Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do we want students to know?

This post is in response to a question that was asked of an earlier blog post about how we plan for inquiry.  Kelly Tenkely asked:
Do the teachers have guidelines for the units of inquiry or are they largely on their own to develop them?
As mentioned in previous posts, the PYP (Primary Years Programme) is not a syllabus for students to follow, but instead is a curriculum framework.  This framework supports the IB mission statement, the learner profile and promotes international mindedness, the cornerstones of the IB programmes.  In the PYP there are scope and sequence documents for the following subjects:  language, maths, social studies, science, the arts and PSPE (personal, social and physical education) which give the overall expectations for each subject and each age range.  Some schools choose to adopt these scope and sequences but  many PYP schools do not as they perhaps have to conform to the national or state curriculum of the country where they are located.  However what is seen as vitally important in the PYP programme is that learning does not fit very neatly into separate categories or subjects and that it is important to connect the different disciplines rather than to isolate them.  Therefore the PYP uses 6 transdisciplinary themes to link and integrate the subjects.

The transdisciplinary themes have the following characteristics:

  • They have global significance
  • They allow students to explore the commonalities of human experience
  • They utilize knowledge, concepts and skills from traditional subjects, but transcend the subject boundaries
  • They are revisited each year of schooling

The 6 PYP transdisciplinary themes are as follows:

Who we are
An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human.
Where we are in place and time
An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.
How we express ourselves
An inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic.
How the world works
An inquiry into the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.
How we organize ourselves
An inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.
Sharing the planet
An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

(taken from Making the PYP Happen)

Therefore each year students study 6 units of inquiry, one for each transdisciplinary theme, through a central idea (Early Years students only study 4 units of inquiry).  All these units together - 6 per year times by the number of years in a primary school - make up the programme of inquiry.  Therefore in a typical primary school the programme of inquiry could be made up of a total of 50 units of inquiry that an individual student would study throughout his or her years in the school.  All teachers in each school work collaboratively to develop the transdisciplinary programme of inquiry and make links between the units both within and across grade levels.  

Let me give an example of how this works in practice.  If we take the Sharing the Planet units, our Grade 4 students have been investigating the concepts of conservation and extinction as they explore people sharing resources with other living things, whereas our grade 5 students who are doing the same transdisciplinary theme have been studying peace and conflict resolution and issues of cyberbullying.  In the How We Organise Ourselves unit, one Grade 3 class has looked at goods and services such as transport systems in their local town while the Grade 1 students are looking into the roles different people have in the school community.

Sometimes a concept can be studied in a number of different transdisciplinary themes, for example decision making has been studied by one Grade 3 class in the How We Organise Ourselves Unit (where it was also integrated into narrative writing) and in another Grade 3 class it was studied as part of Who We Are.  

It's important to try to make local connections.  Our Grade 4 students who studied Where We Are in Place and Time were inquiring into how landscape affects the culture of a place.  Since we are located in Switzerland their inquiries looked into the different regions of Switzerland.  Obviously students in other countries would be investigating different landscapes and cultures.  However the concept being studied is universal and transferrable - in years to come our students may not remember the specifics of which language was spoken in which region of Switzerland, for example, but our aim is that they will all understand that physical geography influences the life and culture of a country and that they will be able to apply that understanding to other places where they find themselves.

Photo Credit:  Global Player by Daniela Hartmann © alles-schlumpf

1 comment:

  1. Maggie, thank you so much for taking the time to write this post and break the framework down. Much appreciated and I feel that I have a much better understanding of how the structure guides but doesn't dictate. Very different from the direction in the US right now!