipped for this.

However, as the day of the exhibition neared the focus inevitably had to shift to the preparation of the PYPX site. The students were inquiring about conscious consumerism and the impact of production, hence they wanted to recreate a shopping mall experience for the visitors. Quite an ingenious and ambitious plan, there were also products being prepared to be sold. Admittedly I was a little uncomfortable with this ‘peddling of wares’, my fear was that the attention would shift from sharing their ‘learning’ about production to just ‘selling’ products.

On the day of the PYPX, the layout of the shopping mall and evidence of learning were all beautifully laid out and confidently conveyed to a receptive audience. In no time though there was a visible transition towards something akin to the hustle and bustle of a market place. Queues started to form as word got around about the delicious food on sale and a wide variety of other experiences curated with much thought even towards the youngest of students. I wondered – was the experience shifting a little bit towards what I feared? Actually yes, it was, but so was my thinking; shifting.

Looking around at the sheer joy the students derived, I realized there is a need in them to be involved in the real world, in real market place exchanges, and in perhaps becoming part of the economy. This buying and selling was an authentic human instinct, so this is why Otto Scharmer one of the architects of the Theory-U postulated that “the future of education will be situated in eco-system awareness, and in developing entrepreneurial skills”.

The entrepreneurial skills they built that day were real. None of my instincts of ‘learn first, make money later’ would’ve worked that day! The money made was real too, and they donated it all to a young girl suffering from cancer.



The Airport and the Big Bang.

Exhibitions of learning, though I am not entirely sure where and when this started have been part of school calendars, even in the very traditional schools I went to. I still remember making a double helix model of the DNA and explaining this to visitors to the school, another year it was something to do with a genetic study and life cycle of a fruitfly. Today these sorts of exhibitions are much more sophisticated and slickly curated.

When the school I worked in as Head of Primary in Singapore, rebranded and relocated into a new premise, we decided to increase the number of exhibitions of learning we curated, to share with the community; and every class was required to share at least one such exhibition in the year.

However,  the two big exhibitions of the year were from the graduating classes; i.e. the kindergarteners graduating to primary and the PYPX before transitioning to middle school.

The Kindergarten exhibition required more direction and thought by the teachers. They decided it would be a revisiting of significant learning throughout the year and the end result would be both a delineation and consolidation of the same. In one such revisiting of old learning, the teacher planned on creating a new artwork connected to a unit they studied about i.e. ’emotions’. At this moment I decided I would document her process of revisiting a prior learning experience. Here is the result of the documentation ‘K2 Exhibition deck’ which was displayed at the exhibition. Visitors greatly appreciated this insight into the teacher’s process.

Another experience that was brilliantly curated by the teacher who had a background as a visual arts teacher, was the creation of dark space to give visitors the experience of the Big Bang – the origin of the universe story, as that was what one of the units was about. The result was a remarkable experience of walking into a dark space with visuals, sounds, and narration of this story, as well as a display of children’s model of the solar system.

The year/grade six students on the other hand work more independently in the inquiry process, they after much delving into their interests, questions, and wonderings, narrowed in on researching air-traffic accidents. This was a startling revelation to us; i.e. the extent to which our students were affected by the frequent travels of their parents. The fear of possible air-traffic accidents must’ve gripped them often. Inquiring deeper into this was not just going to take care of their curiosity but have a deep affective and hopefully calming influence in a situation they otherwise do not feel they have any control over.

The inquiry led the students to recreate an entire airport experience, and as passengers (visitors) walked in and went through the different stages before boarding their flights they were presented with information about all aspects of flight safety; the science, the engineering, the data, the history, etc. Another wonderful experience that the teachers and mentors worked hard to support.

As for me, I was incredibly proud that the students did not rely only on display boards of standard exhibitions but provided an immersive experience for visitors. It also led me to the realization that such collaborations and focus on small group interests can only happen in smaller schools even though they may be less well resourced in other ways. It is Sir Ken Robinson who said that there should be a place in every society for all kinds and sizes of schooling, even homeschooling because well there is always a cliche waiting to say what you want to say – different strokes for different folks!


That Day

Though I only know too well that dots don’t have to connect in a linear fashion, especially if they are to represent an interesting picture, my mind often works in a linear, sequential way. Much as I would like to write about just about anything that comes to my mind today, I feel an obsessive, compulsive need to write about events in order of their occurrence, and so taking you back to where I left off after my last blog – in Hawaii. It was the day what contextual, localized education, and what living in a community really should look like unfolded…………

…years later taking up from where I left off, I have no idea what I was trying to get at, only that there was a certain charged magic in the air, the storm certainly lending to it, and indelible impressions were formed and long-lasting friendships were forged.  I will leave it at that and move on to write about other issues preoccupying me in the present.



What is self-regulation? Asked my eight-year-old daughter when told that some people have more trouble with self-regulation than others. I immediately recounted a recent behavior she was praised for i.e. her calm demeanor and restraint while witnessing a behavior she did not comprehend. When asked if she was truly not disturbed by it or did she just not show it, she said she was both afraid and a little angry but she kept those feelings in her ‘brain’ and decided to just quietly do what was required. This I told her was an example of self-regulation.

She was reminded of an episode from three years ago, where she led her classmates in a line back to the classroom at the end of a fire drill, only to have created a panic because while she followed the procedure very efficiently she led her classmates to the wrong destination, and not the one advised by her teacher. On realizing this her classmates blamed her. She recalled her emotions when subject to blame and ridicule. She said this taught her not to do the same to others.

The above is a reflective discussion that followed the Edcamp 2016 event she and I had just returned from. During the camp, she was one of two children who co-participated along with around 20 adults. She was given the responsibility of welcoming guests and giving them their name tags.

“Edcamps are organic, participant-driven professional learning experiences for educators across the country and worldwide” states the Edcamp website, an initiative that started in the United States of America. On 22nd October was the first ever Edcamp event organized in Singapore. We started our session with an intent circle where participants gave a brief introduction to themselves and stated their intent for the camp. Very powerful intents were laid out and my daughter’s intent was to teach drawing in a specific style (Japanese anime) she liked.

There was a lecturer who struggled with ideas for helping her students learn without undue focus on grades. There was a new parent who wanted to understand what is out there in the world of education, so she prepares her child for it, there was a young man who wanted inclusion to make more inroads in education and community engagements, and there were experts waiting to lend their expertise yet willing to learn.

We organized ourselves into four groups, one to brainstorm ideas for the young lecturer. The second group learned how to write lyrics for and compose music, the third had a powerful discussion about inclusion, and the last had two willing grown-ups sitting down to learn how to draw from an eight-year-old.

The proceedings were fluid, people wove in and out of groups and at the end met again as a whole group for the recap. The newly empowered musicians presented the song they co-wrote and gave music to. The two younger members were as involved in this as the adults. We then announced the dates for the next four Edcamp events. They are: 25th Feb 2017, 29th April 2017, and 24th June 2017.

At home, I had thanked my little girl for her help and involvement in Edcamp, to which she said, ‘Oh no mummy, that was actually fun, I have never done anything like that before, what about you?”. My reply – “Well actually yes, but you know what none of those events had children participating in it”. And to us, this was the true significance and departure from the norm that our Edcamp represented.

EdCampers Singapore 22 October 2016

Pek  Interest: Content, Collaborative spirit, Unconference, Full inclusion

Himal Interest: Unconference, Working with persons with special Rights, educators&families. Listening with compassion.

Kenneth Interest : Music Trainer. Share what I know and learn from others

 Manju Interest: Inquiry Curriculum Development. Meeting children’s needs in IB settings, Post Graduate Research

Yi Lin Interest: passion and innovation for teaching, helping learners to learn

Pim   Interest: All but mostly children. 20 years of experience

Ana  Interest- Special Rights and Documentation.  Share ideas

Colin Interest:  Community Projects, Strategic planning  for sustainability.

Shravan  Interest: Physical Fitness

Anu Interest: Communication and New Media.Social and political issues

Navin  Interest: Country Ambassador – Singapore; For The UN Disabilities Council

Clara & Baba: Interest: Several topics.

Karen  Interest: Passion for bringing out the passive and introducing the joy of communication to children. Public speaking in children.

Sam  Interest: Engaging discussions. Listening , learning new skills. Passionate, energetic entrepreneur.

Solonia Interest: Self -directed learning and leadership for positive transformation

Vashima Interest: Life-long learning, Early Years pedagogy, collaborative, community projects

Junior participants below age 10

Keith and Ameya– Interest: Learning beyond classrooms

Reflections on 2016

Hi-res Safety Pin , isolated with clipping path

2016 was declared an annus horribilis by a friend in academia. I am not aware of any reasons besides the US election results for her despondency, neither am I going to pry, but it does feel the same for me. Not quite a year marked by any personal disasters or losses, yet a very disappointing one. All despair relate to my field of work.

Only three years ago I was handed a dream job on a platter. For someone like me who started off being an outlier, this invitation to head both the kindergarten and primary school was an opportunity to reconnect with a beloved community, a professional endorsement, and a promise of a heady experience lying in wait.

I was back in that school nestling in a beautiful estate; old tropical fruit trees, thriving animal life, luxuriant green fields in the middle of an urban jungle. The work was an exciting mix of freedom to reinvent with challenges of constantly seeking stakeholder buy-in. Some of the work was met with quick and easy steps, some required climbing a steep learning curve. Exhaustion and burn-out loomed but it didn’t quite unravel that way.

I was supported the most by a tried and tested, but highly inspiring pedagogy. A pedagogy that professed the most exalted outcome for its beneficiaries. An opportunity to negotiate thought and action while increasingly becoming architects of their own learning, then this leading to an inclusive world-view. I must quickly add though that the students did come from protected and privileged backgrounds.

Then there was a team of diverse, progressive colleagues beholden to this way of thinking, being, and teaching. There were many hurdles too, but even as we settled down to a ‘two steps forward and one back’ routine, the dance never ceased to be enjoyable. The results showed in the children, they started responding to real world issues, campaigning for countries with water shortage, visiting neighborhood communities to work with the less privileged, promoting the cause for migrant workers, spontaneously forming anti-racism clubs and so on. This was work designed to bring immense satisfaction, even joy.

It was short lived though and something of a debacle began to unfold. We were nudged out of the property we were in. The transition to a much smaller property was seen by many as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and become even more cohesive. Few of us mourned the verdant surroundings, the monitor lizards, the hornbills, and to a lesser degree the spitting cobras we were leaving behind. The color we would behold would no longer be overwhelmingly green; red, black, and gray instead! Many of the families from the already small and close-knit community did not move with us. There was panic and knee jerk reactions from those who had their investments at stake. Culling of staff numbers may have been inevitable, but decisions and actions were unfortunately tinged with stains of bigotry, racism, divisiveness, and negativity, and not on merit. Was this the wrath of the trees and animals we left behind as feasts for the real estate vultures?

Even among the staff that was to stay there was a loss of trust and educators were keenly aware of the huge chasm between the values we held and what came into play. Many decided to leave, I was among them. I put my energy behind securing an Ed.D admission, this was the time to take recourse in my own education. We banded together and helped each other find the best options forward. The children had their parents to protect them and make decisions for them. But as we packed our cardboard boxes there was a deep sense of failure at the subliminal messages sent to the little minds, for all our exhortation and preaching to the highest values, the adults did not protest when the opposite was being displayed. This inaction had a label – professionalism!

The horrible school year ended and immediately after I was on a flight to the UK, for a course that would start on the 22nd of June, 23rd was the day marked for the Brexit referendum. I woke up on that fateful day to witness the shock, and dismay, of colleagues. Taking the early morning bus to the university I overheard many conversations, among them a young university student who was dreading a reunion with his family that weekend, particularly how his fifteen-year-old brother was sure to ‘lose it’, and be rude to his grandparents who voted ‘leave’, he said. The newspapers soon started reporting the hate slurs and rise in racism and suddenly even my seasoned, well-traveled self, felt a little insecure being on my own so far away from home. I don’t want to feel this way, I loathe my own reaction when I avoid eye contact with the older, grungier looking people I catch looking at me – I don’t want to give them an opportunity to project prejudices if there were any, I am alarmed when I realize these are the very people I would’ve normally reserved my warmest smiles for.

The academic world was visibly shaken, every classroom discussion somehow led to the bigotry, the hatred, the seemingly moving back in time we are experiencing. I seek solace in the company of people who have risen above these biases. The world of educators; the ivory tower is different, I conclude. Yet there is the opinion that the less educated have not been served and have been negatively impacted by the changing demographics of the world. There is much to understand and ponder over, but my thoughts keep going back to the young man on the bus, does this generation, which has begun to embrace a more diverse world, not have a say in the future they want?

Returning home, I plunge into my studies, there is little in the way of distraction. The US elections become the biggest discussion point in social circles, the media will not have it any other way. I am heartened that every person I know is opposed to a leader whose campaign rests on divisiveness and hate mongering.

The election results definitely create shockwaves, even deep sadness among people I know. In every social or academic gathering I attend, I encounter people who express their shock and dissatisfaction at what happened. I am deeply affected too. Slowly, I tune out and try to find reasons for this, it is important to read/listen to several arguments and analysis, I hear about the disenchantment of the under-served, those affected by forced acceptance of diversity, somewhere in the middle of all this rhetoric I hear one phrase that feels like a slap in the face; “the cause for economic progress trumped over the ‘academic silos’ that the elite resides in”.

Academic silos? This is not the intent of education, as I know it. Education is meant to help put food on the table but also teach us to adapt, connect, and empathize. I need to pick up the pieces after this disappointment and keep working to break down the walls that education creates – if it does! I need many years of annus mirabilis, for this.

Children make their presence felt

Monday the 2nd of May did not quite end the way I said it did in my previous blog. In fact the best thing about the day was yet to be. I had communicated my desire to visit a certain pre-school, to the head teacher there. She and I belong to the same list-serv or discussion group, and I have always admired Leslie Gleim’s passion, and her words through her posts have deeply influenced me over the past few years. When I heard the WoFo was going to be in Hawaii, the first thought that occurred to me is – “Oh maybe I’ll get to meet Leslie and see her school!”.

That dream came true Monday evening. Leslie very graciously invited me and a few others from the list-serv into her school. I extended her grace by taking along a few members from World Play [with her consent of course]. In retrospect this was a good plan, I not only had company but we shared a cab to go up to The Mid Pacific Institute which the pre-school was a part of.

Soon after we alighted from the cab the head of elementary school came and greeted us and walked us to the pre-school where Leslie and her team of teachers and parents were waiting. The school was everything and more I expected a Reggio Emilia inspired school would be. There was plenty of evidence of the projects children were working on. There were samples of work by the children laid out for us to see, and soon after being guided through the facility by both the staff and parents of children, who stayed back long after their school hours just for us, we sat down for our conversation.

The conversation revolved around the children, their interest, learning,

A mermaids garden created by the children which houses fish with names such as: surprise surprise - Ariel and Flounder.

and projects they had worked on. The fact that they were right in the midst of their Beach project, [children found stagnant and possibly contaminated water being released into the sea and wanted to take action to warn the community – and for this they were soon to gain an audience with the mayor!], was very exciting. Will they get to meet the mayor and what will be the outcome of the meeting was certainly on everyone’s mind. Please read more here.


That evening as we visitors from around the globe sat on child sized chairs, and listened to the voices of our hosts from the MPI, the electricity had failed; an unusual occurrence we were told. Candle lights and some dim lights provided by the generator came on. Soon there was a thunder shower, another unusual occurrence especially for that time of the year. It was almost as if the heavens wanted to do their bit, providing a powerful back drop for our dialogues and etching the memory of the evening even deeper in our consciousness.

Our hosts sheltered us with their umbrellas taking us from one end of the precinct to another and they even ended up driving us back to our hotel, because no taxis would come in a thunderstorm at that time of the evening. There was something surreal about the entire evening, even the depth of thoughtfulness and warmth our hosts provided. All of them touched our hearts deeply and I can’t ever imagine forgetting any of them ever. Yet the strongest presence I felt that evening was the voices of the children, even without them being in the room with us. I carry memories of the outdoor atelier [the beach where they work and play a lot] even without having an opportunity to see it, I carry palpabale memories of their laughter, of their questions, of their thinking and learning; such was the power of the documentation the adults shared with us.

One of a Kind – David Elkind

So after spending the first two days, just wandering around and thinking through my presentation etc I connected with some of the early arrivals at the World Forum. The WoFo office was bustling with activities in preparation and I offered to help by putting some of the portfolios together etc and shared some easy banter with the organizers. It was absolutely wonderful to be part of the behind the scenes work even if it was for a short while – just to get a feel of what it takes to put something as huge as the WoFo together.

Bonnie and Roger seemed so down to earth, one would not be blamed to assume that they haven’t a sense of the impact they are creating world-wide, but I am sure they know and that is part of the reason they can take on this daunting but priceless task. Please read more about the WoFo

This was the morning of Saturday, I took off on my own in the afternoon and explored the island, going to the museums and checking out the shopping in Waikiki. Late Saturday was the first session on Play which continued into the next two days.

The work and advocacy of WoFo is undertaken largely by working groups, there are working groups by now for Children in Indigeneous Families, Children living with Aids, Rights of the Child, The Nature Action Group, Men in Early Childhood Education etc and now ‘Children and Play’. Being an early arrivee [I liked that word I just made up] I signed up for the group on play. Its one of the newest groups and it needed a lot of work, including coming up with its mission and vision statement and a logo, let alone decide on what its key initiatives would be over the course of the next 2 years, before we convene for the next WoFo.

The work cut out for our group was so stressful that the group would break away every now and then to go and play in the beach! No seriously that was part of the agenda of the group. I am proud to say we came up with a mission and vision statement and have decided to call our group World Play. More on this in later blogs but I have to share this story.

Monday morning the session started nice and early at 8.30 a.m. after an All Working Groups Meeting and Reception the previous evening. As we settled into our seats and started our discussions I saw author Susan Linn [ ] say to someday who walked in and say “Hi David I thought you were coming in for the third session not the first one”, and this gentleman remark “Oh I thought it was the first session”. I turned to read his name card and it said David Elkind.[ ] I found the usually animated and vocal me turn completely tongue tied. Folks this was the David Elkind, the man who wrote The Hurried Child and many other works we EC Educators hold so close to our hearts.

As usuual the inimitable David had things to say that touched our hearts and minds. He talked about the constant struggle between perceived economic values and human values. He said invariably leaders only understand the economic values and pursue them to the cost of human values. Much of what he said I could link to in my presentation later in the week.

After the session I walked up to him and asked for a photograph to be taken with him. This is what I said, “I don’t normally do this [lies], but I speak about your work all the time to my students [truth], and now on when I speak about you, I need to be able to prove to them that I actually met you [stretching the truth]”. What was most endearing was, after the picture was taken I turned around and saw him turn as red as beet. What a remarkably humble and understated person, I just wish I could’ve spent the rest of the days listening to him but there were other big fish to catch too.

Monday evening we all went to bed early in anticipation of the arrival of the rest of the participants and the many Guided Tours that were organized for us early next day. More about that in my next blog.

Children and Aloha land

I have traveled all the way out from Singapore to Hawaii to atend the World Forum in Early Childhood Education. This is a dream I had been nurturing for the past four years – to get involved in a deeper and meaningful level in advocating for children, and this I believe is the right forum for that. Well I am here early, have not yet made contact with the outside world – been taking walks and sitting in my room and thinking about my presentation. This hermit like existence suits me for now but tomorrow I will explore Hawaii some, and the day after, the activities will kick start for some of us. The forum itself is from 3rd May to 6th May.

Having come here without a camera – to relieve me from the bother of taking care of one more possession, I may not be able to post any interesting pictures, but I certainly will try to write about my experince every single day. Aloha and cheers till the next one.