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PYP Candidate School: How Do We Impart Knowledge?

August 31, 2017-- Happy Thursday, everyone! There's a lot to talk about today. I want to show you how PYP's curriculum design engages the whole student, teaching breadth, depth, and complexity at every age. Let's dive in!

Last week we discussed the five essential elements of the Primary Years Program (PYP) with regards to the written curriculum. The five elements of the PYP written curriculum are: concepts, knowledge, transdisciplinary skills, attitudes and action. This week I want to deconstruct the philosophy behind one of the “essential five”: Knowledge.  

Due to the unique challenges faced by schools implementing an international education program, it is important that the PYP curriculum model includes a framework for a coherent, flexible, and conceptual body of knowledge. The framework needs to support our school’s mission and vision as well as the IB’s Learner Profile. Exploring certain areas of knowledge is essential to achieving our primary outcome: international mindedness.

Traditional subject areas are important and indeed are specified as components of the the PYP curriculum model. However, simply educating students in a set of isolated subject areas tends to diminish the significance and complexity of understanding required for students to make connections across disciplines and evaluate their experiences. Ultimately, students are less able to apply their learning in real life.

In order to facilitate depth and breadth of thought, the PYP has outlined six curricular thematic lenses for students. These lenses are known as the PYP’s six transdisciplinary themes. These six themes are considered essential in the context of exploring an international education, and are illustrated and defined below:

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.

How do we get these complex ideas across to students? Every year students explore six units of inquiry; each one is aligned with a different transdisciplinary theme. The units vary in scope and increase in complexity as students ascend through the grades. Each unit addresses a central idea that is relevant to the chosen theme. Collectively, the alignment of the units throughout the grades comprise our program of inquiry. Each individual unit of inquiry must be:

  • Engaging- involving students in a constructivist approach to understanding.

  • Relevant - Linked to prior knowledge and experiences. Thus connected to the students’ lives.

  • Challenging - increasing and extending students’ competencies and understandings.

  • Significant - contributing to the recognition of the transdisciplinarity of an idea and connecting to the commonality of human experience.

For example, pre-kindergarten students might have a unit titled "Our School." The transdisciplinary theme that this unit communicates is "how we organize ourselves" and the central idea is that schools are organized to help us learn and play. The entire unit is an inquiry into what a school is, what we do in school, how our school works, and who works in the school doing what sorts of jobs.

Later, in 5th grade, 10 and 11 year olds might have a unit titled "All You Touch and All You See." The theme is "Who we are" and the central idea is that "memory influences perspective." This unit teaches students how to think about the past's effect on the present, the nature of memories, different points of view when remembering a single event, and individual vs collective memory.

So as you can see, the structure of the PYP curriculum communicates breadth and depth at an age-appropriate level, and is flexible to give students new ways to think about traditional subjects.

In sum, the transdisciplinary themes help teachers provide highly defined, focused, and in-depth explorations. The guidelines for unit design eliminate redundancy and avoid the pitfalls of rigor without reflection. Importantly, unit design is a collaborative effort on the part of grade level and/or specialist teams, so the program should enrich and transcend the talents of any individual teacher.

Next week we will look at the conceptual nature of the program and attempt to connect what we want students to know with what we want students to understand.

Have a great long weekend. I look forward to seeing all of you at Open House on Wednesday, September 6th!

Kind regards

Brad Chumrau

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