Concepts

Why include concepts as an essential element?

Central to the philosophy of the PYP is the principle that purposeful, structured inquiry is a powerful vehicle for learning that promotes meaning and understanding, and challenges students to engage with significant ideas. Hence in the PYP there is also a commitment to a concept-driven curriculum as a means of supporting that inquiry.

The decision to structure the PYP curriculum around important concepts is driven by the following beliefs.

  • Education for the understanding of significant ideas has often been sacrificed for the memorization of isolated facts and the mastery of skills out of context. The expansion of the curriculum and the pressure to cover the syllabus have resulted in many students leaving school with superficial levels of understanding.
  • By starting with the students’ prior knowledge, and by confronting and developing their earlier conceptions and constructs, teachers can begin to promote real understanding.
  • The exploration and re-exploration of concepts lead students towards an appreciation of ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries, as well as towards a sense of the essence of each subject area. Students gradually work towards a deepening of their conceptual understanding as they approach those concepts from a range of perspectives.
  • Transdisciplinary units, where concepts are used to support and structure the inquiries, provide a context in which students can understand and, at the same time, acquire essential knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  • A concept-driven curriculum helps the learner to construct meaning through improved critical thinking and the transfer of knowledge.
  • Transdisciplinary concepts increase coherence across the curriculum.

By identifying concepts that have relevance within each subject area, and across and beyond all subject areas, the PYP has defined an essential element for supporting its transdisciplinary model of teaching and learning. These concepts provide a structure for the exploration of significant and authentic content. In the course of this exploration, students deepen their understanding of the concepts.

Is it possible to identify a set of concepts around which to structure a curriculum?

The early developers of the programme analysed curriculum models used in different national systems and in international schools. This analysis focused, firstly, on whether there was a consensus on a set of concepts in which each has universal significance, and secondly, on the role given to concepts in the various curriculum models. The developers concluded that there are clusters of important ideas that can be grouped usefully under a set of overarching or key concepts, each of which has major significance, regardless of time or place, within and across disciplines.

Consequently, the PYP provides a framework for the curriculum, including key concepts as one of the essential elements. It is accepted that these are not, in any sense, the only concepts worth exploring. Taken together, they form a powerful curriculum component that drives the teacher- and/or student-constructed inquiries that lie at the heart of the PYP curriculum.

The key concepts, also expressed as key questions, help teachers and students to consider ways of thinking and learning about the world, and act as a provocation to extend and deepen student inquiries.

Which concepts were chosen and why?

A set of eight concepts was drawn up, each of which, it is felt, is of major importance in the design of a transdisciplinary curriculum. These concepts are:

  • form
  • function
  • causation
  • change
  • connection
  • perspective
  • responsibility
  • reflection

Each of these key concepts is presented in below together with:

A key concept question

The key question that arises from this concept, presented in the form most useful for supporting inquiry.

Each key question is presented here in its most basic, generic form, for example, “What is it like?” When working on a unit of inquiry focused on a central idea linked to a particular subject area strand, the question may be more specific, for example, “What is this place like?”

A definition

A generic explanation, provided so that everyone using the curriculum is working with a common understanding of terms.

A rationale

The reasons for the selection of the concept as an important structural component for working with students in an international programme of education.

Examples of related concepts

Some examples of concepts derived from the subject areas that relate to the key concept, provided as a springboard for the generation of further lines of inquiry.

The related concepts deepen an understanding of the subject areas while providing further opportunities to make connections throughout the learning, from one subject to another, and between disciplinary and transdisciplinary learning.

In what sense do these concepts drive the curriculum?

The concepts that are central to the curriculum are presented in the form of key questions. It is these questions, used flexibly by teachers and students when planning an inquiry-based unit, that shape that unit, giving it direction and purpose. It is in this sense that the key questions, and the concepts to which they relate, are said to drive the PYP curriculum.

Since inquiry is a vehicle for learning in the PYP, the natural way to present the key concepts is in the form of broad, open-ended questions.

Presented in this way, the concepts liberate the thinking of teachers and students, suggesting a range of further questions, each one leading to productive lines of inquiry.

When viewed as a set of questions, the concepts form a research tool that is both manageable and open-ended. The concepts are not only key in the sense of important; they also provide a key—a way into a body of knowledge through structured and sustained inquiry. They place no limits on breadth of knowledge or on depths of understanding, and therefore provide access to every student, regardless of particular aptitudes.

These questions should not be interpreted in any restrictive sense as the only questions, to be used in strict order, or to be given equal weight in every inquiry. Rather, they represent an approach, a springboard, an introduction to a way of thinking about teaching and learning. The most relevant key concepts should be identified and documented in every unit of inquiry.

In summary, the PYP concepts underpin student inquiries throughout the planned and unplanned curriculum. It is also recognized that these concepts have different interpretations and applications as students develop and deepen their understanding, in the context of transdisciplinary units, and across each subject area. The concepts, with their generic perceptions, together with the subject-specific perceptions, can be found in the annex at the end of this document.

PYP key concepts and related questions

Form

Key question

What is it like?

Definition

The understanding that everything has a form with recognizable features that can be observed, identified, described and categorized.

Rationale

This concept was selected because the ability to observe, identify, describe and categorize is fundamental to human learning within and across all disciplines.

Examples of related concepts

Properties, structure, similarities, differences, pattern.

Function

Key question

How does it work?

Definition

The understanding that everything has a purpose, a role or a way of behaving that can be investigated.

Rationale

This concept was selected because the ability to analyse function, role, behaviour and the ways in which things work is fundamental to learning within and across all disciplines.

Examples of related concepts

Behaviour, communication, pattern, role, systems.

Causation

Key question

Why is it like it is?

Definition

The understanding that things do not just happen, that there are causal relationships at work, and that actions have consequences.

Rationale

This concept was selected because of the importance of prompting students to ask “Why?” and of helping them to recognize that actions and events have reasons and consequences. The analysis of causal relationships is significant within and across all disciplines.

Examples of related concepts

Consequences, sequences, pattern, impact.

Change

Key question

How is it changing?

Definition

The understanding that change is the process of movement from one state to another. It is universal and inevitable.

Rationale

This concept was selected, not only because it is such a universal feature of all existence, but also because it has particular relevance to students developing international-mindedness who are growing up in a world in which the pace of change, both local and global, is accelerating.

Examples of related concepts

Adaptation, growth, cycles, sequences, transformation.

Connection

Key question

How is it connected to other things?

Definition

The understanding that we live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.

Rationale

This concept was selected because of the importance of appreciating that nothing exists in a vacuum but, rather, as an element in a system; that the relationships within and among systems are often complex, and that changes in one aspect of a system will have consequences, even though these may not be immediately apparent; that we must consider the impact of our actions on others, whether at the immediate, personal level or at the level of far-reaching decisions affecting environments and communities.

Examples of related concepts

Systems, relationships, networks, homeostasis, interdependence.

Perspective

Key question

What are the points of view?

Definition

The understanding that knowledge is moderated by perspectives; different perspectives lead to different interpretations, understandings and findings; perspectives may be individual, group, cultural or disciplinary.

Rationale

This concept was selected because of the compelling need to develop in students the disposition towards rejecting simplistic, biased interpretations, towards seeking and considering the points of view of others, and towards developing defensible interpretations.

Examples of related concepts

Subjectivity, truth, beliefs, opinion, prejudice.

Responsibility

Key question

What is our responsibility?

Definition

The understanding that people make choices based on their understandings, and the actions they take as a result do make a difference.

Rationale

This concept was selected because of the need to develop in students the disposition towards identifying and assuming responsibility, and towards taking socially responsible action. This concept is directly linked to the action component, one of the essential elements in the PYP curriculum.

Examples of related concepts

Rights, citizenship, values, justice, initiative.

Reflection

Key question

How do we know?

Definition

The understanding that there are different ways of knowing, and that it is important to reflect on our conclusions, to consider our methods of reasoning, and the quality and the reliability of the evidence we have considered.

Rationale

This concept was selected for a series of interrelated reasons. It challenges the students to examine their evidence, methods and conclusions. In doing so, it extends their thinking into the higher order of metacognition, begins to acquaint them with what it means to know in different disciplines, and encourages them to be rigorous in examining evidence for potential bias or other inaccuracy.

Examples of related concepts

Review, interpretation, evidence, responsibility, behaviour.

 

Source: Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education (2009)

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