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Exploring real-life issues through a transdisciplinary programme

Table of contents:

Intro

What is transdisciplinary learning?

What does transdisciplinary learning look like in different settings?

How about academic rigor?

Conclusion

 

Intro
Welcome to our blog! Today, I want to delve into an important aspect of the PYP called transdisciplinary learning. I am sure that you will read many articles about student-led inquiry and play on this blog, so this time I'll focus on one of the theoretical foundations that underpin the programme.

 

What is transdisciplinary learning?
Transdisciplinary learning refers to learning that goes beyond academic subjects and connects to what is happening in the real world. It is an important aspect of the PYP, whose aim is to develop internationally-minded students who can solve real-world problems.

Imagine baking a cake. When you mix different ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs, they blend together to create something new and different. Similarly, in transdisciplinary learning, the boundaries between academic subjects are blurred, and students explore connections and relationships that exist in the world. It's like putting the puzzle pieces together to see the bigger picture.

The key elements of transdisciplinary learning include knowledge, conceptual understandings, skills, dispositions, and action. Let's take a closer look at each of these elements.

 

 

Knowledge: Subject-specific knowledge, such as literacy and numeracy, remains important in transdisciplinary learning because it supports students in their inquiry. For example, in a unit about animals, students use literacy skills to read books about different species and numeracy skills to analyze data about their habitats.

The six subject-areas in PYP are: language, mathematics, arts, PSPE (personal, social and physical education), sciences, and social studies.

Conceptual Understandings: Concepts are broad and abstract ideas that can apply to any subjects, hence supporting transdisciplinary learning. Learning about concepts allows children to deepen their understanding of the world. For instance, the concept of "Change" can be explored through activities like planting and caring for seeds, storytelling, and art projects depicting different seasons.

The PYP has identified seven key concepts: form, function, change, connection, causation, perspective, responsibility. Students revisit and expand their understanding of these key concepts through their units of inquiry every year until they graduate from the IB programmes.

Skills and Dispositions: In addition to subject-specific skills like literacy and numeracy, students develop a range of transferable skills that are useful in various contexts. In PYP, these skills are called Approaches to Learning (ATL) and include communication, social, self-management, thinking, and research skills. These skills support purposeful inquiry and lay the foundation for lifelong learning. Learning about the world around them, students also develop dispositions identified in the IB Learner Profile such as being caring, principled, open-minded, and reflective. The learner profile attributes guide students' personal development.

For example, in a unit about community helpers, children may develop communication skills by conducting interviews with professionals like firefighters, practice social skills through collaborative role-playing activities, and demonstrate caring and reflective dispositions by creating thank-you cards and journaling about their experiences.

Action: Ultimately, transdisciplinary learning inspires action. When students learn about real-life problems and issues, they are encouraged to use what they have learned and apply it to solve these problems. This can involve small actions within their immediate environment or larger actions that address global issues. For example, if students learn about the importance of recycling, they might organize a recycling volunteer campaign in their school or community.

 

These elements are developed through six themes that are worth exploring regardless of where PYP students are in the world and with which ethnic or cultural group they identify. Framing the programme of inquiry, these globally and socially driven themes provide a starting point from which students can examine issues and opportunities as they are being experienced in the real world.

 

What does transdisciplinary learning look like in action?
In a preschool setting, transdisciplinary learning is centered around children's natural curiosity and questions. Teachers create an environment where different subjects and themes are seamlessly integrated, allowing children to explore and make connections. For example, a preschool unit on plants and growth can involve activities like planting seeds, storytelling about plant life cycles, exploring changes in the weather, and creating art inspired by nature. At A-JB, this happens most often through learning centers inside and outside the classroom. Teachers observe students' interests in play and respond with purposeful and engaging learning centers.

In an elementary school, transdisciplinary learning still happens through play but it becomes more structured and in-depth. Students engage in inquiry-based projects that require them to draw on knowledge from multiple subjects. For example, a unit on community might involve studying local history, interviewing community members, conducting surveys, and taking action to address a community issue.

 

How about academic rigor?

Transdisciplinary learning does not mean sacrificing academic rigor. In fact, it enhances it. By connecting subjects and addressing real-world problems, students develop a deeper understanding of content and its relevance. For example, when preschoolers use mathematical concepts to solve real-life building challenges, they develop a deeper understanding of shapes while applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Every PYP school upholds a rigorous curriculum, whether it follows national or private standards.

Conclusion
Transdisciplinary learning is a powerful approach that integrates different subjects and connects them to real-world contexts. It helps students develop a holistic understanding of the world and empowers them to take action. By nurturing their curiosity, inquiry skills, and global awareness, transdisciplinary learning prepares students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers who can make a positive impact in their communities and the world, which is core to the mission of the IB.

References:
Learning and teaching, Transdisciplinary learning, International Baccalaureate Organization 2023
PYP Action in the Early Years, International Baccalaureate Organization 2017
A Virtual Guide to the PYP, Toddle

 

Jeremy Guckert (JJ): I am originally from France and came to Japan in 2012. I initially worked as a Eikaiwa teacher in Ibaraki, but moved to Tokyo and started working in a IB world school in 2015.

I joined A-JB as a K5 teacher in 2018 and I am now the PYP coordinator at Harumi/Shibaura campus.
My role is to collaborate with teachers and parents to enhance the implementation of the PYP, ensuring an enriching educational journey for our students.

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Jeremy Guckert