"For some schools, the role of the subject areas or stand-alone subjects and their relationship to the transdisciplinary components of the programme are neither well understood nor supported....The review will therefore consider current research and classroom practice to better illustrate transdisciplinary and disciplinary learning and its effective implementation within a diverse range of school contexts." IB (2014) p.2
This is a breath of fresh air to me as I've always been niggled by the transdisciplinary element of the PYP. Here I will outline the limitations I perceive with the current status quo and I will make some suggestions for improvement.
1. Stop Being So Fancy
The PYP's explanation of transdiscipnary learning is complex. The document claims that "The transdisciplinary model is radically different from traditional educational patterns''. It goes on to explain "engaging with the concept of transdisciplinarity forces a paradigm shift that moves most teachers out of their comfort zone".
Statements such as these leave many readers feeling perplexed and inadequate. It needn't be presented as being so scary and complex.
I prefer guidelines and explanations which are simple to follow, easy to understand and which try to put me at ease about the changes we are facing. Such guidelines should avoid jargon and should help us to make connections to our prior experiences. I would prefer documents written in simple language, with step-by-step instructions.
2. Change The Name
The IB explains being transdisciplinary "is markedly different from the interdisciplinary approach of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme". They go on to claim that the key difference is that the PYP connects learning to the real world. Any MYP teacher worth his salt would likely scoff at this suggestion; MYP teachers make connections to the real world via their teaching every day.
3. Don't Obsess With The Programme Of Inquiry
There there's a general obsession in the PYP with the programme of inquiry being the sole place for integration. This is cultivating disjointed learning in some PYP schools. In some cases the IB documentation is to blame. For example in Making the PYP Happen and Developing a Transdisciplinary Programme of Inquiry the IB explains that all science should take place within in the programme of inquiry. This is both ludicrous and impractical. Why would a PYP Music teacher who is teaching a 'stand alone' unit on pitch or timbre not approach that in an investigative, scientific inquiry driven way? What a lost opportunity for inquiry: quite the paradox. An artist is already undertaking science when they are experimenting with colour mixing. We should be celebrating these connections not extinguishing them.
This fixation with the POI as the sole place for integration is also reinforced by the Authorization and Evaluation processes, perhaps by a default assumption rather than an IB directive. Whatever the impetus, this preoccupation with the POI is causing schools to make integration decisions which don't always make sense and are in some cases detrimental to learning.
4. Explain Why We Integrate
The IB already does a pretty good job at this, but one measure of success of the review would be that the new documentation helps us all to better understand these reasons. Good curriculum, good teaching and efficient learning is grounded in making connections. The moment we make a connection between something we have learned or experienced, be it in another subject, something which happened in the media or something which happened in our own lives, that act of making a connection facilitates our learning. Perhaps the ideal term for this sort of curriculum would be 'connected curriculum' as it encapsulates the full range of connections which are possible.
5. Explain How We Integrate
But as Fogarty's article explains there are many different components of curriculum we could integrate and many different ways to connect these pieces. Which way is the PYP way?
Recognizing 'appropriate single-subject' PYP integration is still foggy. There isn't as yet an IB approved, published method describing how and what we should integrate.
6. Declare We Integrate Conceptually
.PYP describes itself as a concept based curriculum model. Concept based integration assumes that we organize planning around interdisciplinary (macro) concepts. Interdisciplinary concepts are shared by several disciplines. For example the concept of a fraction is alive in Mathematics but is also alive in Music (beats in a bar, quarter notes, half notes).
7. Provide A List Of Useful Macro Concepts
Currently the only macro concepts we have in the PYP are the Key Concepts. I'll explain in a moment why those particular concepts are not useful for integration. The IB would help us if they provided an extensive list of macro concepts with examples of subjects which share those same concepts like these pictures above and to the left have begun to illustrate.
I realize that what I am suggesting here is likely to ruffle a few feathers. But as I've said in the past I'm not a fan of the PYP Key Concepts. Please read the FAQs at the bottom of this other post if you are interested in critiquing my view about the PYP Key Concepts generally.
In the context of integrating curriculum I'm also not their devotee. The PYP Key Concepts are simply too broad to be useful as a conceptual lens. Take Lynn Erickson's quote above. Remove her example of force and replace it with any one of the key concepts such as form, function or causation. Just as Lynn explains in her example, the result of using a PYP Key Concept would be exactly the same obtuseness and a lack of coherence. A child discussing the causation of a good long jump at the same time as the causation of World War Two won't make the connection. And remember, those connections and benefit to learning are the reasons why we are integrating in the first place! The only PYP Key Concept I think might be useful for integration purposes is perspective.
9. Declare We Integrate Skills & Strategies
10. Modify The PYP Planner
11. Allow The Early Years To Be Thematic
The term 'thematic' has been looked on with distain in PYP circles over the years. But in the early years (ages 3-5) there is nothing more natural and exciting as a project as a means of knitting together a unit and sparking curiosity and inquiry. There is nothing (necessarily) conceptual about a pond or a garden as a theme for a unit, but such projects are absolutely appropriate in the early years. This is an age when the most important thing in education is instilling a love of learning, learning dispositions including their natural curiosity.
12. Stop Pretending The Transdisciplinary Themes Are Transdisciplinary
13. Be Flexible With The Timings Of The Themes
IB Research Paper
One Last Plea
In the comments below Brenna claimed that the IB documentation is not responsible for the (alleged) fixation on the POI for integration. In an attempt to prove her wrong I discovered that I was wrong (or at least not as right as I first thought). Here is one very valid counter-argument to my claim (thanks Brenna you just changed my thinking).
"Students also need opportunities to identify and reflect on “big ideas” within and between the different strands of mathematics, the programme of inquiry and other subject areas." (MTPYPH p83)
What do you think the PYP Review should address in it's transdisciplinary model?
Primary School Principal
Tokyo International School