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Behind the scenes – Learning experiences for parents

Yvonne Fojtasek

Yvonne Fojtasek, IB Coordinator, Alvin Dunn Elementary, USA

This article describes opportunities for parents of the PYP students to gain first-hand knowledge about units of inquiry.

“This has been life-changing!” one of the parents commented near the conclusion of Alvin Dunn Elementary’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Behind the Scenes Learning Experience and Tours. As an IB coordinator, I think I would have been happy with a simple, “Thank you, I had a wonderful time learning today,” but this particular comment was truly inspiring and made me feel extremely grateful that our parents have the opportunity to experience first-hand what it means to be life-long learners who can make a difference in the world around them.

Alvin Dunn’s IB Behind the Scenes Learning Experiences and Tours occur throughout the year so that parents can participate in mini units of study for each of the transdisciplinary themes. The central ideas and lines of inquiry are created with the parents in mind so that they have the opportunity to wrap their heads around the essential elements of the IB curriculum in a practical way in order to help the parents relate to what their own children are doing in the classrooms and to have meaningful discussions with them about their learning.

Parents recently investigated the mini-unit How we express ourselves. They read articles, watched videos and had collaborative conversations based on the central idea: Family members can express and extend their creativity in a variety of ways. The following questions helped drive the parents throughout their investigation:

  • How is my child using his/her talents and passions at home, in school and in the community?
  • What is my child’s point of view about his/her talents and passions?
  • What am I doing as a parent to help foster my child’s creativity?

While investigating the central idea, parents discussed the skills and attitudes they would need to utilize in order to be successful learners. They also discussed what it would look and sound like for them if they were using good communication skills, in particular, demonstrating what it would mean to be an active listener; then they provided each other with positive feedback when those skills were being observed throughout our time together.

Parents also took ownership for their own learning by choosing an attitude for the day, targeting one of  the following three:

  • appreciation: being thankful for the wonder and beauty of the world and its people
  • creativity: using the imagination when exploring different ideas or solving problems
  • enthusiasm: enjoying learning and willingly putting the effort into the process

As a result of their investigation, parents developed their own action plan that they would implement at home in order to foster their own children’s creativity. Parents also articulated how they would personally model the learner profile attributes of being a risk-taker and being reflective, and would then encourage their children to implement these attributes as they explored their own creativity by reflecting on their interests and passions.

We conclude our morning with a tour of the various classrooms so that parents can see their own children participating in the units of inquiry, allowing parents to make further connections between what they just learned and what their children are learning. It also enables parents to feel confident about asking questions such as, “So, which line of inquiry did you investigate today? Let me share what I investigated!”

A few short days after our Behind the Scenes Tour, I received a note from one of the parents giving me an update on how his action plan was going with his family and the changes that were already occurring at home.

It is so true… successful inquiry leads to responsible action and not just for our staff and students, but our parents as well!

Yvonne Fojtasek has served as the IB Coordinator at Alvin Dunn Elementary in San Marcos, California for the past four years. Alvin Dunn was authorized in May of 2015, so the students, staff and parents are thrilled to be part of the IB World community! Prior to working at Alvin Dunn, Yvonne served as a Teacher on Special Assignment, coordinating a grant project as well as facilitating with the process of bringing the IB programme to the school. Most of Yvonne’s 24 years in education have been spent teaching in the classroom, so one of her biggest joys is seeing some of her former students in their roles as parents in the Alvin Dunn community! You can follow Yvonne on Twitter @yfojtasek.

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6 Responses to Behind the scenes – Learning experiences for parents

  1. Tania Mansfield 12 September 2016 at 9:40 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. I am currently planning a workshop for teachers new to inquiry and to the PYP and really like the way you have framed this…thank you

  2. Christine Lederer 15 September 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Great article, which I have shared with the chair of School Council! We are doing PYP Highlights at each of our monthly parent meetings as well as small, follow up pieces in our school newsletter.

  3. Kelly Stuen 16 September 2016 at 8:49 am #

    I really enjoyed reading how you connected parents through an authentic IB lesson of their own. I believe it is not until you sit through a lesson, do you really begin to understand the in-depth connections of learning that are made and the benefits of inquiry is for our learners. The parents were introduced not only to a lesson of inquiry, but also how the Learner profile and Attitudes apply to real life and who the learner is as a person. What a great way to be able to reinforce what a day is like for our IB Learners, and then our learners are able to go home and discuss with their family what took place at school using the same vocabulary that was used in the classroom. Great home-school connections, and thought provoking discussions that can now take place at home.

  4. SARATH 11 October 2016 at 9:32 am #

    It was really good to know about the happenings related to PYP.

  5. SARATH 11 October 2016 at 9:35 am #

    I would like to know the place where the workshop is going to happen.

  6. Leethel Farmer 16 October 2016 at 10:19 pm #

    This is such a comprehensive programe with lots of moving parts, thank you for reminding me how important it is to continue to dialogue with the parents of our students and bring them along in this process. This is a wonderful way to use the inquiry process to motivate and encourage their understanding of the process that their students live daily.

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