PYP Exhibition – Student Relationships

Working in groups is a big part of the PYP Exhibition. Lots of learning takes place about how to collaborate, resolve conflict, negotiate, compromise and more. There are often bumps along the way.

Before the launch of our PYP exhibition (see my previous post for more about how we did that), our grade 5 teacher, Monique Donahue; our PYP coordinator, Michelle Roland; and I met to create the groups in which the students will be working together. Monique has been working with the students since school started on identifying passions and issues and using “the former to find the latter and make meaningful connections”. 

Using responses to a survey, the whiteboard, and different coloured markers, we identified similar passions and issues and began grouping the students. We took also took friendships, English level, learning needs and more into consideration. Our goal was seven groups because seven staff members had initially volunteered to be mentors. When we finished, the group sizes ranged from 2 to 4 and we were reasonably sure of our selections.

During the PYP Exhibition kickoff, all seven groups seemed to be working well together and continued to do so over the course of that week. This past week, Monique was away on a school visit for the first few days and some issues came up with one group of two. The parents were in contact with Monique while she was away and when she returned to school she spoke with various staff members as well as the students and wrote this amazing email reply to the father of one of those students (posted with permission):

Dear Mr X,

I am following up on your email from Thursday. After speaking with A yesterday as well as with some of my colleagues, I got the impression that A has given up to keep trying to make the collaboration a success. I strongly believe that it is actually possible, but it is a matter of determination and positive presuppositions, on both sides. At this time J is still committed to working together. It appears that the collaboration has been a frequent topic between your family members, maybe more so between A and his mother. I hope this is not a case where a child is trying to get his parent to do for him, what he cannot (yet) do for himself.

However, the whole project should not be a source of unhealthy stress, rather a source of curiosity and enthusiasm. In my experience the PYP Exhibition frequently leads the students to feel empowered to face challenging situations in their own lives and the world around us with reflective hope put into action. For next week, I propose that J and A keep working on the same topic, as this is their first choice, but that they work side by side, rather than together. I will support them individually when necessary, and so will Ms Graff, their mentor, who knows them both well.

I would really appreciate it if you could have another talk in your family to speak about this challenge. Maybe there are personal stories you can share about when you had to work with someone you didn’t like and how you dealt with it. Both A and J are not used to dealing with demanding peer family members, the way many of us are prepared for situations like this when we grow up with siblings, so I expect it to be hard, but definitely possible. Much of the challenges have to do with controlling impulsivity. Some understanding and developing coping strategies might be useful. Here is an article that might help. 

Another strategy I would like to propose is to make an effort to get to know J’s family, as a family. I believe most families in my class share more with each other than they realize and that differences are minor, and don’t matter anymore when you get to know the story behind people’s lives.

I hope you find this information useful. I really do care about the children’s success, but I cannot make things happen for them. I merely create the environment. They are ultimately responsible for believing in themselves and others, as well as understanding their own role in the process. And just in case you were wondering, please rest assured that at no time will the academic result of a group negatively impact on a child’s score.

I found this interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about how to work with people you ‘hate’ You might find there are some similarities.

Please let me know if you have further questions or concerns,

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,

Monique Donahue


PYP Exhibition Launch

Nearly two weeks ago, we launched this year’s PYP exhibition at BIFS. We chose to follow a very successful model that was created last year. All of elementary was off timetable for the morning to permit the specialist teachers to work only with grade 5. We began the day in our school hall where after a welcome and briefing from our PYP coordinator, students were informed of the members of the groups they will be working with during the exhibition. As soon as the groups were formed, students then rotated to stations throughout the school run by specialist teachers and administrators. At each station, they explored an aspect of the Approaches to Learning (previously known as the Transdisciplinary Skills).

At my station in the library, students brainstormed sources of information they thought would be useful for the research.

Both this year and last year, it helped the groups to bond and allowed the teachers to discover which students were grouped together and to observe how the groups of students worked together.

The morning took planning and time but it was a valuable experience for all.

We are a small school. Last year we had 8 groups for the exhibition and this year we have 7. At my previous school, we had close to 30 exhibition groups but I think with some creative planning, this activity could be scaled to be used by schools with larger cohorts as well.

This document outlines the logistics and has more detailed information. 17/18 PYP Exhibition Kick Off (Shout out to Leda Cedo for all her hard work last year! It certainly made it easier this year.)

Now to guide the students through their PYP Exhibition journey which will culminate on April 26, 2018!


Students Helping in the Library

For several weeks before our holiday break, a group of 4-5 middle school students volunteered in our Early Years Library for 30 minutes at the end of the day on Wednesdays. They would arrive halfway through kindergarten’s weekly library lesson and book exchange. They would sort out the returned books and reshelve them and some of them also read with students.

Today none of the volunteers showed up (I guess I probably should have sent them a reminder…)

However, completely independently, one of the kindergarten students asked me if he could check out his books straightway and then sort books. (The Tuesday MYP student volunteers hadn’t been able to make it either this week so the return boxes were overflowing.)

He got straight to work making piles of picture books sorted by letter and nonfiction by Dewey number. He even came to ask me for clarification about an early reader that didn’t have a letter or number label on the front because they are shelved differently. As the table filled up, he started putting piles on chairs.


I had no idea he had even taken note of what the student volunteers were doing when they were sorting the books. What an incredible example of student initiated action!

PYP Action (or Why can’t more adults be like these children?)

In PYP schools, we talk a lot about action and in particular student initiated action. I had a brilliant session today with a class of grade 4 students during our first teaching block of the day that was an example of just that.

Before school I popped into their classroom to touch base with the homeroom teacher. (Due to a meeting of the upper elementary teachers, I see his class without him present.) I told him I was planning to share the picture book Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed. 


We agreed that in light of what is going on in the world, a picture book set in a refugee camp was appropriate. The teacher mentioned the recent meeting of President Obama and Alex, the six year old American boy, who wrote to him offering to adopt a young boy from Syria after he saw a photo of him in an ambulance and suggested I show the clip to the students as well. He also told me that some of his students were taking action to raise funds for technology for students in Kenya. He showed me their poster and I noticed the link for the image was from Kiva. A short discussion about micro-lending ensued.

I decided to start by showing the students the clip of President Obama and Alex. (I found it on the BBC website.) I had it set to fullscreen and projected on the wall as the students entered the library.


One student recognized it and said “I watched this. It made me cry.” We discussed different emotions that make you cry and then passed around the box of kleenex for anyone who wanted to be prepared. We watched it and then watched the following video which was of Alex writing the letter.


(I stopped it before the third video which was about Omran Daqneesh, the five year old Alex had seen in the news. I explained it showed the boy in the ambulance and I would show it to anyone who asked on my computer but I wasn’t going to project it on the wall.)

We then talked about action, refugees, and the war in Syria. I asked for more information about the fundraiser. We also talked about the difference between lending money to someone on Kiva and donating money. I talked about how I have made multiple loans with the same money on Kiva but that I also make donations to organizations and that one of those is UNHCR (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,, also known as the UN Refugee Agency).

Then I read the book. More kleenex.

As the students went to select their library books, one of them came and asked the name of the refugee organization I had mentioned. I wrote it on a slip of paper for him. He showed it to the other students who are involved in the fundraiser and they spent some time discussing it.

At the end of the class, he came to me and told me they had decided that they will lend the first 100,000 KRW ($85 USD) that they raise and donate any remaining funds to UNHCR. He said if they raise less than 100,000 KRW, they will lend it and donate it to UNHCR when the loan is repaid. 

There are some adults making a mess of the world but there are some amazing children who are working to make a difference already and I hope they get to be in charge when they grow up.

Following the Dinosaurs

This past weekend, my friend Ken (who has lived in Korea for a very long time) came to visit. Saturday we headed out on an adventure to find some dinosaur footprints and visit a dinosaur museum.

We started by taking the subway from my place to Busan West Bus Terminal (by the Sasang subway station). There we bought tickets for a 2 hour intercity bus ride to Sacheonpo. In Sacheonpo, we had some lunch and then took a local bus (bus 10) towards the Goseong Dinosaur Museum. The bus doesn’t run very often and it drove right by us at the bus stop but then it got stuck a red light trying to turn and we managed to get across the street and to the next bus stop before it. Phew. (If we had missed it, we could have taken a taxi.) Ken told the bus driver we wanted to go to the museum and when it was our stop the driver told us to get off and walk along the road.

The view as we got off the local bus.

The view as we got off the local bus.

Once we were down at the beach, we discovered a boardwalk that followed the coast. It had interpretive signs in English and Korean and you could go down on to the rocks and walk around just like the dinosaurs did! (Except that they walked in mud hence the footprints.)






More footprints!

Another footprint.

And another footprint!

After walking the length of the boardwalk and stomping around the shoreline pretending we were dinosaurs, we headed up to the museum. Along the way there was a playground, topiary dinosaurs, dinosaur statues, a maze and gorgeous views out over the sea and islets.

Heading up towards the museum.

Heading up towards the museum.

Dinosaur along the way.

Dinosaur along the way.

The museum had very little English signage but it had fossils, skeletons, models and even some animatronic dinosaurs! (And the admission cost was only around $3.)

Gory scene outside the museum entrance.

Gory scene outside the museum entrance.

After the museum we decided to walk along a different road back to the main road to catch the local bus.

The sign for the museum from the parking lot.

The sign for the museum from the parking lot.

Looking back up at the museum from the road.

Looking back up at the museum from the road.

When we got to the bus stop, Google maps told us the bus wasn’t going to be along for awhile so we decided to start walking. We ended up walking all the way back to the bus station in Sacheonpo. We caught a bus back to Busan, found a yummy Indian restaurant near the bus station and then took the subway back to my house.

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The red marker is the museum location.

I was impressed by how far we traveled in a day (and how easy Ken made it seem). The following day it poured rain but we managed to go to Changwon (on a bus from a different bus station that was less than a kilometre from where I live) to catch up with a friend of Ken’s who was showing some of his paintings in a cafe there. Thanks for coming to visit Ken. I hope you come back soon!

Spelling is Hard

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

I learned to read before kindergarten but I just memorized whole words, I had no decoding skills. When I started grade one, most of the class did phonics work but since I could already read, while they were cutting and pasting words and syllables I had a different text and workbook (it was yellow and was called “A Duck is a Duck”, the second in the series was green but I forget the name – a Google search has come up with “Helicopters and Gingerbread”). Somehow I was able to read most anything but I couldn’t spell to save my soul. In third grade, I started to cry when I was placed in a high reading group – not because I couldn’t read the texts but because I didn’t know how to write the words to fill in the answers in the workbook. I managed to convince my teacher to move me down a level. (She was a very experienced teacher so now I’d like to think she was on to me but if so, she didn’t let on.) In fourth grade, my dad helped me study for my weekly spelling tests and I became a good speller.

We moved to Canada just before I started grade 5 and I was faced with some new spellings and pronunciations. I remember a spelling achievement test in grade 6 and being baffled when the teacher said “left-tennant” (interestingly the google doc spell checker knows what that is supposed to be…). Perhaps seeing my baffled look, she then said it was also pronounced lew-tennant. I heaved a sigh of relief but then realized I might not know how to spell the word but hey at least I had heard of it! (That teacher was also the first person I ever heard call the black and white stripy animals ze-bras rather than zee-bras though for a long time I was sure she was calling them zed-bras.) Going to school in Canada, I adopted Canadian spellings – colour, neighbour, mould, recognize, centre. Some of these were reinforced as I learned French and French also caused me to regularly misspell certain words – filtre, litterature.

I once read that to cope with Canadian English’s mix of American and British spellings, most spell checkers just accept both spellings if you have it set to “Canadian English”.

Since I leaving Canada 10 years ago, I have been surrounded by English speakers from a variety of countries. This has had an impact on my vocabulary and also on my spelling. For the most part I stick to Canadian spellings but at some point my Google language setting ended up as UK English (I have just switched it back – interestingly for Gmail display language you can only choose between US English and UK English.) However even with it switched, Gmail is still insisting on UK spelling and as a slave to the red squiggly line, I usually give in.

This morning I went to write skeptical but wasn’t sure if I was spelling it correctly so I Googled it and it came up as sceptical. I did some further research later and realized it was one of those words. Apparently the k spelling is more common in North America. Suffice it to say that I am thankful for spellcheck but even then I have doubts about which spelling I should be using!

As for vocabulary, I discovered the “Not One-Off Britishisms” blog this morning and it seems to be that my use of English expressions that are not traditionally American won’t be as noticeable as they once would have been. Then again some of these “Britishisms” are also “Canadianisms” – ex. in hospital – and reading the index of entries, I would be hard pressed to tell you for many of them if I used them when I lived in Canada or if I have picked them up in the last 10 years…

Ten Years Overseas

Me, Cathy, Malcolm, Lizzie and Sue

Farewell dinner in Ottawa, January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006


10 years

4 countries on 4 different continents

2 paying jobs

2 volunteer positions

Too many flights to count

In January 2006, Facebook was not yet open to the public, YouTube was less than a year old, Twitter hadn’t been founded, iPhones hadn’t been released yet. Skype existed but computers didn’t have built in webcams. It wasn’t the dark ages but it was sure different from the always connectedness of today.

Before I moved to Singapore, I had lived in and/or visited 15 countries. I have now up to 51 and I have been back to about half of the original 15. I now have friends in many countries and on all continents except Antarctica (at least as far as I know…)

I have met lots of people, seen many places, eaten some weird things, and made many memories. I have had amazing times with friends new and old.

I have missed some weddings, several funerals, and it has taken me awhile to meet some  babies that were born.

Long plane journeys have become commonplace (and long bus journeys may soon be as well).

I have learned and forgotten words and expressions in many languages.

It has gotten easier to keep in contact with faraway friends and family but it is never quite the same as spending time in each other’s presence.

I wonder what the next 10 years will bring…

Sunday Afternoon at Parque Bolívar

Parque Simon Bolívar, a long, skinny park that is not far from my house, was originally a private park for a princess. Now it is a popular spot for runners, couples and families. I wandered by last Sunday afternoon and marvelled at the variety of activities taking place.

In addition to running (and walking), there are many other ways to do laps of the park (but most are for children).








In the middle of the park is an Eiffel tower that was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. It was shipped from France to Sucre in 1908 and was used as a weather tower for the first 16 years. It was moved to the park in 1925 and you can climb up the spiral staircase if you like.


Around the tower runs a waterway and you can rent paddle boats or try out the “Splash O Balls”.




There are plenty of bouncy castles set up and a painting station (where you buy pre-printed outlines to paint).




There are also plenty of items for sale (including food).


Gelatina is a favourite among Bolivians but I usually just go for a bag of popcorn.


At the far end, there is a fountain and rose garden. Apparently the fountain is turned on and there is a light show at 7:30 pm on weekends but I haven’t yet been there for it. (And I didn’t take any photos at that end last Sunday.)

At opposite end there are two large arches and a couple of pillars. Here is one of the arches.


Along one side of the park there is a tennis club, a swimming pool and a large playground with a dinosaur theme.

IMG_8556 IMG_8549

It is a busy place!

Volunteers and Rights – taking part in various events in Sucre

Over the past week or so, I have been invited by Maritza, the director of BiblioWorks, to take part in (or at least observe) a variety of events in Sucre.

On Friday 4 December (the day before International and National Volunteer Day), there was a special ceremony organized by CONAVOL-Chuquisaca (a chapter of the Consejo Nacional de Voluntariado) to recognize 60 volunteers from a variety of organizations in Sucre and other places in the department of Chuquisaca. Maritza was elected the vice-president of CONAVOL-Chuquisaca in September. They are working on laws to have volunteering officially recognized and valued. I was honoured to be selected for recognition for my work with BiblioWorks but even more pleased that a lovely young Bolivian, Ariane, was recognized for her work with Inti and the working children of Sucre. She comes from a family of means and has been surrounded by books and reading from a young age. On Friday afternoons, she joins BibliWorks staff and the Inti children in the plaza for storytelling and activities. She has also accompanied the children on excursions to various sites around Sucre.



Members of CONAVOL – Lidia (secretary), Samuel (president) and Martiza (vice-president) with Ariane and Roxana (project manager with BiblioWorks).





IMG_0361On Saturday 5 December, to celebrate International and National Volunteer Day, members of CONAVOL gathered in the main plaza of Sucre with a marching band and a floral arrangement. After a few speeches and some numbers by the band, we marched and danced our way around the plaza and then to a hall for refreshments. It was neat to be a part of one of the random groups of people marching and dancing in the streets that are regular occurrence here.

IMG_0376   IMG_0380 IMG_0383 Every Tuesday afternoon, Maritza meets with a group who are working on laws to protect the rights of children in Bolivia. On Wednesday 9 December, there was third of four sessions being held to present the input of local children and youth. Maritza presented the ideas of the working children who sell Inti magazine in their own words. (The children themselves were not present because they were on an excursion organized by the canteen for working children which provides them with a free lunch each day.) They would like things like a bathroom in their house and a place to relax in the plaza after work. The country director for UNICEF (who happens to be from Korea) mentioned to Maritza afterwards that it was wonderful that she presented the children’s wishes in their own words.


On Thursday 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I accompanied Maritza to the central plaza to meet with some others working on children’s rights. If I understand correctly, members of the press gather each morning in the plaza. We had copies of a press release which was shared with them and then they interviewed Maritza and others on the spot. There was other groups doing the same on a variety of topics.


Out next destination was a ceremony organized by the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombudsman). The Defensoría is a public institution charged with defending human rights. After a presentation recapping their actions during 2015, they recognized key players from several different organizations and then served hors d’oeuvres and wine (at 10:30 am!).


From there we headed to the Casa de la Libertad where there were more speeches (but no wine so we didn’t stay long).


It is fascinating and a privilege to be invited to attend these events. Bolivia has room for improvement in many areas and it wonderful to see the dedication of Bolivians to bring about change.

Back to Asia

As some of you know, two weeks ago I accepted a teacher-librarian position at Busan International Foreign School in Busan, South Korea. I officially start on August 1st, 2016 (but I assume I will arrive a week or two before that). Here is the story of how this came about.

Soon after arriving in Bolivia, I decided it made sense to look for a teacher-librarian position at an international school for the 2016-2017 school year. Recruiting starts early and I didn’t want to go to a job fair so by mid-October I had managed to activate my account with Search Associates. (Part of this was bugging four former supervisors and colleagues for confidential references.)

Once my account was activated I could see open positions advertised at various schools. I was keen to find a school with all three IB programmes and that wasn’t too huge. Many of the positions advertised were middle/high school or K-12 positions. I contacted a few friends working at the schools with positions (including in a couple instances the current librarian who was obviously making plans to leave) or someone I knew who had been at the school who was able to put me in contact with someone currently at the school. One person I contacted was a librarian I met while I was in Tanzania. She was working at an international school in Dar es Salaam and I spent a day in her library. We left Tanzania around the same time and she took a position at a school in South Korea, Busan International Foreign School.

Initially the position at BIFS was advertised as a K-12 but then it was modified to be just elementary. On Tuesday 27 October, I emailed the school and the next day I got an email from the principal offering me an initial interview with herself and the PYP coordinator the week of November 9 (as they were on holiday the first week of November). We set it up for my Monday evening (Nov 9), their Tuesday morning (Nov 10).

In the meantime, I sent an email to a school in Bangkok that was advertising a middle school/high school position (but I never got a reply and I wasn’t really surprised, seeing as all of my experience is in elementary).

Monday evening, I put on a dress (and makeup!) and headed to the BiblioWorks office because the wifi is stronger there. The interview seemed to go well. I asked a bazillion questions and was happy with the answers. Skype cooperated and we had both audio and video. The next morning I had an email from the principal about a second interview 3 days later (Nov 12/13).

Before that happened a position at the International School of Phnom Penh came up on Search. I contacted a friend who used to teach there to see if she could put me in touch with someone who was still there and she did. However in spite of being on Search Associates, ISPP asks that applications be submitted via a different recruiting site, Schrole. It meant filling out some information about myself, uploading my CV, answering some questions provided by the school and getting more confidential references. I hummed and hawed a bit. I wasn’t keen to bug my references again when I was already in the process of interviewing with another school.

Skype did not cooperate for my second interview with BIFS. We tried calling multiple times, turned off video etc but it wasn’t working well at all. They could hear me but they were garbled when they spoke. We ended up doing the interview with them typing the questions and me answering orally. It was weird. At the end, they said they were down to two candidates and asked if they could check my references. The next morning I had an email introducing me to two of the coordinators and asking us to set up a time for a short interview. I replied but figured I wouldn’t hear back until Monday at the earliest.

Sunday, November 15 I decided I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and I started work on my Schrole application. Monday night I heard back from the coordinators and an interview was organized for their Wednesday morning (my Tuesday night). I completed my Schrole application and bugged my references (who were super quick) and applied for the ISPP position.

The interview with the coordinators was short but seemed to go well and by the time I woke up the next morning,I had an email from the principal introducing me to the head of school so we could set up a time for an interview as well as one from him directly. After a bit of back and forth, we ended up scheduling it for his Monday morning (my Sunday evening).

Thursday morning I had an email from the elementary principal at ISPP offering me an interview the week beginning 30 November as they were going on holiday the following week.

The next day I contacted a teacher who had worked at BIFS but was now working at ISPP to see what he might be willing to share about both schools. He said good things about both of them…

On Sunday, I had an email out of the blue from the principal at a school in Budapest saying she would like to talk to me about a position at their school that had just come up and wasn’t yet advertised on Search. We set a time for the next day. I wasn’t really interested in the position but I was curious about how inquiry is at the school as they are not PYP and I was flattered she contacted me. (Coincidently, the current librarian at that school used to work at ISPP and I met her on a boat on the river in Phnom Penh when I was there visiting a friend in June 2011 – small world.)

That evening I had my chat with the head of school in Busan. It was a friendly discussion and much of it focused on the salary and benefits. I walked home after, changed out of my interview clothes and made a snack. As I was eating I picked up my phone and realized I had an email from the principal asking if I had time for quick Skype. I crossed my fingers that my home wifi would cooperate and got online. Skype cooperated and she offered me the position. I asked how quickly she would need to know and confessed I had other interviews lined up. She said she would need to know fairly soon so as to not keep the other candidate hanging.

I emailed the principal at ISPP to let her know I had an offer from another school and got an autoreply that she was away all week. I took it as a sign and emailed the principal at BIFS back to accept the offer. She forwarded me a letter of intent right away. I emailed my Search Associates person because in their instructions it said to get in touch before signing anything. I got an email back from the principal at ISPP saying it wouldn’t be possible to do the interview any sooner (which didn’t surprise me) and to let her know if I did accept the offer.

I went to bed and tried to sleep. By the next morning, I hadn’t heard back from the Search person and as it was already night in Korea, I decided to give him 24 hours. I went ahead and signed the letter and attached it to an email but didn’t send it. (I did go ahead and cancel my interview with the school in Budapest though – I didn’t feel it was right to take up her time when I wasn’t considering the position.) By that evening, I still hadn’t heard back but I went ahead and sent it anyway (and then emailed the principal at ISPP to cancel our interview).

I am still waiting for it to sink in that I am moving to Korea and that I already have a job lined up for next year. However at the same time I want to take advantage of the time I still have in Bolivia and not spend it planning the future. That will be my juggling act for the next 6 months or so.