My first year as an IB educator: Filled with wonderful learning experiences

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Two months before the school year started, I was already apprehensive if I could survive – thinking whether I could do it with limited knowledge about the IB Primary Years Programme. I did a lot of readings but some were still vague to me. I had a flurry of questions in my mind. All those questions and apprehensions remained even until the opening of the school year. I felt like I was not ready in a battlefield though I was already assured by my PYP coordinator that I could do it without any difficulty, and she even said that they were looking forward to learn from me. Then I thought “What?” What does she mean about it? Should I be asking what I need to learn about the IB PYP?

The school year started and I was fortunate to have an efficient and effective team teacher, who has been in the school for thirteen years now. She helped me all throughout the school year. I remember I kept asking her every day if I was doing okay. And she would reply ‘yes’ you’re doing ‘ok.’ I did not really believe her because I was really unsure of what I was doing. I was using the strategies and techniques that I know but I was not sure if it they were aligned with the PYP.

 Due to my quest for knowledge, I continued reading, hoping to lessen my apprehension. Thankfully, I was already enlisted to attend the ‘Making the PYP Happen’ that made me understand the IB curriculum (thanks to our PYP coordinator, Ms. Richel and our MTPYPH workshop facilitator, Ms. Amanda McCloskey). I realized that there were strategies and techniques that I was already using but did not know that those were aligned with IB PYP – I did not stop there. I continued to learn more by reading articles about the IB PYP (I’m looking forward to my next workshop in September to be held at BINUS SCHOOL Simprug – (Stay hungry, stay foolish) and joined the PYP groups on Facebook to connect and learn from other PYP educators around the world to find out the techniques and strategies that they are currently using.

Based on the knowledge that I acquired, I decided to change my teaching style – I always put in my mind that I should let the students discover their lessons, and I should find out their prior knowledge. There might be things that they already know that I don’t need to discuss further and the students might ask questions that would lead to a wonderful and meaningful discussion instead.

Here are my reflections in each transdisciplinary theme:

‘Who we are’ with the central idea: Children worldwide deal with different rights and responsibilities and face a variety of challenges, risks and opportunities.

The unit of inquiry, “Who we are” started with the students creating their self-identity poster. The students have written information about themselves and got the chance to present in front of the class. This was followed by doing the Think, Pair and Share routine and discussion about needs and wants (Y-chart) and rights and responsibilities (T-chart).

When the central idea and lines of inquiry were introduced, it was easy for the students to tell their responsibilities, but most of them had a hard time understanding what is rights (it was new to them- they said that rights are like doing the right things). Due to their lack of experience and knowledge about rights and challenges, more examples were given through videos (showing children around the world have different rights and responsibilities), watching the movie titled ‘Annie,’ and explained further why do they have rights (Children have risks and challenges). Eventually, all of them were able to understand that every child has rights and responsibilities.

The students also aired out their sentiments on why some children are working at a very young age (child labour) and why some girls or women in some parts of the world are not treated unfairly (liability)- boys are considered precious (asset). They also learned about the different organizations and people who work to protect children’s rights.

As a summative task, they conducted an information campaign to grades 4 and 5 students. They informed them that children have rights that they should enjoy and responsibilities to be done. They did their campaign well and few were able to answer challenging questions impressively with supporting evidence and websites.

The students also learned about narrative writing. They were given picture prompts related to the unit to write fiction or non-fiction stories.

Math was a stand-alone subject in this unit of inquiry. The students learned about numbers: place value, value, comparing and ordering, even and odd and rounding off. They also learned to solve 1-2 step problems using models but more practice was required for the word problems.

‘Sharing the planet’ with the central idea: Over time, living things need to adapt in order to survive.

Sharing the Planet was a very interesting unit for the students. When the central idea and lines of inquiry were introduced, they were very enthusiastic and were able to know immediately (most of them had prior knowledge of endangered and extinct animals, animal cruelty, survival, life cycles, etc.) the topics that were about to be discussed.

For tuning in, students posted some of their questions, concerns and suggestions on the ‘compass points’, and they enjoyed the ‘Colour, Symbol, Image’ activity wherein they were given a chance to choose a word that was related to the central idea and lines of inquiry. Most of them chose the words ‘endangered’ and ‘survive’. Their explanations of their chosen colours and symbols were very impressive.

As we went on with the unit, students were fascinated on how animals and plants are being classified, and on how they use physical and behavioral adaptation in order to survive (they were able to know that spiders are not insects but arachnids because they have eight legs). We had countless of learning engagements, and students had unending sharing of ideas about fascinating and rare species of animals as well as the carnivorous plants (they included their amazing facts). They also shared ideas on how animals become endangered and gave out some suggestions on how to protect them from becoming extinct.

For formative and summative assessments, the students enjoyed making their flip chart calendar of the classification of animal kingdoms, creating slide presentations of their chosen animal kingdom and adaptation poster.

Students learned how to write a persuasive text. They found out that to persuade readers, they have to state their best reasons.

            In retrospect, I should have given more time for students to learn further about habitat exchange. I should have provided more examples and explained to the students that even if the animal is placed in a harsh environment or climate, it would find ways to adapt in order to survive -it would develop physical or behavioral adaptation.

‘How we organize ourselves’ with the central idea: Marketplaces rely on the production and distribution of goods and services.

Before the unit started, I was a bit apprehensive if the students could understand the technical words, but through constant unlocking and giving examples by showing videos and slide presentations, eventually, they were able to get a clearer picture on what were they learning about. The practical and hands-on activities helped the students understand the central idea and lines of inquiry.

Their field trips to Bank Indonesia Museum and Ranch Market had given the students’ knowledge about the history of money, the features of a currency, the different sections in the marketplaces and value of saving money. They also learnt that they have to exert effort to earn money. They tried their best to give their service to make money for their capital.

Their field trip to the Ranch Market had taught them that the goods and services at a modern market are arranged accordingly from fruits and vegetables sections. They also learnt to calculate the total amount of their chosen items so their money is enough. And they didn’t need to be asked to put them back. They learnt to make a shopping list, so they could plan and check what they needed or what they didn’t have before heading to the market.

The mini-bazaar had given them the experience to sell, how to persuade the customers and how to calculate their profit, to give change, how to put up a stall and create an advertisement poster.

Students learnt about the features of recount writing as well as the use of connectives, past tense verbs, powerful adjectives and verbs and adverbs.

‘How we express ourselves’ with the central idea: A variety of signs and symbols facilitates communication.

This unit “How we express ourselves” made the students realized that there are different ways to convey information. They learned that uttering words is not the only way to communicate. They can use facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, signs, symbols, colours, etc. in order to be understood.

The students also learned that those who are visually impaired, hearing impaired and have speech defects have specialized systems of communications in order to communicate with others. They are the ASL (American Sign Language) and the Braille method – wherein they were able to write their names in Braille method and apply their knowledge of ASL to the students of Sekolah Santi Rama, a deaf and mute school, who visited the school (although there are words that are quite different from the Indonesian Sign Language, the teachers from Sekolah Santi Rama were very quick to teach the students the difference).

The students also found out the difference between signs and symbols as well as their importance. They started to notice the signs along the streets and main roads on their way to school and going somewhere else. And after learning signs, symbols and giving directions, students created their own treasure map complete with map key, compass rose and coordinates.

Students were able to learn different types of poems and compiled them to create a poetry booklet. Several students had difficulty writing a limerick poem because the last syllable for the first, second and fifth lines must rhyme and it should be funny.

For the summative task, the students were given three choices: role play, pantomime and play script writing. Most of them chose role-play, only one group for pantomime and two groups for play script writing. They enjoyed their performances on stage.

This unit was supposed to be finished in six weeks, but because of the International Schools Assessment practice, the unit was extended for another week, as the contact time was lessened. Hopefully next school year this unit will be finished in six weeks because this will be our first unit. We also want to lessen the coverage, so the students can master all the skills.

‘How the world works’ with the central idea: Matter exists in three common states and lead to various changes.

Before the unit on ‘How the world works’ was introduced, three groups of items were placed in full view of the students (the inquisitive ones started checking and touching every item prior to introduction of the unit, central idea and lines of inquiry). With their partner, students were asked to observe the three groups of items and do the ‘Think, Pair and Share’ activity. When few students had given their prior knowledge about solid, liquid and gas, the unit was introduced. They did the Think, Puzzle and Explore routine and posted their ideas and questions on the board.

Upon reading the central idea and lines of inquiry, the students were eager about the experiments that they were going to conduct. You could see in the students’ faces the excitement.

For the field trip, they went to Coca Cola Amatil, but they did not show the actual process (showing chemical and physical changes). They should have shown videos on how the water turns to colored water.

For formative assessment, they created an ‘All about Matter’ poster or booklet wherein the students wrote down what they have learned so far about matter and conducted simple experiments.

As a summative task, the students conducted experiments showing chemical and physical changes. They also wrote procedural texts for both of the experiments and ‘All about matter’ poster.

In math, the students learned about measurement – what to use to measure things (tools) and the conversion of basic units.

Students learned about the procedural text, the features and the different types (recipe, making a craft, creating a game and conducting an experiment. They also learned about the different parts of a book. As an application of what they have learned, they combined all their writings and created a procedural text booklet.


‘Where we are in place and time’ with the central idea: Human needs lead to discoveries and new understandings.

 The unit, ‘Where we are in place and time’, started with a ‘gallery walk’. Students observed the two groups of pictures, and then they did the ‘See, Think and Wonder routine to list down their observations. Once they were done with the activity, the unit was introduced (central idea, lines inquiries, concepts, profiles and attitudes. Students did the ‘Think, Puzzle and Explore thinking routine, wherein they wrote down their predictions, prior knowledge, questions and ideas on how to explore the topics that they were about to learn.

While discussing the central idea, the students found out that human needs (students listed down their wants and needs in a T – chart) was the main reason why people decided to invent something.

To fully equip with knowledge about inventors and inventions, the students watched movies and videos of famous inventors and their inventions. They were able to learn their famous statements and most of them like the statements by Thomas Alva Edison and Steve Jobs: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ and “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

The students also watched videos of latest inventions as well as the inventions created by some talented kids. After watching the videos, they were asked to answer the question: What would you like to invent in the future?

As a formative task, the students created a timeline of their chosen invention. They presented it in the class using a slide presentation.

As a summative task, the students had an “Inventors’ Meet” where they dressed up like their chosen inventor and explained how they succeeded in creating their inventions.

The students learned about an information report and its features. They wrote an information report of their chosen invention and a biography of their chosen inventor. In preparation for their summative task, the students changed the biography of their chosen inventor to autobiography. This was used as their script for the “Inventors’ Meet”.

As a teacher, this unit of inquiry was my favorite because the students got the chance to dress up like their chosen inventor. And they were able to learn about their struggles, failures, hard work and on how they succeeded in creating their inventions.

Based on my understanding about the IB PYP, every child should be given a chance to share his/her ideas in various ways. It could be through Think, Pair and Share routine, clock partners, etc. Teachers should guide their students to visualize their thinking using the thinking routines.

What I like about the IB PYP is that the teachers hold weekly level and planner meetings to share ideas and plan learning engagements. Teachers also gauge student’s understanding through formative and summative assessments.

For the new PYP teachers like me, here are the things that I researched that we need to bear in mind:

  • Teaching an IB program is a rewarding experience for every teacher. Teachers play a fundamental role in developing open-minded and knowledgeable adults for the future.
  • We should not be disheartened if things do not go smoothly immediately. Adapting to the PYP practices can require a huge amount of work and commitment.
  • IB workshops specifically ‘Making the PYP Happen’ are wonderful gifts from the universe. These workshops are the best opportunity for you to step back, reflect and plan for new things to be bravely tried in the classroom.
  • The IB demands as much from its teachers as it does from students.
  • Your first year will be filled with questions and as many steps back as there are steps forward.
  • As a PYP teacher, you are never alone. Talking to others can help you through any moments of self-doubt.
  • The PYP coordinators and level heads always give advice and that is to share ideas with both other teachers and students – the better the communication within the teaching team, the more scope for ideas there is. You need to be always keen to pick your colleagues’ brains. 
  • The PYP expects students to take action, which includes inquiring deeper into concepts explored in class. As PYP educators, we need to do the same in order to learn and grow.
  • Little flickering fairy lights moments. Bit by bit, things will begin to make sense.

The whole school year was truly a wonderful learning experience for me. I am grateful to my school principal, Mr. Peter; PYP coordinator, Ms. Richel; level head, Ms. Priyanka; my team teacher, Ms. Martha and colleagues in grade 3: Ms. Colleen, Ms. Kavita, Ms. Frida, Ms. Mey and Ms. Sylvia, who taught me a lot of things. I can’t wait for the next school year to learn more and be a better PYP educator.

By: Freitz Gerald Talavera

       Grade 3 Classroom Teacher

       BINUS SCHOOL Simprug


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