One of the five essential elements of the PYP curriculum is conceptual understanding. Rather than focusing on learning and remembering a range of content knowledge, we aim to use the knowledge we choose to cover as a vehicle for developing understanding of concepts. So, for example, instead of learning facts about dinosaurs, children might use the knowledge learned through such a study to generalize their understanding of the concept of extinction.
“Conceptual development is a lifelong developmental process… a higher-level, integrative thinking ability… the ability to insightfully draw patterns and connections between related facts, ideas and examples, and to synthesize information at a conceptual level.”Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction: Teaching Beyond the Facts by H Lynn Erikson
In the PYP curriculum framework, eight key concepts have been identified, along with an open-ended question for each, to promote focus and deeper thinking about the enduring understandings that we hope will develop from the study of each unit of inquiry.
Form: What is it like?
Function: How does it work?
Causation: Why is it the way it is?
Change: How is it changing?
Connection: How is it connected to other things?
Perspective: What are the points of view?
Responsibility: what is our responsibility?
Reflection: How do we know?
A useful array of questions for deepening thinking, try applying them to an everyday object or situation (I had a friend who used these questions to examine her marriage!). Using them with your children will help them develop their thinking and give you an opportunity to discover what they understand.
Here is just some of the conceptual questioning I encountered today as I wandered through classrooms.
Form: What are the features of signs and symbols? What is the difference between a sign and a symbol?
Reflection: How do I know that the information on this website is accurate?
Function: How can the long e sound be spelled?
Causation: What has caused the problems for living things in game parks in Tanzania? Responsibility: What can we do about these problems?
Change: How have animals adapted to extreme climates?
Perspective: How does the same event make different people feel?
Connection: Where do I find these shapes in real life?
Function: How does my portfolio work? Connection: How is it connected to my learning?
Reflection: What do I do to work out a tricky word?
Connection: How are written symbols connected to spoken sounds? Function: How is this word spelt?
Form: How is my classroom organized? Causation: Why is my classroom organized this way?
Perspective: Are there different ways to work out the same algorithm?
Try looking for evidence of the key concepts in your child’s learning.