Friday, March 13, 2015

PYP Essential Elements: More than a bunch of lists

To prepare for my first year of teaching G3 in an IB World School, I attended the workshop, "PYP: An Introduction to the Curriculum Model." It was at that workshop that I first learned about the five essential elements of the PYP:
  • knowledge
  • skills
  • concepts
  • attitudes
  • action
At first, the essential elements represented an overwhelming amount of lists with an overwhelming amount of words to learn. To make things easier, we learned the mnemonic device "Calvin Klein Sells Awesome Apparel" to remember that the essential elements include concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and action. However, this memorization tool only helped me to believe that the essential elements were lists to memorize and remember, missing the big idea of the essential elements.

Since that time, I have developed a deeper understanding of the essential elements. To help other educators with whom I work develop a similar deep understanding of the essential elements, I recently led colleagues through the following inquiry into the essential elements of the PYP:

1. Start with a concept.

To be successful, people must learn specific facts & develop certain skills, construct understanding of big ideas, and demonstrate attitudes that lead to the well-being of the individual and of the group. On the road to success, people must have authentic opportunities to put what they've learned to use.

2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept and create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example.

What do basketball coaches want to teach their players?

After exploring our big idea (concept) in one unrelated context, I wanted to explore a concrete example closer to home, so I posed the question: "What do PYP teachers want to teach their students?"

3. Check for understanding.

Then, I asked the teachers, "What do you understand about the essential elements of the PYP? Make sure your response is Timeless, Abstract, Universal, and Transferrable."

I've included some of the individual responses here. I bolded and highlighted certain phrases to help me synthesize these responses. A synthesis of all the responses follows.

*I understand that the essential elements of the PYP help teachers identify what we want students to know, do, and understand.

*The essential elements are more than a list to dig up - they actually make logical sense in starting with what we want kids to understand KNOW - can they exhibit this and do it SKILLS - do they get the bigger concepts of who they need to be ATTITUDES - and that without an impulse to ACTION or putting into their lives what good is it? So essentially, these steps become more like logical steps to all we want to teach kids instead of a confusing list for PYP hoops to jump through.

*We use the essential elements to help us write our Units of Inquiry. We can start with knowledge - what we want the students to know. Skills - can be related across disciplines. Concepts - BIG ideas. Attitudes - these might be generated throughout the lesson. Action - give the students an opportunity to try/use these.

Deep-rooted and relevant learning is more likely to take place and evolve when PYP instructors purposefully and strategically include all of the essential elements in their daily instruction. 

*The essential elements of PYP are set of understands/characteristics/learning outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes, concepts, and transfer of these to action!

*They are all equally important.

*All of the elements work together and are necessary to write and implement a good unit if inquiry. All of the elements lead to action and then reflection.

*The essential elements guide instructional and learning practices that reach the whole child, and intimately lead to action.

*The essential elements help organize all aspects of writing a unit. They guide teachers and students through an entire learning cycle. The elements are all the different building blocks needed to have a true understanding of a concept. They come together to help students build that understanding.

*I understand that the essential elements are "big picture" ideas and thoughts and frameworks that we want to incorporate into our lessons and guide our kiddos to use now and throughout their lives.

*We use the essential elements of PYP to write our conceptual unit of inquiries and to help us teach our students to be global learners.

*The essential elements provide a framework to ensure students are not only able to recite fact but to also understand and apply what they've learned. This provides them a base and opportunity to have deeper understanding of basic tenants and to become a more open-minded student. Seeing how all the elements support one another, could evoke higher-level thinking and processing. Concept, Knowledge, Skills, Attitude, Action.

*We hope all our work leads to action (it's the groundwork that leads to it).

*I understand that the essential elements are all necessary in order to develop a PYP learner. Through the essential elements, teachers can develop the students' skills related to a specific concept, help students to connect and apply their learning to life outside the classroom, and develop their overall self as a learner and a part of the learning community.

(which is)

*The essential elements of the PYP work together to make a complete lesson that is structured around a concept rather than a skill. Using a concept to teach a skill causes knowledge to become more meaningful. That allows students to demonstrate attitudes, knowledge, and understanding of the concept through the appropriate action. This authentic assessment helps make students more well-rounded and retain the knowledge and skills long-term.

4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

To better understand what we collectively think, I synthesized the individual responses into this one statement: 

The essential elements of the PYP are more than a list. We use the essential elements to help us write our Units of Inquiry purposefully and strategically. The essential elements of the PYP are knowledge, skills, attitudes, concepts, and action. They are all equally important and necessary to reach the whole child and to help students build understanding. The essential elements guide our kiddos now and throughout their lives to be global learners and to become more open-minded. All our work leads students to connect and apply their learning to life outside the classroom which is authentic assessment.

This statement represents a true understanding of the essential elements, which is much more sophisticated than a meaningless regurgitation of a set of lists.

Now, our next step is to see how we can apply our understanding of the essential elements when we create our written curriculum and put it into action (taught curriculum).


  1. great very inspiring and specific...

  2. Thank you for sharing!
    This has been a huge help!

    I was wondering how would you introduce key concepts to early years?

    1. Much the same way I would introduce most things to younger children, I think: Use the vocabulary, model the thinking you expect them to do with the key concepts, have an easy-to-use visual that they can put in their hands (not wallpaper) and have it in EVERY THING you do.

      I just came across this:

      It is from Ron Ritchhart and it is about introducing thinking routines in the early years, but the concept is still the same: use *key concepts* with provocative topics (#3), use the language of *key concepts* as often as you can (#4 & #5), document when and where and why students are using the thinking of the *key concepts* (#6), include parents in the use of *key concepts* (#10).

      I'd also suggest watching a WONDERFUL video of a teacher using the key concepts to think through a math lesson (patterns) with young learners. Here's the audio:

      I wish I could find the video, but the audio is wonderful too!

      Good luck!

    2. Thank you!

      I can't imagine it has been more than a year.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      You've been a great help!