George Lucas Educational Foundation
Inquiry-Based Learning

International Baccalaureate: Identifying and Encouraging Genius

The IB’s Primary and Middle Years Programs let students pursue their interests and develop their collaborative, thinking, and problem-solving skills within a rigorous academic framework.

August 24, 2015
Photo Credit: Edutopia

At Wildwood IB World Magnet School, we believe that everybody is a genius. But this requires care that all students are provided with the right conditions to flourish in their own unique ways. What they learn when they are with us must be more than facts alone. They must develop their abilities to build and use their capacity, experience, imagination, creativity, and reflection to learn how to think and solve problems.

At Wildwood, this means that the learning community, parents, students, and teachers, are synchronized to the ideology of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programs. Students and teachers work to meet those programs' standards and practices. Teachers develop units of inquiry about a central idea, lines of inquiry, and global context. Students address the inquiry posited for exploration by the teachers. However, students are encouraged to contribute to the development of the unit's central idea by capitalizing on their present understanding of it. In this context, all students have the opportunity to develop their thinking and their understanding of a central idea in ways that are relevant to them. They aren’t limited by the teachers' sense of academic agency. Instead of one line of inquiry, students have multiple ways to further their thinking and understanding of the world they inhabit.

A Comprehensive Framework

The IB Primary Years Program (PYP), developed for learners age 3-12, is more than a philosophical approach to schooling. This comprehensive framework aims for a balance between five essential elements:

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Conceptual understanding of ideas
  • Personal character attributes/attitudes
  • Action as a result of learning

These elements are explored through 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

The idea behind these broad themes is that students and teachers can apply any academic lens to explore each theme. For example, while developing lines of inquiry about Who We Are, some students might apply a scientific approach (i.e. human anatomy), while others might apply a cultural approach and customs (i.e. beliefs), and yet others a mathematical approach (i.e. ratios and proportions of the human skeleton). The IB expects for these six themes to be organized in the following ways:

  • The written curriculum explains what students will learn.
  • The taught curriculum details how students will learn.
  • The assessed curriculum describes best practices to determine students' knowledge.

The PYP program also requires students to be engaged metacognitively about their work, because at the end of each unit, students write about what they learned, how they learned, and what action their learning led them to pursue.

Concepts, Context, and Approaches to Learning

This carefully organized curriculum framework is followed by IB's Middle Years Program (MYP). Developed for learners age 11-16, it gives students the opportunity to advance their thinking processes through practical connections in eight subject groups:

  • Language acquisition
  • Language and literature
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Arts
  • Physical and health education
  • Design

All subject groups have 16 key concepts from which students can develop their lines of inquiry. Additionally, each subject area is refined by subject-specific related concepts. Key and related concepts are conceptually explored through the global context component of the MYP. Similar to the six-transdiciplinary themes of the PYP, the global context component functions to bring practical connections to the subject matter, as well as a context for making subject matter relevant to students' lives. The MYP requires that students be engaged in one interdisciplinary unit of study involving at least two subject areas. In the program's fourth year, students are mandated to complete one long-term, completely self-directed project -- students decide what they want to learn and create a proposal for completing and assessing the project.

Another important aspect of the MYP program of inquiry is its Approaches to Learning (ATL) component, built around the idea that self-direction is essential for personal growth. Teachers and students work collaboratively and deliberatively to develop and present concepts and ideas in the following categories and skill clusters:

  • Communication: expression and interaction
  • Social: collaboration
  • Self-management: organization, affect, reflection
  • Research: information literacy, media literacy
  • Thinking: critical thinking, creative thinking, transfer

Considered the foundational component for self-directed, independent learning, ATL skills are incorporated in formative and summative student assessments. MYP instructional planners' formative and summative assessment component informs stakeholders how teachers build students' thinking skills (acquisition of knowledge and comprehension), social skills (cooperating and respecting others), communication skills (listening, reading, and writing) and research skills (collecting data, presenting data).

MYP subject guide objectives and developmentally-adjusted, criterion-referenced rubrics detail rigor and student attainment in ways that are unique to IB.

Setting and Opportunity

While teachers have a set of formative and summative assessments to document student progress, the PYP and MYP units of inquiry create conditions that give all students a choice in how they demonstrate what they have learned. This flexibility of the curriculum framework in both programs acknowledges that students are uniquely different, putting them in command of building their own skill sets beyond the teachers' sense of instructional agency. Students have the opportunity to build formative and summative assessments about application of knowledge, analysis, synthesis, and dialectical thought. In both the PYP and MYP programs, the unit planners help teachers develop what they want from the students by capitalizing on the unique life experiences that students bring to school.

Wildwood IB World Magnet School provides this setting and opportunity for all students in K-8th grade. Wildwood provides the conditions for choice of experience. For example, students are encouraged to investigate anything of personal interest to them. Through teacher-student conferencing and student-student dialogue, they communicate their interests and apply their subject knowledge in new and interesting ways. Understanding that one area of interest connects to another leads students to further research and reevaluation of their original ideas as teachers help them discover their interests and a passion for learning.

The IB curriculum framework provides an opportunity for students to express their ideas in ways that other frameworks do not. IB prepares students to be self-directed collaborators, thinkers, and reflective problem solvers -- in essence, what the future needs.

School Snapshot

Wildwood IB World Magnet School

Grades K-8 | Chicago, IL
426 | Public, Urban
Per Pupil Expenditures
$8624 Instructional Spending$13791 Operational Spending
Free / Reduced Lunch
59% White
22% Hispanic
10% Asian/Pacific Islander
6% Multiracial
4% Black
Data is from the 2014-15 academic year.

This blog post is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Wildwood IB World Magnet School.

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Filed Under

  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Interest-Based Learning
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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