Friday, April 28, 2017

Balancing the POI by Key Concepts

The curriculum of the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Program (PYP) is a concept-driven curriculum. This means that our main goal is getting students to understand significant ideas, as opposed to being focused on memorizing isolated facts and mastering skills out of context (p. 15 of Making the PYP Happen). In a PYP school, we focus on helping students collaboratively construct an understanding of eight key concepts: form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility and reflection.


p. 18-20 of Making the PYP Happen
Our concept-driven curriculum is organized into six transdisciplinary units of inquiry and it is within these meaningful contexts that students construct an understanding of the eight key concepts. Generally two-to-three key concepts are explored during each unit of inquiry. These key concepts help shape each unit, giving the unit direction and purpose.

It is imperative that the school periodically look at the horizontal and vertical balance of their key concepts. The IB publication Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry states that "all eight key concepts must be represented on the program of inquiry at each grade/year level" (horizontal balance) and that "there should be a balance of PYP key concepts used throughout each transdisciplinary theme," (vertical balance).


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The document goes on to explain that vertical balance, "does not mean that each key concept must be represented under each transdisciplinary theme but rather that schools are mindful of repetition or under-representation of concepts in order to ensure that there are appropriate opportunities for students to revisit and develop their understanding of all concepts,” (pages 5 & 6).
During our last evaluation in 2012, our school learned that our curriculum was too knowledge-based and that we needed to revise our planners to make them more concept-driven. Over the last five years, our teachers have worked hard to revise our units, focusing our curriculum on understanding meaningful ideas (THE CONCEPTS). As coordinator, I wanted teachers to authentically identify the key concepts that would best fit with their units and not to pay attention to horizontally or vertically balancing the key concepts as we revised the units.

That meant that our POI may not be horizontally or vertically balanced by key concept and that the work to bring it into balance may be tricky and messy. Change the concepts to horizontally balance a grade level, and the vertical balance might be off. Change a concept to bring about vertical balance and a grade-level might then get thrown out of wack.

During our last professional development day, our entire staff took on the challenge of balancing our POI by key concepts by gamifying the task. What ended up happening was wonderful!

First, we had to set up the game board. 

Step #1: We created a Key Concept POI; copying the key concepts that were in each of our planners onto the corresponding box on the grid.

Step #2: Teachers identified the key concepts that COULD NOT be changed by typing them in ALL CAPS. If we were going to balance the POI by key concept, most likely something was going to change, but we wanted teachers to let us know the ones that absolutely COULD NOT be changed. In essence, they were "locking them in". During this step, some grade levels made changes to their key concepts when they noticed they were not horizontally balanced. 


Step #3: Next, we wanted teams to identify the key concepts that COULD go into each of their units. Again, as we were balancing the POI by key concepts, it might be possible that a key concept needed to be added somewhere. However, we wanted those additions to be authentic, so teachers needed to tell us which key concepts could possibly go in their units. They recorded those possibilities in light gray on the Key Concept POI. During this step, some teams continued to make changes to their key concepts to bring balance to their grade level key concepts. 


LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

With the game board set, we then switched into five vertical teams and the rules of the game were shared:
  • Goal: balance the POI vertically and horizontally by key concept with as few moves as possible.
  • Parameters:
    • Horizontal balance means, "all eight key concepts must be represented (page 5 of Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry.
    • Vertical balance means, "there should be a balance of PYP key concepts used throughout each transdisciplinary theme, but that does not mean that each key concept must be represented under each transdisciplinary theme," (page 6 of  Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry.)
    • No concept in CAPS can be moved. It has been "locked in".
    • Only concepts in gray can be added. 
The team that would suggest the lease amount of moves while still creating a balanced POI would win a tub full of homemade cookies. Click here for the Bestever Cookie recipe.


Teams had 20 minutes to work. They were engaged and focused, working to see how they could vertically and horizontally balance their POI by key concepts.

At the end of 20 minutes, all five teams submitted their suggestions for changes to the key concepts. Teams suggested anywhere from 1 to 10 changes. The judges looked over the plan made by the team that had suggested one change and declared them the winner! They then had to explain their thinking to the group:

"First, we looked horizontally to make sure that every grade level had all eight key concepts. We found that all grade levels had all eight key concepts represented.

Then, we looked vertically to see if all eight key concepts were addressed under each transdisciplinary theme. We discovered:

  • Who we are: no connection 
  • How we express ourselves: no change or causation 
  • How the world works: no responsibility 
  • How we organize ourselves: no form, causation or reflection 

Next, we tabulated how many times each of the key concepts showed up across the whole POI:

  • Form - 13 
  • Function - 12 
  • Causation - 10 
  • Connection 14 
  • Change - 13 
  • Perspective - 12 
  • Reflection - 7 
  • Responsibility - 12 
Although some transdisciplinary themes didn't have some key concepts (as mentioned above), throughout the entire POI, all eight key concepts seem to be represented in a balanced way; all except reflection.

So, we made the suggestion to add reflection to the Kindergarten unit How we organize ourselves."
Throughout this entire process, teachers were engaged in digging into their units and thinking in an honest and meaningful way about how the key concepts are taught and learned in each of their units of inquiry. As they worked vertically, they were engaged in suggesting authentic changes that would help bring about a more balanced Program of Inquiry, "to ensure that there are appropriate opportunities for students to revisit and develop their understanding of all concepts."

Moving forward, we will look for opportunities to incorporate more reflection into our units of inquiry, which still is under-represented in our POI. Also, any time a key concept needs to change in the future, we will look to see how the horizontal and vertical balance will be affected by such a change.

Balancing our POI in this way proved to be engaging, meaningful and even fun! How have your schools balanced your POI by key concepts?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing such an informative post. It adds clarity to an area that I think my school could benefit from. I don't think PYP teachers pay enough attention to the PYP concepts. Your post has helped me focus more on this area of the UOI.

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