Updated: Sep 25, 2022
The world is already at our fingertips. The internet has opened us up to pretty much every corner of the world and it is not difficult to strike up connections we have never met who are in the other side of the world. At the same time 24x7 reporting brings us snippets of events that are taking place anywhere around the world.
Trying to make sense of this global connectivity; trying to place things that are happening in relationship with the communities that we find ourselves in; trying to understand how we can both make sense of and respond to these things - these seem to be among the most important skills we should be developing at school.
Education needs to not just shift from content to concepts but from learning to development. It turns out knowing stuff is no great determination of human contentment but being able to see meaning and derive purpose in big ideas is. Therefore, I argue, we need concepts in the curriculum to be more about transcendency than transfer. We need to support students in making personal meaning from the things that we talk and learn about. This thinking is informed by some remarkable work by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang For a concise understanding of this emerging field I encourage you to read this article or listen to this podcast , or even better do both.
The IB would call this kind of thinking International Mindedness. To help understand what international mindedness is they developed the Learner Profile. These are 10 attributes that they believe:
"help individuals and groups to become responsible members of local, national and global communities"
Essentially international mindedness fulfils the stated aim of all IB programmes:
"to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world."
The route to internationally mindedness is a tricky one to articulate. So this is something I wanted to turn to. Could there be a simple framework that could be used in the design, delivery and review of units that would help build in international mindedness more explicitly into the programme?
Built on the premise that international mindedness is as much about knowing and changing oneself as it is about our immediate communities and the global systems, I have designed the 'My Place in the Story' framework.
This framework encourages the learner to consider every aspect of a matter in terms of what they know, what meaning is made from it (ie how are they going to connect with the material) and how they are going to respond. By asking these questions at the three levels of the self, their social network and systemically, the framework embeds IB values into the learning experience. Each interacting segment of the framework will herein be referred to as a dimension of the My Place in the Story Framework.
Usage of the MPITS Framework
1. Unit planning / Unit reflection tool - Encouraging Relevancy and Action
Below is one of the versions of the framework that can be used as a either a unit planning or unit evaluation tool. The idea is to consider how we can (or whether we did) push the learning out from solely the rich content that the material of the unit was built upon.
2. Student reflection tool - explicitly developing International Mindedness
In pushing out from content into ideas that have both personal meaning and global relevance (which we hope will inspire action at a variety of levels) it is hoped that this causes students to grow in their awareness and understanding as to how the world works. By recognising that there are other people with other opinions and wider impacts (than they might first of thought) it is hoped that this framework more explicitly supports international mindedness.
By pondering the questions in each dimension of the framework students can use this to reflect their learning in the unit and how this might have developed them in terms of International Mindedness. I have proposed, for each question, an aspect of international mindedness that they may have developed in (of course in reality most characteristics play a part in all the intersections of this framework and this is not a hard and fast taxonomy):
I have already begun to use this model with students as we reviewed a recent unit. They were given a blank version of the 'My Place in the Story' model (see below) and a template with the dimension questions. They were then asked to write into each box thoughts that they had developed and questions that they still had. After doing this for a minimum of four dimensions they were encouraged to pick an aspect of the Learner Profile that they felt that the unit had stretched them in (with the focus explicitly on international mindedness). Initial feedback is that they found that it opened their awareness of the topic and the world around them as they did it. One asked why we hadn't done it earlier in the unit. He had a point.
3. Sophisticated conceptual understandings, connecting across the disciplines
Because the aim of the model is to support student's informed narratives about themselves and the world around them, the framework has concepts at the very heart of the design.
To incorporate concepts into the framework I felt that it was important to use concepts that are easily shared across all subjects in the MYP curriculum. It felt sensible to do this through another highly conceptual framework that already exists in the programme and that is already shared in the MYP - namely the Global Contexts. For interest sake I compared these with the Human Commonalities identified by the Common Ground Collaborative and found them to overlap considerably.
The concepts chosen are a development of an idea I already shared with the IB community a while ago now in an offical IB blog post that they commissioned in 2017. The core idea that they be shared and that the global contexts are a great vehicle for this remains at the heart of the idea -though the actual concepts chosen have changed (though not as much as one might imagine).
Here are the concepts that I think arise when I explore the Global Contexts through the lens of Self, Social and Systems. Interestingly they seemed to line up nicely with the UNDP areas of expertise (under which the UN Development Goals can be seen to be clearly categorised):
These concepts are, I believe, some of the biggest and most complex themes facing humanity today. A student leaving MYP well versed in these concepts will be one well-equipped for the globalised future that they face. As a result, I do not expect them to understand these concepts fully when they first meet them. Indeed for sophisticated understanding repeated revisiting of them is necessary. By tying these concepts to the Global Context ,and having them discuss 3 concepts together, allows students to encounter them in every subject every year. They will leave after 5 years of exposure, through repeated interaction, both familiar with them and well versed in ideas around them. I believe sophisticated understandings will emerge from such a process (Note: the MYP requires that “Over the course of the programme, student need to develop an understanding of the key and related concepts at increasing levels of sophistication and abstraction” - p58, MYP Principles into Practice).
In order to help explore these concepts in greater detail I have adapted the Global Context lines of enquiry into questions and assigned them to each concept. Discussions on these pressing questions that face the current world will help students to form ideas about the world around them:
This approach is designed to enable students to be regularly exposed to some really significant issues and concepts. Not only that, when the unit is reflected upon there is another chance to interact with these concepts in each of the dimensions of the My Place in the Story Framework. The use of these concepts will, I believe, help them to think more metacognitively about their answers as well as further deeper their conceptions about these major ideas.
Side notes on the nature of these shared concepts:
1. Alignment with the official IB MYP key concepts
Those who know MYP will instantly spot that I have not chosen the official MYP key concepts. For those worried that this makes the coverage requirements more difficult I have mapped these concepts to the official concepts to show that by focussing on the proposed concepts you will by default quickly be covering cover all the official ones (you might want to flag the original ones in the unit for record keeping purposes).
2. Transcendence over Transfer - Concepts as Coffee Houses
These key concepts are a fundamental rethink of the notion of the term. Until now key concepts have largely been conceived as vehicles for the transfer of specifically defined generalised ideas from one subject to another. Definitions have been given and the assumption has been that they represent universal ideas that unite all thinkers in all disciplines.
In this rethink of concepts they are seen as places where ideas can form. They are ill defined, the student needs to fill them with their own understandings. This means we are not seeking a particular interpretation of the concept to be transferred. They are not universal in terms of meaning but they are universal in terms of relevance. They are thus more transdisciplinary than interdisciplinary in nature. I would suggest therefore that when a student builds a conceptual understanding it is not through transfer but through transcendence.
In simpler terms I see concepts as being shared spaces where students can explore, form and articulate their ideas. They are more like coffee houses than checkpoints. Here, thoughts from all the different subjects meet to discuss their perspectives on a matter. Perspectives held under the banner of each concept may not only not be universal, they may even be conflicting. By creating these shared places (like the coffee houses of old) we create the space for explorations of meaning.
That does not mean that all concepts do not transfer. The more I dwell on the matter the more I am convinced that super concepts are better examples of concepts that truly transfer common ways of thinking. They work because they use a mechanism by which analogies from one subject directly inform thinking in another subject - in a process called analogous thinking.
I feel that this is has some incredibly powerful potential. It has already been shown that it can link international mindedness more closely to the key concepts. By additionally linking it with the global contexts it offers much greater synergy between three fundamentally important parts of the programme. I also want to see if it can support the development of other important aspects of the MYP programme, namely ...
Approaches to Learning (ATLs)
The one aspect of MYP that is not (yet) explicit in the framework is the role of the ATLs. To me they are there but as of yet only implicitly. They are there when students consider how they move from one grid to another.
for example to move from localised content to the implications of this content on the system (global level) then students probably need to exercise some Research Skills. To move to creating materials to raise awareness they will need Communication Skills. To inspire others to join a cause then they will need their Collaborative skills. To grow in understand how we might even go about tackling any needed change clearly needs Thinking Skills and to take action requires Self management Skills.
the Statement of Inquiry (SOI)
I see that this formulation of the key concepts, their built in synergy with the global contexts having an impact on the SOI. It is my contention that the current formulation of the SOI is super complex and that this detracts from its value to the programme (for both teachers and students). Could this idea lead to a formulation of a unit's purpose that is simpler, more effective and provides easier connection between unit?
In short the end goal is never just the content it must be about the change we want to be and can be to make this world a better place. We need a blend of IB Approaches to get there and the students need to grow in their grasp of all the elements of an IB education.
This framework aims to offer that. I hope it helps.
Thank you reader for making it this far, for a copy of an editable version on Google Docs please click here. I expect the framework to undergo adaptation in every school context. I would simply ask that if you like the approach that you acknowledge the source - it helps me and where I hope to take this work.