The Primary Years Program provides an international curriculum that aims to meet the full range of needs of young learners. The PYP presents a balanced curriculum, emphasizing the development of concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and self-initiated action in students.

The PYP Curriculum

When most people think of the meaning for the word "curriculum" the first thing that comes to mind is a written body of knowledge that students will be exposed to in school. In addition to this, many would include a set of academic skills students should acquire and maybe even a set of positive character traits that students will be encouraged to model as parts of a school's curriculum. There are endless debates about the merits of the endless variety of written curriculums that exist for elementary students - which is the most rigorous, most developmentally appropriate, most culturally appropriate and so on. Students (and schools) are assess on students' ability to master curriculum standards attached to national and state tests. Parents often choose schools for their children primarily on their preference for one type of written curriculum over another.

The IB Primary Years Program takes a different and much broader view of curriculum than the one expressed above. According to the PYP, "curriculum" revolves around the concept of learners constructing meaning, and everyone at a a PYP school, including the teachers, is a learner. The PYP model of curriculum is student-centered. It is founded on the belief that learning occurs when students (and teachers) build on their prior knowledge and engage in activities that help them construct new understandings. This process involves continuous self-reflection, the freedom to ask questions, the motivation to take risks and the desire to take action based on what one has learned.

So what does the PYP curriculum model look like? It is composed of three interrelated and equally important components. Each component is expressed as a question, in keeping with the spirit of inquiry found throughout the Primary Years Program.

The first question, "What do we want to learn?" represents the the written curriculum. A PYP school's written curriculum utilizes existing district/state/national learning standards, or as in the case of many private international schools, on a set of learning benchmarks provided by the PYP for each subject area. Teachers at a PYP school work collaboratively to develop a transdisciplinary "Program of Inquiry" that is unique to their school. It allows learners to move beyond the recall of basic facts as they explore larger concepts that transcend the boundaries of traditional subject areas. Teachers meet regularly to review/revise the Program of Inquiry and develop learning units based upon it. Students contribute to the content of these learning units through their own questions and reflections.

The second question, "How best will we learn?" represents the taught curriculum in a PYP school. The taught curriculum involves the methods teachers use to engage students with the written curriculum. It is not only "what" students will learn but also "how" they will learn it that matters in a PYP school. PYP teachers are expected to constantly examine and improve the practices they use to actively involve students in learning. Inquiry-based instruction and differentiation of instruction to meet individual student needs are featured within the wide array of best practices employed by teachers at PYP schools.

The third question, "How will we know what we have learned?" represents the learned curriculum. PYP teachers employ a variety of authentic assessment strategies (examples include student presentations, portfolios, projects, written tests, student self-reflections, peer reflections, student-led conferences, interviews, demonstrations and many others) to find out not only if students learned what they were expected to learn from the written curriculum but also what actual learning took place instead of or in addition to what was expected. Teachers and students use the results of assessments to set goals for further learning and to think about ways to improve their teaching and learning strategies. Assessment in a PYP school has a positive connotation since it focuses on what a learner can do at the current moment instead of what they can't do.

All three components of the curriculum of a Primary Years Program school - the Written, Taught and Learned curriculums - function in harmony to help produce life-long learners who can be successful in tomorrow's world.

Transdisciplinary Themes of the PYP Written Curriculum

The Primary Years Program has identified six areas of knowledge - called transdisciplinary themes - that are considered to be of lasting significance for all students and for all cultures. These themes provide a framework for teachers to design unites of inquiry that incorporate district/state/national learning standards as well as opportunities for students to develop the skills, attitudes, concepts and knowledge needed to become internationally-minded people and life-long learners.

PYP unites of inquiry approach learning as being transdisciplinary in nature. Teachers use structured inquiry to guide students through each unit while incorporating perspectives from a variety of fields of knowledge (scientific, mathematical, technological, artistic, musical, linguistic, historical, cultural, and social, to name a few) to build on their past experiences and reach new understandings.

The six transdisciplinary themes are addressed at each grade level, even through the individual unites of inquiry based upon them are all unique, exploring different aspects of the knowledge contained under each theme. In addition to six yearly transdisciplinary unites of inquiry based upon the PYP transdisciplinary themes, students receive daily instruction in Math, Reading and Writing to ensure that they continue to develop their skills in those foundational subject areas.

The PYP transdisciplinary themes are as follows:

Who We Are: Exploring ourselves, our beliefs and values, rights and responsibilities, our friends, families and cultures

Where We Are in Place and Time: Exploring our location in place and time, our personal histories, local and global history and geography, migrations and discoveries of ourselves and others, the contributions of individuals and civilizations.

How We Express Ourselves: Exploring the myriad of ways that we discover and express ourselves, our ideas, our feelings, our cultures, and our beliefs and values.

How the World Works: Exploring natural and human-made phenomena and the world of science and technology and their impact on society and on the environment.

How We Organize Ourselves: Exploring human-made systems and communities and their impact on society and the environment.

Sharing the Planet: Exploring relationships between living things and how humans and other living things share resources and opportunities.


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