The MYP Top Ten #2

The Global Eagle - Week of October 24 - 28, 2016

1- The Learner Profile
2- Concept based learning

As we continue deepening our understanding of the Middle Years Programme, this week I invite you to read the attached section about concept based learning in the MYP and From Principles into Practice guide. The key and related concepts are at the core of each subject group and give structure to content delivery. They also provide a common language for all three years of the program and help support vertical and horizontal alignment.

Conceptual understanding in IB programmes

The International Baccalaureate (IB) values education more as the transformation of personal understanding and the collaborative construction of meaning, and less as the transmission of knowledge and rote memorization of facts. Consequently, conceptual understanding is a significant and enduring goal for teaching and learning in IB programmes.

IB programmes offer curriculum frameworks and courses that are broad and balanced, conceptual and connected. In the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and MYP curriculum frameworks, students engage with a defined set of key and related concepts. Each course in the Diploma Programme (DP) has a prescribed syllabus that outlines how students develop their conceptual understanding. Over time, students grow in the sophistication of their understanding as schools create challenging opportunities for them to encounter new ideas in engaging learning environments.

A concept is a big idea—a principle or conception that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond aspects such as particular origins, subject matter or place in time (Wiggins and McTighe 1998). Concepts represent the vehicle for students’ inquiry into issues and ideas of personal, local and global significance, providing the means by which the essence of a subject can be explored.

Concepts have an essential place in the structure of knowledge. They require students to demonstrate levels of thinking that reach beyond facts or topics. Concepts are used to formulate the understandings that students should retain in the future; they become principles and generalizations that students can use to understand the world and to succeed in further study and in life beyond school.

The exploration and re-exploration of concepts lead students towards:

• deeper understanding of the subject group

• appreciation of ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries

• engagement with complex ideas, including the ability to transfer and apply ideas and skills to new situations (Erickson 2008).

Students gradually work towards a deepening of their conceptual understanding as tey approach concepts from a range of perspectives. The concept-driven curriculum frameworks of the MYP help learners to co-construct meaning as they become increasingly competent critical and creative thinkers, able to transfer knowledge and take responsibility for their own learning. Teaching through concepts encourages teachers to work across national and cultural boundaries. Concepts promote a broad approach to education that can encompass many ways of thinking, inspire a variety of experiences, and open doors to exciting and highly relevant interdisciplinary learning.

The structure of conceptual understanding in the MYP

MYP programme design uses two kinds of concepts.

• Key concepts, contributed from each subject group, provide interdisciplinary breadth to the programme. 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.

• Related concepts, grounded in specific disciplines, explore key concepts in greater detail, providing depth to the programme. They emerge from reflection on the nature of specific subjects and disciplines, providing a focus for inquiry into subject-specific content.

Concepts can be interpreted differently and explored from various perspectives and at different levels of complexity. As students develop and deepen their understanding, they can use concepts to innovate, address challenges and solve problems

Key concepts are powerful, abstract ideas that have many dimensions and definitions. They have important interconnections and overlapping concerns. Key concepts engage students in higher-order thinking, helping them to connect facts and topics with more complex conceptual understanding. Key concepts create “intellectual synergy” (Erikson 2007) and provide points of contact for transferring knowledge and understanding across disciplines and subject groups.

Related concepts promote depth of learning and add coherence to the understanding of academic subjects and disciplines. They are grounded in specific subjects and disciplines, and they are useful for exploring key concepts in greater detail. Inquiry into related concepts helps students to develop more complex and sophisticated conceptual understanding. Related concepts may arise from the subject matter of a unit or the craft of a subject—its features and processes.

The MYP identifies prescribed key and related concepts. These concepts ensure the development of a rigorous curriculum and promote a shared community of practice among IB World Schools offering the MYP.


The nature of a concept-driven curriculum

What matters is not the absorption and regurgitation either of facts or of predigested interpretations of facts, but the development of powers of the mind or ways of thinking which can be applied to new situations and new presentations of facts as they arise.

(Alec Peterson, first IB Director General 2003: 47)

A concept-driven curriculum encourages idea-centred teaching and learning. The MYP prescribes key concepts (overarching) and related concepts (subject-specific) to better ensure a common basis of conceptual understanding is developed in MYP schools that will provide students with a sound foundation for future learning.

According to Erickson (2008), concepts range from macro to micro in terms of scope, but all concepts meet the following criteria.

• Valued and meaningful across time, place and space

• Abstract

• Concise (represented by one or two words, or a short phrase)

• Express common attributes of specific examples

Concepts are used at different levels of generality and complexity, serving different purposes in teaching and learning. Erickson (2007: 72–78) describes a concept-based curriculum as “three-dimensional”, focusing on concepts, facts and skills rather than the traditional “two dimensional” curriculum that considers only facts and skills. Concept-driven curriculum models value student inquiry and experiences in which students create personal meaning by making connections and applying their learning in unfamiliar situations.

A concept-based model is used in the MYP because it encourages students to:

• process factual knowledge at a deeper intellectual level as they relate the facts to concepts and essential conceptual understandings; this synergistic thinking (interplay between factual and

conceptual thinking) engages the intellect on two levels—factual and conceptual—and provides greater retention of factual knowledge because synergistic thinking requires deeper mental processing

• create personal relevance, as students relate new knowledge to prior knowledge, and promote

understanding of cultures and environments across global contexts through the transfer of knowledge

• bring their personal intellect to the study as they use a key concept to personally focus on the unit topic in order to increase motivation for learning

• increase fluency with language as students use factual information to explain and support their

deeper conceptual understanding

• achieve higher levels of critical, creative and conceptual thinking as students analyse complex global challenges, such as climate change, international conflicts and the global economy, and create greater subject depth through the study of discipline-specific related concepts.

A concept-driven curriculum framework works when teachers see that academic disciplines have a conceptual structure. The model allows teachers to group together issues or topics in a wide-ranging curriculum under the critical concepts and understandings in each subject group. In a concept-based teaching model, teachers use knowledge as a tool to help students grasp transferable concepts and understandings. Knowledge provides the foundation and support for deeper, conceptual thinking. Teachers ensure that assessment includes understanding and application of the prescribed concepts. (FPTP p. 25-28)


MYP Coordinator