Tuesday, 30 June 2015

My First Year Teaching the PYP

In the world of international education it seems the International Baccalaureate has risen to the top in terms of reputation. Getting into the "top schools" can be a nightmare if you do not have experience in one of the IBs three programs. I am writing this more for myself to look back upon and as a reflection (of my first year teaching in the IB) than for the public, but somebody wanting to break into the system may find it useful. I have key words in italics, which could be dropped in at an interview!

First of all, the more well established IB schools that I applied for were not even considering applicants unless they had PYP experience. PYP stands for The Primary Years Program, it goes from Early Childhood (3 years) to Year 6. For a school to be authorised by the IB to deliver the PYP, all teachers who teach the program must have Category 1 training in a course called, "Making the PYP Happen in the Classroom". If you have done this training and know some of the IB lingo, you will be at an advantage in an interview. The course costs about 760 Singapore dollars and may be found here.

IB PYP Wheel from www.ibo.org

I have to say, the PYP is incredible. They have taken the best bits of education and packaged it in a really good bundle to sell to schools. Constructivism, Understanding by Design, Concept based Education and Inquiry are some of the basic building blocks of the program. You teach six transdisciplinary themes a year. This is very different from traditional systems where the subjects are separate. In the PYP, the specialist teachers plan their lessons with the homeroom teachers so the students experience continuity throughout the program. Most of the Mathematics and Literacy is taught in a unit and all of the Social Studies and Science is in there. The rest of the Math and Literacy is taught as stand-alone.

There are five main parts to the PYP: knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action.

Knowledge - This is the six transdisciplinary themes and the subjects that are taught. Examples of the themes are, "Who we are", which has a Social Studies focus, or "How we express ourselves", which has an Arts focus. PE is called PSPE (Personal, Social and Physical Education) and could be transdisciplinary, planned and taught with the homeroom teacher, or stand-alone where the PE teacher would create a unit alone.

Concepts - The concepts are often referred to as lenses in the IB programs. We look at the inquiry or lessons through them. Some of them include: change, perspective or reflection. This aspect of the program is epic! I am still a bit confused between these concepts and the concepts in the central ideas. After reading the work of Lynn Erikson, I learned that a central idea or enduring understanding is made up of two concepts in a relationship. It may be a generalisation or a principle. I will not go into this yet, until I fully understand it myself.

Skills - There are five transdisciplinary skills which I believe are going to be called approaches to learning (ATLs) in the upcoming PYP update. They are: social skills, research skills, self-management skills, thinking skills and communication skills. These are then broken down further and should be carefully planned into the curriculum. You may find all of this information in the book, Making the PYP Happen. Just Google it and you will find it easily.

A version of the Inquiry Cycle from my classroom floor

Attitudes - There are 12 attitudes such as empathy, independence and creativity that we try to develop in the students. Another related and hugely important part of all the IB programs is international mindedness. This is summed up in the IB mission statement and in the ten learner profile attributes. Some of these are: caring, thinker and risk-taker.

Action - Finally, what is by far the best part of the program in my opinion, students are expected to take action after they have learned. This can be anything from turning off lights to campaigning for students to stop wasting food. Some awesome examples may be found on a blog called, "Sharing the PYP".

Employee of the Year - Primary School

So to sum up my first year, I believe I have just scratched the surface of the possibilities with the PYP. My background in UbD and inquiry from teaching the Queensland curriculum has really stood to me, but I have a lot to learn. If you want to learn more about the PYP quickly, follow @kjinquiry@whatedsaid and join in on #pypchat on Twitter.  This has been an incredible year of learning for me!