building better wagons

2E6672CD-BE92-4F42-BE13-E3F32830AD90I’m obsessed with printing Klein bottles, “a surface in which notions of right and left cannot be consistently defined.” I suppose that I like them for how weird they are, how there isn’t supposed to be a beginning or end, and, really, how cool they look. While my prints of these bottles are mostly relegated to designs that I’ve found online, the design and fabrication of such a shape seems ripe for some interdisciplinary work at the intersection of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

STE(A)M is another one of those educational “innovations” that I wrote about yesterday, though I don’t like talking about it as an innovation when working within and between these subject areas should be the norm rather than something special. I get that the acronym has a big fan, but the problem with STE(A)M is that it puts a focus on certain subject areas and ignores others. Why aren’t we paying similar attention to how English and history studies could and should be paired so that they spiral together? Or what about the interplay between English and technology, or physical education and math, or heck, just about any other combination of subjects?

At school, we’re working on crafting a statement that explains the work that we’re doing with STE(A)M, and I keep getting hung up on the lack of truly transdisciplinary focus that includes all subject areas. As my friend and colleague, Chris Beddows, wrote on his great new IB Primary Years Program-focused blog:

Now we are not saying we are becoming a ‘STEAM School’  - we are, and continue to be, committed to the standards and mission of the IB. We are proud to be an IB world school. However, STEAM is an approach to teaching and learning that will truly enhance our program of inquiry. It is also a way that we can continue to strengthen and develop our links throughout all three programs we offer at school. These links are clear to see. You just have to look at the program models from the IB. Within each there are the phrases ‘approaches to teaching’ and ‘approaches to learning’.

Each one of the IB program models emphasizes a well-rounded education and, as Chris mentioned, separate but related foci on approaches to teaching and approaches to learning. What I think we’re finding is that STE(A)M is a great way to frame our first concerted effort at interdisciplinary work (though our lower school, and I suspect many lower schools, have been doing such work for a long time), but there’s a lot more to truly great teaching and learning than the acronym. Interdisciplinary work that scaffolds through all our grades, that broadens in scope and breadth, and that informs — but doesn’t constrain — what we do in our classrooms is becoming the new hallmark that we are striving towards.



Who doesn’t love a good acronym? But teaching and learning shouldn’t be constrained by the letters that we choose to use in an easy to remember word, just as it shouldn’t hitch its wagon to every cool-sounding “innovative” educational movement.

Approaches to Teaching and Outcome-Based Plans… and STEM again

programmodels

 

© International Baccalaureate Organization 2012

 

I’ve been trying to come up with talking points for expanding our lower school STEM initiative into a broader K-8 program, and, as my previous post gave away, hopefully re-framing it into more of a holistic approach to both technology integration and the intersection of those specific subjects into the rest of the curriculum. Moving this program into our middle school is going to be a challenge because we’re not only expanding past self-contained classrooms for a bell schedule and roving packs of students, but also because we’re now looking at eight separate disciplines of the IB Middle Years Program instead of cross-curricular Program of Inquiry in the Primary Years Program. Yesterday, I noticed that all four of the new program models released earlier this year have Approaches to Teaching in the concentric circle closer to the learner. This felt like opportunity to re-center the discussion around how we teach instead of what we teach, if only I could find more information about what the IB’s definition of Approaches to Teaching actually meant.

Unfortunately, I can’t find much.

From the announcement of the new program models, it seems that the definition shifts slightly from program to program.

  •  PYP: “The three components of the PYP curriculum cycle (written, taught and assessed) nowembodied in Approaches to Teaching, aligns with MYP, DP and IBCC programmes. It
    reinforces the PYP pedagogy of authentic learning that is inquiry-based and conceptually
    driven.”
  • MYP: “Approaches to teaching—this emphasizes the MYP pedagogy, including collaborative, authentic learning through inquiry.”
  • DP: “Approaches to teaching and learning are included in the inner circle of the model demonstrating the DP’s commitment to particular pedagogical approaches to teaching and to developing particular skills for learning.”
  • IBCC: There isn’t anything that specifically addresses Approaches to Teaching in that document.

At least in the PYP and MYP, which coincidentally happen to be the grades we’re looking to expand our STEM push throughout, there is a focus on inquiry and authentic learning being at the heart of teaching and learning (though I must admit to being a bit discouraged at not only the lack of information but also the lack of standardization of how Approaches to Teaching – or is that Approaches to teaching? – is treated as formal terminology, and how the Diploma Program seems to only give it a passing glance). It sure sounds as though if we keep doing what we’re already meant to be doing, we shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel. This doesn’t have to become something where our lower school and middle school teams (and high school beyond them) need to fuss with criteria, transitions, and formalizing something new, and it instead can help us focus on the intersections of subjects and how we purposefully incorporate technology, not to serve any particular disciplines but instead because it’s how we want our students to learn.

If programmatic differences aren’t going to be a problem in widespread adoption of our STEM initiative (or any other initiative to come down the road), I think we’re going to need to redefine success. In broad strokes, we should be able to identify the outcomes that we expect our teaching and learning to conform to and define how a student at our school will learn on a daily basis and trust that we’re already doing a good enough job meeting our program criteria to remove that as our daily foci. “Students are encouraged to create something every day” or “Every classroom will be a safe space to learn from mistakes” or even “Each unit of study will sit at the intersection of at least three subjects” might be better ways to measure success on a school-wide level than referring to any bulleted list of standards to adhere to, especially when we’re supposed to be doing that anyway. How else can you make the transition from a school that meets requirements to a school that transforms what teaching and learning looks like?

So… any IB educators care of weigh in on the definition of Approaches to Teaching? Or is this simply too broad (and important) to be contained in just one part of a model of learning?