Keeping the Concept Alive – Part I: Tuning in to Key Concepts

As an MYP school, our teachers are committed to a conceptual framework for teaching and learning within their classrooms. They know that students are able to make sense of content and how that content relates to the world with greater efficacy when the learning takes place through the lens of a concept. They also face the challenge of balancing conceptual education with the content from their subject group. During this balancing act, sometimes the concepts can get lost in favour of the content. One of the biggest questions I get asked is, “How do we keep the concept alive throughout our units?”. In this series, we will look at some strategies of how you can keep your subject’s Key Concept alive throughout your units.

Today’s focus: Tuning-in to Key Concepts

Tuning-in is the driving force of inquiry. It allows us to take stock of what we already know and ask questions about that which we would like to learn more. Tuning-in provides a framework for the entire cycle of inquiry and when dealing with big ideas such as Key Concepts. It is important then, that the leaner is given in the opportunity to tune-in to their current understanding, before beginning their inquiry. By tuning-in to Key Concepts, we provide learners with an opportunity to ask the important questions of, “What do I know?” and “What would I like to find out?”

Departments working together to tune-in to Key Concepts.

Departments working together to tune-in to Key Concepts.

This tuning-in process begins before the students even engage with the unit, as it is equally important that teachers, administrators and coordinators tune themselves in to the Key Concepts.

Here is one possible way of getting your team tuned-in to the Key Concepts:

Our teachers are currently engaged in a Curriculum Connections pilot facilitated by the IB. Throughout this program, we will be exploring how to connect our curriculum documents with the MYP frameworks. At our last Professional Development meeting, our MYP teachers tuned-in to Key Concepts by unpacking the ways in which the concepts can manifest themselves in their subjects. They looked at the Key Concepts they are responsible for teaching and broke down all of the potential topics they could use to teach through that conceptual lens. The best connections were when our teachers recognized that their content was applicable to many concepts, but that the choice of concept would drastically change how that content would be inquired into.

Tuning-in to the concept and the content.

The second step was for the entire staff to tour the room and see how other teachers might approach the same or similar Key Concepts through the lens of the different disciplines. This really got the interdisciplinary wheels turning in many teachers’ minds as they could see the possibilities that exist when you focus on concepts!

When tuning in to an idea as huge as a Key Concept, it is important that the leaner is given the opportunity to reflect. This can be as simple as asking the question, “What do we still need to learn?” or “Where do we go from here?”. This step gives value to the tuning-in process, as learners can see that this step will guide the rest of their inquiry into the Key Concept. By engaging in this tuning-in process, our teachers not only developed a more robust understanding of how their curricular content and Key Concepts go hand-in-hand, they also developed a richer appreciation for how the Key Concepts manifest themselves in other subject areas. Finally, they had the opportunity to formulate a meaningful plan for next steps, guided by the questions that arose from this tuning-in activity.

As we often encourage our teachers to do, their efforts of tuning-in to the Key Concepts should be echoed by their students. While it will probably only be one concept at a time that the students focus on, this opportunity to take stock of and ask questions about the big idea that will drive the unit is a crucial step in ensuring effective conceptual understanding.

Where do we go from here? Keeping the concept alive by planning with the concept in mind.

How does your school tune-in to Key Concepts? 

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