Category Archives: PYP Essential Elements

Trans-disciplinary Skills Development

The International Baccalaurate defines the five essential elements of the Primary Years Programme as:

  • knowledge
  • skills
  • concepts
  • attitudes
  • action

Every unit of inquiry addresses those elements, as well as the Learner Profile attributes. When it comes to those, attitudes and skills, meaningful links can be made.

But this post is focusing on transdisciplinary skills development and what this could look like.

In Grade 3 we are focusing on Research and Thinking Skills. The skill I want to write about is the skills to formulate questions, which is essential for so many things, but in this case for research and inquiry.

This is how we are asking and formulating questions:

  • Wallwisher – the students can post questions at all times on the computer OR on the real-life WonderWall (they have been advising each other on how to make the questions “better”)
  • Thinking Aloud Reading Strategies – During shared reading, we stop and share our wondering
  • Stop and Think Reading Strategies (those also address the development of thinking skills esp. comprehension) – Again a strategy where we can formulate questions to help with understanding
  • The Big 6 information and technology skill development approach helped us to formulate our task and to focus on questions we should know answers to as experts in a particular field

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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Learner Profile, PYP, PYP Essential Elements, Skills

Key concepts in the PYP

As posted at Stars And Clouds:

The PYP has five essential elements (knowledge, attitudes, skills, concepts and action) and the one I want to look at closer today are the concepts.

In A Basis for Practice, the IB states:

The PYP provides a framework for the curriculum, including eight key concepts as one of the essential
By identifying concepts that have relevance within each subject area, and across and beyond the subject
areas, the PYP has defined an essential element for supporting its transdisciplinary model of teaching and
learning. Expressed as open-ended questions, the eight key concepts provide the initial momentum and
the underlying structure for the exploration of the content of the whole programme

A recent blog post by Maggie @ Tech Transformation about Teaching for Understanding inspired me to reply, and while I was replying, I made an interesting connection between assessment and key concepts.
In addition to that, I have been reading Seven Practices for Effective Learning by Jay McTighe and Ken O’Connor in preparation for our assessment workshop on November 1/2. All this had my mind tuned into assessment and my current assessment practices.
The statement I made at Maggie’s blog was simply the thought that, ultimately, summative assessment is also a form of formative assessment and that, while it is defined as assessment OF learning (and formative assessment is seen as assessment FOR learning) and usually summarizes the learning at the end of a unit, we cannot just STOP there. And we don’t. Traditionally in Math, even your summative assessment will inform your teaching and learning, same goes for other disciplines.

However, units of inquiry do end. The transdisciplinary themes reoccur every year, but the central idea that focuses the learning during a unit, will “stop”. This is when I realized the importance of the eight key concepts, and saw that they are REALLY the focus. We assess the understanding of the central idea, but what underlies here are the key concepts. And so we assess the understanding of those as well, and they will reoccur, usually more than once a year.


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Filed under Concepts, PYP Essential Elements


Grade 3 at ISM responded to change today.
As I outlined in my previous post, the class moved from their classroom to the Design & Technology room today (also called the packed lunch room, which, in all honesty, might not have been a smart idea… the smell of food after lunch is a bit yucky!).

In the morning the learners (I don’t like the work students and I don’t think of the kids as “students” in the traditional sense either, so I am trying to use the term learners instead) were greeted by a message on their classroom door saying “Grade Three are in the DT room today”. That message caused confusion, because the room is not well known by its official name, and is usually referred to as the lunch room. However, I did stay in front of the room down the corridor, so I was able to direct those confused minds.

The questions came in right away. Why are we here? What are we doing here? Are we having lunch here? and so on… It was really hard not to say anything. I want to the students to have the experience before I make it explicit.
The chatting was hard to control in the morning, so I used the opportunity to continue talking… but about why we think we are here. There were some interesting thoughts, but I didn’t give a reason in the end. We are just in there.

I didn’t move anything much from the classroom, only pencils, their new reflective journals, and some books. To change their shoes, learners walked back to class. They did this 4 times today. To get materials for Math, they walked back to the classroom. This is in line with what I expected.

The learnerss responded in different ways…. there was confusion and more talk than usual, there was playing around with stuff from the DT room that they had never seen/used before. There was a lot of walking back and forth. Some frustration.

I am curious to see what will happen. It was business as usual though, we continued our normal class life.
At home, the students will tell their parents about today, and then complete some reflection…. I will do the same here.

1) What was different today. How and why?

I think I have already covered that up there!

2) One thing you found challenging in the DT room: I thought it was hard to find good ways to work in a room that is meant for something completely different. I missed my setup in class.

3) One thing you enjoyed in the DT room: I loved the way the students were so intrigued. I think this is a good provocation, so lets hope it will continue to develop…. as we continue to respond and start to adapt.


Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, How the world works, Learner Profile, PYP

Good provocations

Grade 3 at ISM have started their new unit of inquiry, The Changing Planet, on Saturday (we had an Open Day with regular schedule). The central idea is: Humans respond and adapt to the continual changing nature of the Earth, and this is an inquiry into How The World Works.

The big idea we identified is change, and a concept that relate to this well is adaptation.

As a provocation we tried to choose something that was close to the students, something that they could connect with. For my grade, this will be an experience that will require them to respond and hopefully adapt as the week progresses.
Grade 3 will be moving today! It’s a huge change, because we are moving from our well-set up classroom to the D&T room, with different setups and tables…

I am excited to see what will happen, what we will think, how we will respond. The students are going to keep a reflective log on it, and I might do the same on here.

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Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, How the world works, PYP, Unit of Inquiry

Inquiry and Assessment in Maths

Well, it has been very quiet from Southbank for a wee while.  Working in a fantastic school with outstanding colleagues is making me raise my game – which I love, but has come at the expense of some of the other things I love to do.  But here I am…

My partner and I, over the last 6 weeks, have worked very hard to provide the children lots of opportunities to inquire into place value.  Inquiry in maths is an area that is new to me, and if I am honest, I have struggled.  Structuring learning experiences in such as way as to facilitate the children asking their own questions and then inquiring into them is something new and difficult for me.

The steps I have taken on my learning journey have been to provide investigations.  I have given the children a variety of open-ended tasks requiring them to look at the numbers, patterns and changes to these number patterns, and then draw conclusions about what has happened. For example, the children took calculators, place value block, place value boards and their own “tickers” (similar to an odometre made of paper and card), and multiplied a number by 10, 100 and 1000 to see what happened.    As an aside, using the key concept “thinking keys”, particularly form, change and reflection, have been very useful with this unit.  (For more information on the thinking keys check out  Once the children, individually and in small groups, had come up with idea on what they thought had happened, they worked closely in collaborative groups to make a consensus page.  Here they recorded their own thinking and then had to present their findings to their group, possibly even persuading others, and then as a group they had to decided what they would like to present to the class, then finally model and “teach” their theory to the whole class.  This is only one example of the investigations the children have carried out.  Though I am sure this is far from perfect, I have loved watching the children develop their skills, knowledge and conceptual understanding in place value.

So now, the children are working towards their final assessment.  My partner and I agonized over this – we didn’t want a random, meaningless test, but with so much else going on we needed it to be efficient, both in time and content.  What we finally decided was the the children, working in groups of 3, will put together a presentation for the rest of the grade 3 children.  We will film it – which makes their e-portfolio sample easy – and the children in the audience will provide feedback and feed-forward on the mathematical contents of the presentation.

This has been a steep learning curve for me, I can tell you.  What are you doing in maths? How do you think we, as teachers, can facilitate more inquiry in our maths time?


Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, Mathematics

Perspectives in Grade 3 (ISM)

One of the key concepts we are exploring during this unit of inquiry (Rights and Responsibilities) is perspectives. To support understanding of the concept, I have used some very thought-provoking books:

  • I am the dog, I am the cat by Donald Hall (that is on the agenda for tomorrow)
  • Voices in the park by Anthony Browne
  • Luke’s Way of Looking by Nadia Wheatley and Matt Ottley

They have helped the students to connect to the idea of perspective, point of view and how they can differ.
The students had a close look at the exhibited School Bill of Rights, which is illustrated in the hall way of the school, and they chose the one they considered to be most important. We linked this back to the idea of points of view.

Further we managed to connect this to our current writing focus to persuade. The students have to persuade others of their opinion, their point of view, yet also appreciate the fact that there are different perspectives.


Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, Language, Learner Profile, PYP, Unit of Inquiry, Who we are

Where is the inquiry?

Today during a collaborative planning meeting involving the PYP coordinator and my teaching partner, I was painfully aware of the lack of inquiry in our unit.
A  lot of what we have been doing has been incredibly teacher-guided and I don’t see a change happening.
The unit itself could be classified as a “tough one”, maybe. The central idea Rights and responsibilities are important aspects of community life could be examined for relevance to 7 year-olds. The concepts of rights, interdependence and community (related concepts), and perspective, responsibility and causation (key) are however accessible.

What am I trying to say? I am stuck. I want student-initiated inquires, student questions. I want obvious engagement, motivation, and action. But it seems that little so far has happened.

Any ideas?


Filed under Action, Concepts, Grade 3, PYP, Unit of Inquiry, Who we are