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Leveraging concept-based learning in the IB 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 ( or on LinkedIn.