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PYP Candidate School: Concepts

September 7, 2017--It was wonderful to see so many of you at Open House on Wednesday evening. Our year is off to a great start. Its stunning to witness all that goes on at our school to generate and nurture community! Our elementary school’s path toward becoming an authorized IB World School is just one example of how we are looking ahead and preparing our students for the future.

Daniel H. Pink, a renowned economist and contributor to the New York Times, published a book addressing what such a future may look like. In A Whole New Mind, Pink claims that the “Age of Information” is drawing to a close: for the past 50 years or so our societies focused on linear, logical, data driven, and analytical thinking in order to generate success. But now, a variety of components (material abundance, globalization of the workforce, powerful technologies) are swirling together to forge a new definition of success--and a vastly different approach to the way we live. We will soon need a different type of thinking. Pink predicts that we will need “high concept” thinkers who have the capacity to:

  • Detect patterns and recognize opportunity

  • Create artistic and emotional beauty

  • Combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new

  • Craft a satisfying narrative

  • Empathize with others and understand the subtleties of human interaction

  • Find joy in one’s self and elicit it in others

According to Pink, these forces are catapulting us out of the Information Age into the Conceptual Age. It is a compelling argument and those of us in education need to consider how our practices should evolve in order to satisfy the demands of such a future.

The IB’s Primary Years Program addresses Pink’s predictions – and indeed, other possible futures as well! - through its curricular framework. Last week we discussed the value of obtaining knowledge with a transdisciplinary approach. This week I would like to explore the second of the five essential elements; CONCEPTS.

Our new curricular framework is founded in purposeful, structured inquiry. We want to provide students with engaging and significant ideas to drive the inquiry process. These ideas are referred to as “key” concepts, or key questions. These help teachers and students consider different ways of thinking and learning about the world. They also act as provocations to extend and deepen student inquiries.

PYP includes 8 concepts, each of which is of major importance and contributes to enduring understanding of the transdisciplinary themes. These concepts, with their essential questions, are:

  1. Form - What is it?

  2. Function - How does it work?

  3. Causation - Why does it work that way?

  4. Change - How has it changed over time?

  5. Connection - How does it affect other things?

  6. Perspective - What are the different points of view?

  7. Responsibility- How can we take action?

  8. Reflection - How do we know we understand?

These concepts are central to the PYP curriculum. Along with their key questions they shape our units of inquiry, giving them purpose and direction. If explored systematically and thoroughly, the concepts can liberate thinking, suggesting a range of further questions and deepening lines of inquiry. Importantly, these concepts do not limit the breadth of a student’s knowledge and thus are accessible to children of all aptitudes.

Teachers will include all eight concepts in each unit of inquiry, but each unit of inquiry will specifically address two or three key concepts. By the end of the year, students will have had the opportunity to explore all eight key concepts.

An example of a unit with its Key concepts and questions is below--you may recognize the other components of the units from our previous discussions:

You can see that these lines of inquiry are open-ended and accessible to different sophistication levels, so each student can explore them at their own level, while still pushing themselves to think "bigger" and differently. Through classroom work and discussion, students will connect new understanding to the central idea, and this will in turn help them develop their own perspective on the overarching themes.

How would we assess the success of this approach? It’s not as subjective as you might think: by the end of the unit, students will be able to articulate their connection to and opinions about the central idea, and give evidence for their point of view based in the unit's learning experiences.

Whew! It seems like I took the long way round to simply say we want our students to think big, think deep and think outside the proverbial box. In fact our approach creates possibility: maybe students will create their own, better box!

Now let’s go back to Daniel Pink’s concept-driven future. Look back at his six predictions for the needs of the future workforce: you can connect each one to the design of our units of exploration.

I would love to discuss these ideas further with anyone of you who are interested. I know that my articles can seem quite dense, so sometimes a face to face chat is more illuminating. With that in mind, I have set Saturday morning September 16th aside for an informal coffee and discussion of the program. We will convene in the conference room at 9:00 am. We can spend about 90 minutes clarifying and inquiring into our school’s path.

Have a great weekend!

Brad Chumrau

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