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Leveraging Concept-based Learning in the Continuum (part 2)

By Adrian von Wrede-Jervis

In this follow-up to my first post, I’m ‘thinking out loud’ about key concepts and global contexts in the Middle Years Programme (MYP). As before, I’d like to share strategies for continuing to explore interdisciplinary understanding between these two essential components of the MYP curriculum framework.

Can global contexts inform key concepts?

“[MYP] Key concepts are broad, organizing, powerful ideas that have relevance within and across subjects and disciplines, providing connections that can transfer across time and culture.” In other words, key concepts help to establish connection across the eight MYP subject groups.

There are 16 key concepts, 10 of which are unique to a single subject group (see pink rows in the visual below),  and 6 are shared by more than one subject group (but never all of eight):

Click image to enlarge

I am wondering if key concepts can do their job of connecting concepts as well as possible when they aren’t held in common. If there were to be a ‘universal’ list, what concepts would be on it?

As discussed in my first blog post, concepts fare best when they are used to address questions, and global contexts are a great source of questions. For example:

Identities and relationships: Can we identify the beliefs and values that describe what it means to be human? What rights and responsibilities do we have towards our own, and other, communities and cultures?

Orientation in space and time: What were the significant turning points in human history and what impact did they have? How are we connected to local and global influences and what effect does this have on our perspectives?

Personal and cultural expression: Can we express our ideas, feelings, beliefs and values through creative expression? Does human expression help us reflect on our understanding of ourselves and others?

Scientific and technical innovation: How have humans used their understanding of scientific principles to adapt their environments to their needs? What impact has human advancement had on communities and environments?

Globalization and sustainability: What are the opportunities and tensions provided by world-interconnectedness? How do decisions in one part of a system impact on humankind and the environment?

Fairness and development: What rights and responsibilities guide the relationships between communities? Do all communities share equal opportunities and power over finite resources?

Perhaps these explorations of global contexts could help us identify a single list of interdisciplinary key concepts that could be shared across all subjects—in the MYP, and perhaps beyond:

Identity – we know who we are and why we believe what we believe

Perspective – we recognise that there exist many alternative beliefs

Interactions – we understand the events, people and cultures that shape us

Development – we see how we try to better ourselves and the impact it has

Systems – we acknowledge the utility and effects of organised civilisation

Responsibility – we consider how we respond to inequality

Big ideas like these could help students grow in their understanding of the human condition (perhaps the most important thing we can teach them) and promote international mindedness?

A unified system might allow also help schools to understand and report on students’ conceptual development over time.

To support the connection of concepts across the disciplines, we could:

  • develop MYP statements of inquiry using one of these interdisciplinary concepts
  • tie reflections on the impact of the unit to considerations of consistent, shared interdisciplinary questions based on the global context
  • help students use a journal to document evidence and personal reflection on their understanding of these 6 key concepts is changing as they mature.

At our school, we are exploring how to build a culture of reflective writing/blogging, facilitated in mentor time. It’s early days, and we are starting with development of staff understanding for conceptual-based learning. Watch this space!


Adrian von Wrede-Jervis is a Director of Continuum Learning in the Senior Leadership Team at Haimhausen Campus in Bavarian International School e.V., Germany

He is happy to be contacted via email (a.vwjervis@bis-school.com) or on LinkedIn.

  • Cliff Packman

    Hi Adrian,

    Hope all is well in Bavaria.

    I think this is great. I have never seen a taxonomy of the IB published key concepts and related concepts across subjects but always thought this is the most obvious starting point in terms of IDU planning. Though am stilling struggle to understand your table.

    I see the merit of sticking to the IBO key and related concepts in order to create a common language to help students moving between subjects and help them understanding the same things from the different lens of the different academic disciplines.

    Certain subjects are necessarily going to share more aspects key, as they share so much. (For example Mathematics and the Sciences), though I feel more for promoting the link between the Art and Mathematics.

    Kind regards,
    Cliff

  • Adrian vWJ

    Dear Cliff

    Many thanks for your thoughtful contribution. It’s nice to connect again via the Blog.

    I will try to respond as carefully as I can to respond the points you raise. In each case I hope I’ve understood you correctly.

    You say: I have never seen a taxonomy of the IB published key concepts and related concepts across subjects

    My reply: to my knowledge there is no official IB taxonomy. Personally I think that reviewing them to try to understand if one might be possible is very beneficial work. From a Continuum perspective, it would be helpful to show coherence and development across all 3 Programmes. There are I believe (from a purely personal point of view) some internal inconsistencies within the concepts. Take Maths for example – Logic isn’t for me a key concept; I see that it is an important concept in Maths but because it is not in most other subjects it matches the definition rather of a related concept. Personally here I would have inserted Reasoning as this is more universally applicable and is closer in definition to a key concept. On the other hand Patterns is much more a universal idea so possibly this could have been a key concept rather than simply being placed as related one. The only strong point I would make is not that there is a right set of concepts and an ideal taxonomy but it would be helpful, if they were more consistent and coherent. It strikes me there are 2 options the IB might follow to help things here 1) rethink what concepts they have chosen for the prescribed lists 2) give schools complete freedom over the lists. Assessment demands might be a factor here.

    You say: but always thought this is the most obvious starting point in terms of IDU planning.

    My reply: firstly I think it is a mistake to only wait for an IDU to join up thinking. Secondly, I believe, it is not the words alone that join up thinking it is their connection to what questions we might explore with them. The words need to part of a wider dialogue.

    You say: Though am stilling struggle to understand your table.

    My reply: it is just a list of the official MYP 16 key concepts and in which subjects they are formally identified in. Note: there was never anything saying you couldn’t link to more key concepts than you were given but in practice teachers stick close to the guide.

    You say: I see the merit of sticking to the IBO key and related concepts in order to create a common language to help students moving between subjects and help them understanding the same things from the different lens of the different academic disciplines.

    My reply: I tried to stick to key concepts given by MYP but I needed to add Responsibility in (a PYP key concept in for the last global context) and promote some related concepts to key concepts. But your point is correct a common language was what I felt was missing in the current arrangement.

    You say: Certain subjects are necessarily going to share more aspects key, as they share so much. (For example Mathematics and the Sciences), though I feel more for promoting the link between the Art and Mathematics.

    My reply: all subjects are in the business of creating knowledge that establishes meaning. I believe all try to explain the world and ourselves. I think key concepts should be those where all subjects can contribute a perspective on such things. I tried to find a list of concepts that does this. So I hope Art and Maths can make connections on each of these concepts. If a better list exists then I want that instead!

    For clarification the above comments are strictly my own and are thoughts that I share that might improve the system. For the record I love the MYP above so many other curricula Programmes because at least it engages with concept based learning at a fundamental level. I think understanding things at a conceptual level (beyond content and subject specific understanding) is essential for students to be future ready.