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The transdisciplinary nature of the programme

The PYP acknowledges the importance of particular subject areas: language; mathematics; social studies; science; arts; personal, social and physical education. The knowledge, concepts and skills that constitute each of these subject areas are documented in detailed frameworks—scope and sequences—that set out the overall expectations for each subject within age
ranges, or as a developmental continuum. These documents are provided to schools as exemplar material. While some IB World Schools offering the PYP may adopt these scope and sequences, others may be required to accommodate a locally or regionally determined subject-based set of learning outcomes or standards.
However, the PYP also recognizes that educating students in a set of isolated subject areas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Of equal importance is the need to acquire skills in context, and to explore content that is relevant to students and transcends the boundaries of the traditional subjects. “To be truly educated, a student must also make connections across the disciplines, discover ways to integrate the separate subjects, and ultimately relate what they learn to life” (Boyer 1995: 82). Ernest Boyer proposed that students
explore a set of themes representing shared human experiences such as “Response to the Aesthetic” and “Membership in Groups”. He referred to these as “Core Commonalities”. In the PYP, this idea of human commonalities shapes the transdisciplinary themes.
The programme defines transdisciplinary themes that identify areas of shared human experience and have meaning for individuals from different cultures and ethnicities. These themes are part of the common ground that unifies the learning in all IB World Schools offering the PYP. They provide the opportunity to incorporate both local and global issues in the knowledge component of the PYP written curriculum—what we want students to know about.
There are six transdisciplinary themes.

Who we are
Where we are in place and time
How we express ourselves
How the world works
How we organize ourselves
Sharing the planet

Students inquire into and learn about local and global issues in the context of units of inquiry, each of which addresses a particular transdisciplinary theme. The students make connections and contributions, and deepen their understanding through the perspective of their personal and cultural
experiences.

Example
Transdisciplinary theme: How we express ourselves.
Age group: 9–10 years.
Central idea: Choices of role models reflect the characteristics that societies and individuals value.
Key concepts: Causation, perspective, reflection.
Related concepts: Self-fulfillment, influence.
Lines of inquiry:
· role models and why we value them
· developing our own gifts, talents and interests
· how personal strengths can be used to help others.
Both the traditional subject areas and the transdisciplinary themes provide focuses for students’ inquiry. These inquiries allow students to acquire and apply a set of transdisciplinary skills: social skills, communication skills, thinking skills, research skills, and self-management skills. These skills are relevant to all learning, formal and informal, that goes on in the school, and in events experienced beyond its boundaries. Students also develop skills and strategies drawn from the subject areas, but aligned with the six
transdisciplinary skills. For example, becoming literate and numerate enhances students’ communication skills. The acquisition of literacy and numeracy, in their broadest sense, is essential as these skills provide
students with the tools of inquiry. However, the acquisition of knowledge, concepts and skills of the subject areas should not be limited to “stand alone” teaching opportunities but also needs to be an integral part of
the units of inquiry.

Example
Students aged 5 and 6 are inquiring into the central idea “Systems need to be in place to maintain organization in communities”, relevant to the transdisciplinary theme “How we organize ourselves”. They are engaged in learning experiences that give them the opportunity to make authentic
connections between the central idea and particular concepts and skills in mathematics, for example, people:
· use ordinal numbers to describe the position of things in a sequence
· estimate, identify and compare lengths of time: second, minute, hour, day, week, month
· collect, display and interpret data for the purpose of finding information.
A high level of collaboration is required when planning transdisciplinary units of inquiry. The planning teams, usually consisting of teachers at each year level, need to plan the units together with the remainder of the curriculum for the year. However, a whole-school approach should be taken when developing andrefining a complete programme of inquiry. The proposed units of inquiry at each year level need to be articulated from one year to another. This will ensure a robust programme of inquiry that provides students with experiences that are coherent and connected throughout their time in school.

Example
At the end of the school year, teachers meet with the PYP coordinator to reflect on the ways in which the units of inquiry fulfill a number of important requirements:
  • suitability within the definition of the transdisciplinary themes
  • balance between, and integration of, social studies and science
  • distribution of other subject area focuses
  • the absence of repetitive content
  • units that are engaging, relevant and challenging
  • alignment between the central idea, concepts and lines of inquiry and the summative assessment task(s)
  • balance both vertically and horizontally throughout the programme of inquiry
  • the opportunity for all aspects of each transdisciplinary theme to be explored within the programme.

This process requires teachers to give up ownership of “their” units of inquiry for the greater good of the school-wide programme of inquiry. It is understood and accepted that any unit may be modified if it does not meet the above criteria, or even removed completely. This reflective process helps all teachers grow immensely in their understanding of the PYP and of its impact on teaching and learning.