The PYP and the “genie in a bottle”


A parent recently asked me if I felt her children would struggle when returning to a more conservative model of education after several years in a PYP school… and an innovative PYP school at that.

She was mainly thinking about whether or not they would have fallen behind academically in the traditional subject areas as the system in her country, like in most of them, is very content-specific. I said that they may find there are things that they haven’t learned… of course! However, I told her, after several years in the PYP they will have the ability to access that information as they will be skilled in the “art of learning”. I reassured her that what they have learned, or haven’t learned, should not present them with insurmountable problems.

What they might struggle with, I said, is being expected to go backwards in terms of how they learn. Being put back into a traditional classroom set-up in which all students sit at tables all day, sometimes in rows. Being put back into a traditional teacher-student authority relationship. Being put back into situations where all students are doing the same thing, the same way at the same time. Being put back into didactic, predetermined contexts for learning. Being put back into a place where only a few forms of expression are valued. These are all things they might struggle with. These are all things that many children who leave PYP schools and go back to state systems struggle with.

The metaphor of a genie in a bottle sprung to mind as I was talking. We laughed about how the PYP has released the inner genie in her children, and children like them, and how it might be very difficult or even impossible to put the genie back into the bottle!

But, do we really want to?

Header image from here



  1. Jen Friske

    Thanks for sharing this, Sam. We face the same questions here, as we are the only IB school in our division, so our learners transition from a PYP setting to a non-MYP setting. The number one question we get from parents is, “what happens when they move to the middle school?” Your post hits the nail on the head of what I try to communicate to parents, but yours is worded much more eloquently! 😉

    I’d be curious to talk to the students a year or so after leaving the PYP and moving into a more conservative school setting to see what was easy for them in terms of transitioning, as well as the challenges they faced. My masters research is focused specifically on the Exibition experience and how (or if) it set the direction for how they learned moving forward in their education journey, but I think the transition in general, for any student at any age when they leave PYP would be an interesting concept to investigate.
    Thanks again!

      • Jen Friske

        I remember reading that post and feeling so distraught for your former student.

        I have so many strong emotions around this topic, but I feel like they would be more appropriate to talk about in a less public realm than here in your comments. We’re trying very hard to establish a bridge between our PYP and the middle school our kids transition to, but so far it hasn’t been successful, and there has been a lot of finger pointing. It’s tough! But it doesn’t mean we’ll stop! We’ll just include the kids more in the conversation; let them in on the secret of school and set up environments that will enable them to develop their adaptability to, and perseverance in various situations or environments they may find themselves in, in their future.

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