Over the past month the teachers at DFHS have begun the process of closely examining the various aspects of the MYP in preparation for potential authorization. In many ways, this process is a natural “next step” for DFHS. In addition to making great progress in thinking across the disciplines as a result of our grade-level teams, we have also continued to focus on providing all students with experiences that are inquiry-based, authentic, and rooted in the IB Learner Profile. In doing so, our teams have identified key concepts to unify the disciplines and all teachers in grades 9-10 have now created (and piloted) an “MYP lesson” using a modified version of the MYP Unit Planner. These MYP lessons in many ways reflect the same principles that we focus on as a staff whenever we discuss high quality instruction, the Danielson rubric, and of course the vision and mission of our school district.
While the process has been comforting and validating for many of our teachers, the early stages of examining the MYP have further unified our staff while providing a shared direction across the disciplines. Our teachers are not only supporting one another through inter-visitations, but are also meeting both one-on-one and in small groups to provide feedback and suggestions for future growth. @Careim2 and I have also observed many of these lessons and have provided feedback based on the “big ideas” of the MYP.
Some of our initial observations are listed below. I invite the members of the DFHS staff to add to the list by commenting below. This running list will be helpful as we move into the next stages of the process and as we reflect upon our readiness as a school. Our initial observations are as follows…
It’s About Quality Instruction: Perhaps that biggest misconception that we needed to resolve from the outset was the idea that the MYP is something “new” and would result in more work and a new curriculum in all subject areas. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, the MYP is a philosophy that drives the curriculum and is rooted in all of the aspects of teaching and learning that we have focused on as a staff over the last several years. This includes Understanding By Design (UBD), the use of higher-order inquiry-based questions, differentiating based on formal and informal data, and project-based student-centered learning. Given that, all of the professional development work that we have done as a school is not only in-line with the MYP, but has also prepared us for this natural next step.
Beyond Content Acquisition: The role of schools has changed dramatically over the past decade and will continue to do so as a result of new technologies and new skills that individuals must possess in order to succeed in this century. Long gone are the days where teachers are the sole source of attaining knowledge and lecturing is the primary way that learning occurs. While you would be hard pressed to actually find a school that adheres to this “old” way of thinking in the year 2014, what is most validating about the MYP is that it challenges teachers and students to consider the “big ideas” of each discipline while promoting deep and enduring understanding across the disciplines. This philosophy connects directly to the work of Wiggins and McTighe (UBD) and has been an ongoing focus for the staff at DFHS. As an example, @MikeMeagh identified and posted seven overarching essential questions for his Global Studies classes at the beginning of the year. These questions are debatable, inquiry-based, ongoing, and evolve over time and with changing conditions. In tackling these essential questions over the course of the year, he uses guided questions (unit or lesson specific) that allow students to examine various (and specific) issues and/or periods in history. This approach not only keeps students grounded in the “big ideas,” but also helps them to make sense of the content by adding context, relevance, and understanding to all that they study.
Key Concepts: One of the features of the MYP is the use of key concepts as a way to essentially bridge the disciplines so that students can see the interconnectedness of the eight respective subject areas. While our ninth and tenth grade teams identified “perspective” and “logic” as their unifying key concepts, there have been some questions due to the perceived limitations of connecting robust content to a single concept. However, many of our teachers quickly realized that the key concepts simply serve as a lens to view the respective material and that well structured guiding and essential questions allow for deep exploration that goes beyond a simple connection to a key concept. Furthermore, teachers such as @ANewhouse6 and @angelocampanile took the opportunity to discuss how the respective concepts connect and are defined in different subject areas. These initial discussions not only contextualized the day’s learning for the students, but also promoted a higher level of student engagement as the students were inspired by the idea of talking about their other subjects with another teacher.
Student Centered Learning: Above all else, the IB is rooted in the belief that all students should be provided with an international education that will prepare them with the skills to create a “better world through education.” These skills include critical thinking, communication, problem solving and, for lack of a better way of putting it, knowing how to learn. In both our “MYP lessons” and during typical lessons that I observe at DFHS, our students have been asked to take control through an active process that puts them at the forefront of their learning. As an example, @sarahhmstern had her students engage in a formal debate using the essential question “Were the Mongols barbarians?” while @AndrewFischbeck engaged his students in a shared inquiry discussion on Holden’s museum experience in The Catcher in the Rye. In both instances the teachers served as facilitators while the students supported and defended their respective positions using text-based evidence. Authentic activities of this nature promote higher order thinking, 21st century skill development, student engagement, and of course enduring understanding. Furthermore, they are the types of learning experiences that are typical of both IB MYP and DP classes.
While we are in the early stages of investigating the MYP at DFHS, our teachers are well prepared for this transition and it essentially confirms all that we believe as an IB World School that has had a DP Program since 1998. Please feel free to comment below with feedback and/or specific examples of student centered experiences that are in-line with this philosophy.