The NIS Elementary curriculum is designed to be engaging, relevant, and challenging. Students acquire conceptual understanding by skillfully manipulating, interpreting and evaluating knowledge. Once successful in understanding their world at a conceptual level, students can begin to develop the attitudes of social responsibility necessary to make contributions and have an impact on the world we share. At NIS, the curriculum therefore stresses these five essential elements of learning (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) and, through guided, collaborative and personal inquiry, the program helps student grow holistically as learners and global citizens.
Knowledge: What do we want students to know?
Knowledge is the term educators give to ‘the things we know’. ‘Knowledge’ as a curriculum element will be familiar to parents from your own days in school. Chances are that when parents were studying for a test in their school days, they were trying to cram ‘knowledge’. Knowledge typically reflects the ‘facts’ of the curriculum – or at least those things we believe to be facts! Dates, definitions, theories, cause and effect relationships, formulas, vocabulary, grammar rules – all these things, and more, are knowledge. A google search will give you knowledge. Wikipedia is full of knowledge. There is a lot of knowledge out there.
We now understand that knowledge, in isolation, is not sufficient. For one thing we know that knowledge cannot be assumed. Today’s fact is tomorrows mistake – and how do we know what is knowledge and what is actually opinion. Knowledge does not exist in isolation – the human brain interprets and connects knowledge based on what it already understands to be ‘true’, and so how one student interprets ‘knowledge’ may be different to how others perceive the same ‘facts’. Therefore while knowledge has always been important to schools – and always will be –it is not, in and of itself, sufficient for today’s learners.
Skills: What do we want students to be able to do?
In order for students to make meaning from the knowledge they are exposed to, they need to have the skills necessary to evaluate, interpret and assimilate that knowledge into a broader conceptual understanding. Furthermore, since knowledge exists in a social context, students need to be taught the skills necessary to engage with others in evaluating, interpreting and acting upon assumed ‘knowledge’.
We often think of skills as being physical or visible attributes, for example shooting a basketball, playing the piano or making a 3D model. While these are key skills that should be learned, there are also many cognitive, interpersonal and metacognitive skills that are essential to our intellectual and emotional development.
Specifically, the IB PYP identifies five transdisciplinary skills which are essential for students to navigate their world. These are:
- Thinking skills
- Social skills
- Communication skills
- Self-management skills
- Research skills
Concepts: What do we want students to understand?
Understanding is an over-used word. How many of us can truly say we understand something? If we are deeply honest, the better we think we know, the more we realize that we do not yet understand. The PYP recognizes this, and so in the PYP classroom understanding is always something we encourage students to strive towards, and is rarely a destination at which we can state we have arrived.
Teachers encourage this ‘striving’ by embedding within the units of enquiry 8 key ‘concepts’. These concepts enable students to forge connections across subjects and contexts, and begin to piece together knowledge and skills in the pursuit of ‘understanding’.
These eight concepts are:
- FORM: What is it like? The understanding that everything has a form with recognizable features that can be observed, identified, described and categorized.
- FUNCTION: How does it work? The understanding that everything has a purpose, a role or a way of behaving that can be investigated.
- CAUSATION: Why is it like it is? The understanding that things do not just happen, that there are causal relationships at work and that actions have consequences.
- CHANGE: How is it changing? The understanding that change is the process of movement from one state to another. It is universal and inevitable.
- CONNECTION: How is it connected to other things? The understanding that we live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.
- PERSPECTIVE: What are the points of view? The understanding that knowledge is moderated by perspectives, and different perspectives lead to different interpretations, understandings and findings. Perspectives may be individual, group, cultural or disciplinary.
- RESPONSIBILITY: What is our responsibility? The understanding that people make choices based on their understandings, and the actions they take as a result do make a difference.
- REFLECTION: How do we know? The understanding that there are different ways of knowing and that it is important to reflect on our conclusions, to consider our methods of reasoning and the quality and the reliability of the evidence we have considered.
In addition to the above key concepts, students will inquire into related concepts in all curriculum subject areas. For example, instead of simply gaining knowledge and skills in mathematics, they will deepen their understanding of concepts such as patterns, multiplication, place value and bias.
Attitudes: What do we want students to feel, value and demonstrate?
Attitudes both shape learning and are shaped by learning, and the development of appropriate attitudes are essential if students are to be successful in acquiring knowledge, skills and understanding. We therefore encourage the development of attitudes that contribute to the learning and well-being of self, others, and the environment.
Students in the NIS elementary program nurture attitudes of appreciation, commitment, confidence, cooperation, creativity, curiosity, empathy, enthusiasm, independence, integrity, respect and tolerance. It is these attitudes which support students as they progress in the curriculum – and in life.
Action: How do we want the students to act?
Students at NIS are encouraged to take action as a result of their learning. Student action can be a demonstration of a sense of responsibility and respect for self, others and the environment, and usually begins in a small way, arising from genuine concern and commitment.
Since learning happens in a real world context, students retain and expand on new information and concepts if they are able to act upon this new knowledge in a tangible way. If learning is relevant to them and can be applied to their lives, action becomes an intuitive process. As such, action cements and advances the cycle of learning – inspiring students to seek new knowledge and further growth.
Action as a result of learning often happens beyond the classroom so parents are encouraged to share information about action students take outside of school.