#PYP “Pre-packing” vs. “Unpacking” the Central Idea: Design Thinking Based Approach to Writing Units of Inquiry.

#PYP “Pre-packing” vs. “Unpacking” the Central Idea: Design Thinking Based Approach to Writing Units of Inquiry.

Anyone who teaches the Primary Years Program knows preciously what I mean by the word unpack. But just for clarity sake, let me explain:

Unpack (verb): to explain and define the key conceptual understandings and “big words” used in a central idea and lines of inquiry, usually as a part of “tuning into” a new unit of inquiry.

Depending on the unit of inquiry, teachers can choose to go a more traditional path to explain the big words or they can create provocations that awaken the meanings. I suppose it depends on how much weight you want to give to these keywords or how long you want to dwell on them. Each unit is sort of unique in that way.

In an earlier post (#PYP The Sound and Light of Using Design Thinking To Write a Unit of Inquiry), I explained the experiment and struggle of using design thinking to construct a unit of inquiry. This past week, we presented two different “prototypes” of a central idea for a How The World Works unit that we are creating for our Grade 1 students. Here are the prototypes:

Version 1.1: Understanding energy can lead to discoveries and help us predict its behavior.

Version 1.2 Exploring light and sound can lead to discoveries and open up new possibilities.

When we presented these central ideas, we discussed them one by one and asked them what words they connected to and what did it make them think about. This was a very revealing exercise! The first reaction to the central ideas:

“Wow, that is long and hard sounding”

Second of all, only a handful of our 34 kids had much to say about the scientific concepts in either central idea, showing a deep need to develop real content knowledge.  Third of all, our English language learners preferred “light and sound” over “energy”, which was something that we needed to put a high emphasis on since we have a large group of them. Last insight was that they made the connection with the words exploring and discoveries to “finding out”, which then evolved into the idea of a “science experiment lab”–these words got an uproar of excitement in the group. They began seeing themselves as scientists, creating all sorts of investigations.

At that point, we voted on whether we would explore “energy” in general or if they wanted to just focus on “light and sound”.  The latter was the most popular with both our ELLs and our girls (which made me go, “hmmm….”) in high numbers for the vote.

So then I tried to capture the ideas that the students resonated with, while still honoring the nature of this transdisciplinary theme, and wordsmithed some new ones. Our grade level team discussed and debated them, which is an important aspect of using design thinking.

Central Idea, Version 1.3: Experimenting with light and sound can lead to discoveries and innovation.  

Team comment summary:

” I think it’s 1 dimensional, with the word experiment in it because there are many ways to explore light and sound that isn’t through experiments. “; 

“This sounds like an upper-grade unit because they can do more research into the innovation part”;

“Yeah, we’d have to unpack the word innovation and they don’t have much context for that concept yet”. 

Central Idea, Version 1.4: How living things hear sounds and see light impacts their experience of their world.

Team comments summary:

“Kids this age love animals, so I think they would really enjoy the learning.”; 

“Yeah, this is very Grade 1 friendly and we need to develop the concept of living vs. non-living”;

“Oh, and we could discuss sonar with underwater animals and how bats use echolocation. They’d love that!”;

“Would this have any scientific thinking and process skills though? They really wanted to do experiments and I think we’d lose the ‘science lab’ aspect if we made this the central idea. I mean, we could do experiments showing how living things experience light and sound differently but then it would just be proving scientific facts vs. exploring with our own original ones. In our original UOI, it was all about scientific thinking so maybe it covers a different TD indicator and this one definitely feels like an inquiry into the natural laws. But maybe we could write this into a line of inquiry”.

Central Idea, Version 1.4: Human understanding of sound and light can transform their experience.

Team comments summary: 

” This invites more inquiry-how many ways do humans experience light and sight?” 

“Yeah, when I think about this, I think about how humans first harnessed fire and this sort of discovery led to so many more advancements, as people tried to turn night into day.”

“Oh, totally– this has more of a transdisciplinary approach because we not only have the science bit with natural vs. artificial light but then you have social impact of candlelight to electricity.” 

“But if we only focus on humans, then this unit might not be as interesting as the one with animals. The concepts within electrical energy would be better for older kids. Our 1st graders would appreciate more the context of how animals and plants have senses that detect light and sound in different ways.”

” Good point-How about we just drop the word ‘human’ so we can keep it open for other living things and see where this unit takes us?”

Nods in agreement……..

So here is the new prototype that we are going with for our UOI:

Central Idea (v. 1.5): Understanding sound and light can transform experience.   

Lines of inquiry        

  • How living things hear sound and see light (perspective)      
  • Transformation of energy (change)
  • Ways we use the scientific process (reflection)

       Related Concepts:  Energy, Impact, and Transformation

Attitude: Enthusiasm, Creativity, Curiosity                              LP: Reflective, Thinker, Inquirer

Although this process may have taken longer than we would have liked, it was important to reflect on the needs of our students as well as appreciating what fascinates them and promotes curiosity. When I think about how the PYP has been reviewed, I think this exercise in Design Thinking honors the new emphasis on Learner Agency. In the new IB documentation, it states:

Your understanding of the learner is the foundation of all learning and teaching and will influence how you support student agency, and how the learning community considers children’s rights, responsibilities and identities.

Agency is present when students partner with teachers and members of the learning community to take charge of what, where, why, with whom and when they learn. This provides opportunities to demonstrate and reflect on knowledge, approaches to learning and attributes of the learner profile.

The Learner in the Enhanced PYP

Even though I think this is our first iteration at developing learner agency through “pre-packing” the Central Idea with student thoughts and viewpoints, I still believe that we have honored the core of the PYP programme and moreover have really carefully considered our learners over pulling units of inquiry out of the archives to see which one might “fit”. For our team, we have a higher level of excitement going into this unit (and maybe a little trepidation), knowing that we can’t wait to surprise and inspire them with the provocations and challenges that this Central Idea will bring.

How does your team approach honoring student voice and choice? Have you ever “pre-packed” a unit of inquiry (other than Exhibition or PYPX)?

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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