Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Structure of Knowledge

Have you ever wondered why the PYP is structured the way it is?  What is concept-based learning? I did! While constructivism, understanding by design, a transdisciplinary program and inquiry are probably the main components of the PYP, concept-based instruction is what is is all about. During the summer, I read a book called, "Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom", by Lynn Erickson. It has given me a much deeper understanding of how the PYP is set up and what it is trying to do.  

Perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book for me was Chapter 2, The Structure of Knowledge. I am going to summarise it here for my own reference and for anybody who would like to understand how the PYP works in a little more depth. This was not covered in Making the PYP Happen, when I took it online in 2015.

Lynn Erikson (2007)
Theories are defined as explanations of the nature or behaviour of a specified set of phenomena based on the best evidence available (assumptions, accepted principles, procedures). Theories are supported by best evidence rather than absolute facts. Some examples are: The land ridge theory of early human migration, the VESPR theory in chemistry, or the big bang theory of the universe origin.

Principles or Generalisations are also known as enduring understandings, central ideas or essential understandings.  A Generalisation is two or more concepts stated in a relationship that meet these criteria: generally universal application, generally timeless, abstract (to different degrees), supported by different examples (situation). Generalisations must be tested against, and supported by the facts. They may need quantifiers (often, can, may) in the sentence if they are not always true. Some examples are: Organisms adapt to changing environments in order to survive, Individuals or events can create key turning points in history, Numbers can be added together in different ways to reach a common sum,  or The combined use of subtle and bold colors in a rendering can suggest complexity of emotion.

A Principle is also two or more concepts stated in a relationship, but they are considered the foundation "truths" of a discipline. Principles do not use quantifiers (often, may, can) in the sentence. Critical understandings in a discipline (e.g., the axioms of mathematics, or the laws of science). Like the universal generalisations, principles are referred to as "enduring or essential understandings" or as "big ideas" in educational circles. Some examples are: The supply and demand of goods and services affect cost, In the absence of forces, an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object moving at a constant velocity in a straight line will continue doing so indefinitely, Any straight line can be extended indefinitely in a straight line, and All right angles are congruent.

PYP Key Concepts - Lenses (

Concepts are often referred to as lenses, used to look through. The factual/conceptual integration of thinking should be a conscious design goal for curriculum and instruction. Concepts are mental constructs that "umbrella" different topical examples and meet these criteria: timeless, universal, abstract (to different degrees), different examples that share common attributes. Concepts do transfer. A higher level of abstraction than topics because of their generalisability. Concepts come at different levels of generality, abstractness and complexity. Examples are: System, Order, Habitat, Value or Linear function.

Topics organise a set of facts related to specific people, places, situations or things. Topics do not transfer. They are related to specific examples. Examples are: Ecosystems in the Amazon rain forest, The war in Iraq, The Pythagorean theorem or Picasso's paintings.

Facts are specific examples of people, places, situations or things. Facts do not transfer. They are locked in time, place or situation. Examples include: The tropical nature of the Amazon rain forest creating a dense rain forest or 2 + 2 = 4, 3 + 1 = 4.

I hope this helps you get your head around the PYP. The vast majority of the above information was gleaned from the source below.

Erikson H. L., 2007, Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom, Corwin, CA.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Student-led Conferences

Communicating with parents has always been one of the most important aspects of my teaching. I wrote a post about it some time back. This year was my first time to facilitate student-led conferences and, boy, were they an incredible learning experience. 

A student-led conference is basically the student inviting their parents to the class to share in the learning journey. As it was my first time to hold student-led conferences, I contacted my old mentor from my first year of teaching, Helen Teese. She explained the process to me and also how she has been organising the PYP Exhibition with her class for the past six years. 

I took what I learned from Helen and brought it to my class and then asked them how they would like the conferences to go. My students are particularly sharp and immediately decided what they wanted their parents to see. After a short lesson on social skills, the students decided they would meet their parents at the door and bring them through four stations. We decided we could schedule four groups at the same time.

1. The first station was student portfolios. These portfolios contain samples of student work throughout the year. Some of the pieces are selected by students and some by teachers. We decided that we would show our parents some of our recent Mathematics understanding in our portfolios at this station.

2. After this, parents were escorted to two chairs facing the Smartboard and our current inquiry cycle. In the PYP, there are six units of inquiry and we teach using different versions of the inquiry cycle. The students actually walked through the different parts of the inquiry cycle, explaining the research process to their parents. 

Student Explaining the Inquiry Cycle
After this, the student immediately went over to the Smartboard, opened their most recent UOI summative assessment and went through it. For this particular unit, we decided upon a form or presentation. Students were given a choice of a poster, PowerPoint, Scratch animation or anything else that covered the criteria.

Action - Teaching Others what we Learned
3. The next station was the Literacy station. In our class, we like to write books collaboratively and then either print them or make them into digital stories to share online. Have a look at one book we made here. This is an excellent way to teach both the reading and writing components of the Literacy scope and sequence as well as the transdisciplinary skills. I had planned to have a laptop set up so the students would just show the video but, due to technical difficulties, we had to change plans and read the stories. The students also highlighted the scope and sequence outcomes we had been working on while creating the books.

Reading and Displaying Literacy Skills
4. The final station was a reflection station for the parents. They were asked what they liked best about their child's work. Some of the students were over the moon with the positive responses from their parents. Parents were also asked how we could improve the conferences for next year. This feedback was then analysed by the class. The teacher then emailed or had the office staff call the parents to address their ideas. One parent said he would like to come into the class ore often. He was called by the office and welcomed to make an appointment to come in anytime he would like. It is very important to follow up with parent requests if you want to really develop the culture of your school!

Finally, clearly labeled displays like the one below were on the walls for parents to see what the students were learning. 

Previous UOI Display in Waiting Area
This is probably one of the best ways of reporting that I have ever learned!