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Revising central ideas: adopting a transdisciplinary perspective

Sara Croucher, the PYP Coordinator at Dwight School Seoul in South Korea

Sara Croucher, the PYP Coordinator at Dwight School Seoul in South Korea

The author of this article shows how a central idea was rewritten to become more transdisciplinary in nature.

Who plans the units of inquiry? Is it homeroom teachers writing central ideas from a homeroom perspective? Is it a PYP coordinator with an overview of the whole programme of inquiry? Is it a collaborative group of teachers from different disciplines? As we reflected on our collaborative planning process, we realized that homeroom teachers, with guidance from the PYP coordinator, were writing the units with their own subject disciplines in mind. So we decided to make a conscious effort to rewrite the central idea from a transdisciplinary perspective.

Our grade 1 unit of inquiry, How we express ourselves, about poetry as a means of creative expression, proved engaging and challenging. Students loved reading and writing poems and benefitted from the integration of Korean spelling patterns and poetry. The librarian supported the students’ inquiries with poetry books. But other than students developing conceptual understanding and knowledge and skills in languages, this unit of inquiry was clearly not transdisciplinary. So we asked ourselves, “What is the concept at the heart of poetry that could be better understood by exploring it through other disciplines?”

As the group of subject specialist teachers reflected on this unit, each shared ideas about how a student’s understanding of poetry might be enhanced or expressed in the different subjects, and we concluded that patterns should be the focus. Our revised central idea states: “We appreciate both the patterns that occur in the natural world and the ones that we create”. Looking through the subject scope and sequence documents, we identified several conceptual understandings and learning outcomes to be developed within this unit of inquiry. We selected some Approaches to Learning skills that would help the students work through their inquiries: observation, analysis, and communication skills. All PYP subjects now support the students in developing and communicating their understanding of the central idea.

Students analyze stories and decide if they follow patterns and then identify and evaluate created patterns in poetry. They write poetry and use rhyme and patterns to spell new words. By reciting poems, students further develop listening and speaking skills. iPads enable the students to apply viewing and presenting skills while communicating what they know and understand in a format including visual images, text, drawings and voice recordings.

Students with advanced reading and writing skills inquire into the use of onomatopoeia and mimetic words in Korean poetry, while beginners explored Korean words with similar and differing patterns to help develop their vocabulary and learn spelling and pronunciation patterns.

Mathematics (Pattern and Function, Shape and Space)
Students investigate number, shape and color patterns to establish how patterns can increase, decrease or repeat. They inquire into the rules for patterns in mathematics to better understand how patterns occur in everyday situations and can repeat and grow.

Science (Living Things)
Students investigate Fibonacci’s Sequence in nature, and they identify other naturally occurring patterns (spiral, packing, meander, branching and explosion). This helps them develop their observational skills and deepen their appreciation for living things and the environment.

Social Studies (Social Organization and Culture)
Students inquire into how patterned cloths represent a group’s cultural identity.

Personal and Social Education (Identity)
Students create cultural cloths to represent individual identity and they compare cloths to notice commonalities within the class.

Physical Education (Games)
Students identify, create and apply various attacking and defending patterns in invasion games to further develop their understanding that using critical thinking and working together can help a group achieve its goal.

Visual Art
Focusing on pattern, variety and emphasis, students respond to the artworks of Henri Matisse, Romero Britto and Gustav Klimt. They investigate patterns found in nature (spiral, packing, meander, branching and explosion) and use these to create artworks of their own.

Students create rhythmic and melodic patterns using voice and percussion instruments. They present to classmates and respond by keeping the beat to demonstrate their understanding that a relationship is developed between the artist and the audience.

The PYP teachers who planned and reflected on this unit of inquiry were pleased with the students’ ability to understand the central idea. Assessments revealed that students spoke about patterns across disciplines; something they found on a nature walk in a park became inspiration for an artwork, a melodic pattern created in music was spontaneously sung in homeroom and had lyrics added in both English and Korean, and a mathematical pattern was used as a plan for a story about how numbers can grow and change. The Approaches to Learning skills we had planned for: observing, analysis, and communication skills, were developed in a truly transdisciplinary context, helping students and teachers alike to recognize their long-term and immediate value. The collaboration worked better in some subjects than it did others. Inquiries in beginner Korean and in Personal and Social Education did not particularly enhance students’ understanding of the central idea; these somewhat thematic links are being re-thought by the teachers. Inquiries in Science, Music, Mathematics and Visual Art were stronger and will be planned for again next year.

Sara has been working in IB school for more than fourteen years. She is a PYP workshop leader and is currently working as the PYP Coordinator at Dwight School Seoul in South Korea.

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