Yes… younger kids can do that

It’s funny how often we don’t get students to do things because we think they are too young, or too old. Actually, it’s not that funny really is it?

I was reminded of this two times in the last two days. Yesterday, some Grade 5 students were putting their inquiry questions on to some fish templates for a big display we’re making (you can see the Storify about this project here). Some of them were really eager to colour them in and yet my first reaction was to think that it would be a waste of their time.

This morning, I took a chance and ran a Harkness/Spiderweb Conversation with four Grade 2 students. This is a strategy that is “normally used” with much older students, but these kids took to it very quickly and ended up having a very powerful conversation.

We began by using a previous piece of work that had provoked some controversial thinking:



Then, we began our Spiderweb Discussion… I was tracking the flow of the conversation and writing down salient points that the kids came out with.



At the end of the conversation, we talked about how the conversation flowed between them and I pulled out some of the things they said that I felt took us to a deeper place by the end:



This is an amazingly powerful strategy on a number of levels. If you’d like to give it a go in your class… let me know!


Writing and Refining Central Ideas

Roman Proverb

It is amazing how often teaching teams begin – and even complete – units of inquiry without ever really knowing what the unit is all about.  Investing the time, energy and professional pride in order to create central ideas that really are relevant, purposeful and powerful enough to provoke genuine student inquiry is really a non-negotiable in good IB schools. The “oh… that’ll do” mentality is really not good enough!

Here are the central ideas currently being developed by teaching teams here at ISHCMC. Teams are required to think about the following considerations when writing or evaluating a central idea:

  • Does the central idea really mean something?
  • Is it more than just a simple statement of fact?
  • Is it going to be relevant to the students?
  • Is it going to provoke genuine inquiry?

Some of these central ideas are in pretty good shape, some need a little more work. If you have any suggestions, please make a comment.

“Animals share our planet”

“Light and dark impact our world”

“A community depends on all people working together.’

“We can express messages through stories.”

“Humans are motivated to explore the unknown.”

“Understanding rights and responsibilities helps us to understand how and why people seek change.” 

“Learning about the origins of beliefs and values helps us to understand people.”

What is concept-based learning?

This video isn’t up to much visually, but it does hammer home many of the most fundamentally important points about concept-based learning and how it is different to thematic or topic-based learning. Understanding these points is vital for anybody working in a PYP/IB school.

  • What is new to you?
  • What have you already experienced in your teaching practice?
  • What is most interesting to you?
  • What confuses you?
  • What questions do you have?

Creating Unit of Inquiry Maps

The initial stages of planning are crucial. For this very reason, they can be extremely difficult. I often use this Roman proverb as a way of explaining what can, and often does, happen when teachers start “planning” the teaching of a unit before they actually figure out what it is really about.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead there.”

I have been part of countless meetings in which teachers thrown around numerous ideas for teaching, or activities, without really having a strong sense of their purpose. This is potentially an eternal conversation as teachers are experts at coming up with lots of great ideas.

In my role as PYP Coordinator at International School Ho Chi Minh City, I am determined that teaching teams will develop a shared understanding of what the essence of each unit of inquiry really is, where they they are hoping to take their students and what they are looking for from their students. This is not a simple conversation!

If teachers can reach the point where they have a shared vision for the unit of inquiry, they are then able to allow their own teaching style and the learning interests and styles of their students to dictate what happens afterwards. They do not need to sit at a table and all agree on how they will teach the kids as it may, and probably should, look very different from one classroom to the next. Of course, sharing things that work well is a must as the unit progresses!

These “Unit of Inquiry Maps” give structure to those first conversations about the units, and show how there is a flow from central idea through to key concepts, enduring understandings, conceptual understanding rubrics and lines of inquiry. The “One Word” in the middle forces teachers to really think about the essence of the unit and is often a much harder challenge than would at first appear. In some cases, teaching teams have been horrified to find that units of inquiry that have been taught for years may actually have been about nothing at all, or about far too much!