Developing conceptual understanding of a system

Sandeep Kaur, Form 1 Grade Coordinator, Pathways School, India

In this article you will read how grade 1 students developed conceptual understanding of a ‘system’, under the transdisciplinary theme ‘How we organize ourselves’.

The school year began with our curious first graders inquiring into the transdisciplinary theme How we organize ourselves through the central idea Communities make an effort to create systems. Initially it sounded a bit difficult to help 6 year olds know more about organization, but as the weeks passed, things became easier and more interesting. Long collaborative sessions with our grade level team (Early Years Coordinator and the PYP Coordinator) helped us to form a smooth trajectory for our learners. We realized that it is more important to develop an understanding of a “system” as it is the basis of some complex ideas. Therefore, we became inquirers before facing our young learners. We brainstormed on conceptual understanding of the system (key concepts: form, function and perspective) to ensure that we pitch this unit at the right level. We felt the need to relate it to their day to day life so that children could make connections to it. We began our ground work by answering some questions which would help us and the learners understand the meaning and relevance of a system better. We thought about:

  • What does a system look like?
  • How does it work?
  • Why do we need it?
  • Does it help people?
  • How one thinks about creating a system?
  • Who does it impact?

We also thought of engagements where students would understand the working of systems in their class and school, before looking for systems outside, as it would involve daily experience and help them understand the need to have a system. Our focus was to develop skills and conceptual understanding and this unit enabled us to work in this direction.

Topsy-turvy classroom

As a unit provocation, we left the class topsy-turvy with all the materials and files spread all over the place so that we started our day with ‘mess’. Students were shocked to see such disorder! They were asked to look for their stationary and jotters, and struggled to complete this task. They realized that a lot of time was wasted due to disorder and also that valuable resources are wasted in these situations. Students shared that working in an organized class makes things easier and faster.

Next, we brought our learners’ attention to the routines that we share (arranging their bags, self-registration and circle time) and brainstormed why it is essential to do things in a specific order. Students were assigned the task of managing the heap of stationary in class, which happens at the start of the school year. They came up with brilliant ideas and created a place for everything. This became our motto for the year “Everything has a place. Let’s put it where it belongs.”

Additional experiences in specialists’ classes led to strengthening our students’ understanding on the organization of things. Weekly visits to the library enabled the students to experience how teachers organize the books in the library. They read ‘what librarians do’ on PebbleGo which helped them to create a system for their class library. They also brainstormed and took ownership of cataloging books according to authors, fiction, nonfiction books, picture books, etc. Our young learners had evolved into thinkers who had started to make connections with different systems around the school. They created systems for themselves for finishing homework and organizing their clothes at home.

Arranging bags corner | Giving feedback for the best organized corner | Arranging books in the book rack

While inquiring about systems, we were informed about a change in the bus system by our school director. This announcement gave our students a chance to engage with a real life scenario where an old system was being changed. Our students realized that construction in the area was due to lack of parking space, and because the parking lot became messy when it rained. This experience led to discussion on how the change in bus system impacted us. First graders realized that they would have a different parking lot and different teachers would be escorting them to the bus, developing an understanding of “how systems change with changing needs” – our second line of inquiry. They were not satisfied with their assumptions and decided to interview someone who was involved in decision making. They met the school director and asked her about the reason behind changing the system and who she spoke to before making this decision. This interaction helped our young inquirers make connections with the unit (we were also looking at systems involved in different transports).

We culminated our unit by asking them a simple question: “Now that you learned how to organize your classroom and why is it important to do things systematically, how can you help others?” Students were excited to share that they would like to help teachers, their family and friends in being organized. This thought led us to have a conference with kindergarten teachers about organization. First graders creatively learned to problem solve and volunteered to work in pairs with kindergarteners to ‘train them to organize themselves’. They role modeled the steps of tidying up the class and helped them to organize the different areas. Our knowledgeable students communicated differently with each colleague. This experience worked as a great summative as it gave us a clarity on our students’ understanding of How we organize ourselves and how communities make an effort to create systems.

Sandeep Kaur is the Form 1 Grade Coordinator at Pathways School, India. She is a keen learner and inquirer who is always excited to learn new things, and then apply them in day-to-day situation. Sandeep tends to focus on the larger picture and believes in doing her bit as a global citizen by inspiring her students and building better individuals out of them. You can follow her on Twitter at @anunarang76.

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One Response to Developing conceptual understanding of a system

  1. Kalpana 11 May 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    This was a fascinating read Sandeep and I remember being impressed with your systematic approach to the Unit while you were in the tick of it. This translated into the students learning not only a Unit of Inquiry but a valuable life lesson.

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