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Design cycle and unit of inquiry

Sara Croucher

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

A PYP coordinator narrates how grade 2 students used the MYP design cycle and command terms in working on their unit of inquiry task.

Inquiry involves an active engagement with the environment in an effort to make sense of the world, and consequent reflection on the connections between the experiences encountered and the information gathered. Inquiry involves the synthesis, analysis and manipulation of knowledge, whether through play or through more formally structured learning throughout the PYP (Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education (2009)).

As part of our recent inquiry into How we organize ourselves, grade 2 students were investigating the transportation of fragile cargo.

“How can we protect an egg dropped from the balcony?” invited the teachers.

It is a well-known task, we know. Could grade 2 students tackle it? Of course! Motivated by the challenge and armed with their ATLs and their iPads, they got right to work.

SoleneStudents rummaged through the boxes of materials: squeezing styrofoam, shaking cardboard, stretching rubber bands. This investigation of materials was play-based. The lack of teacher-imposed structure allowed the students to listen, and respond, to each other’s spontaneous comments as they analyzed the available materials.

To facilitate the design process, teachers then stepped in and asked each student to design and sketch a prototype. Once planned and explained, the designs were constructed with the available materials. Students launched their prototypes from the balcony. They filmed the tests with iPads and took still photos of the results.

“What happened? Evaluate your prototype. Analyze its design.” prompted the teachers.

Students recorded their video reflections on the iPads. This provided students who are not fluent writers to fully engage in the thinking processes and document thorough, accurate reflections.

Students redesigned and constructed their second prototypes, testing them again to see if their innovations improved performance. The process of reflection was repeated, and students began looking at each other’s designs for what worked and what did not. This unplanned collaboration demonstrated the importance of relationships in a learner’s construction of knowledge.

SamIn the end, we must admit, not all prototypes succeeded in protecting their fragile cargo. Reflecting on this learning experience, the teachers identified areas for improvement. The specific challenge could be more authentic, rooted in a real-world problem relevant to grade 2 students. The investigation of materials at the beginning of the design cycle should be documented so students can refer to the properties and benefits of the materials when redesigning their prototypes. Overall, though, there was consensus that this learning engagement was very successful. Students further developed higher-order thinking skills. They used technology successfully to facilitate and improve their reflections. Creativity and innovation were applied celebrated. The process, more than the product, was valued and assessed.

Using the design cycle and some of the MYP Command Terms encouraged higher-order thinking. Requiring individual prototypes and reflections allowed each student to fully engage, and this approach provided teachers with valuable observations of the ATLs in action.

Now we have another question to ponder: Is there a place for the MYP command terms in the PYP?

Sara has been working in IB schools 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. Fabrice Saenger and Kathryn Harjula are PYP Grade 2 teachers at Dwight School Seoul.

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2 Responses to Design cycle and unit of inquiry

  1. Maru 3 September 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    This is so exciting…!
    We have used the MYP DC with G5 and G6 teachers in the past for UOIs on pulleys and forces and robotics 🙂

    Will get that UOI out of the ‘drawer’ and plan a re-do 🙂

    Thanks for sharing all these great ideas.. 🙂

  2. Kimberly 19 September 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    This is great! As we are in the consideration phase at our school, this is an excellent way to ensure continuity between the programs, as well as with the new NGSS standards that we are using for science. So as we develop our units we can incorporate elements of the MYP, such as the design cycle into our POI!

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