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The Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Learning That Lasts

February 23, 2021 - By Howard De Leeuw - Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

One of the books I spent time reading during the recent Carnaval break was The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath. In this book, they share the story of a university chemistry professor, Michael Palmer, who created the Course Design Institute to transform university teaching practices.

He explains what the typical and traditional approach to designing a course looks like:

“What typically happens to a professor is this: You’re assigned to teach a course, often with very little notice before the semester. Let’s say it’s ‘Intro to Chemistry 1.’ You flip through a textbook and experience a shock: How in the world can I get through all this material in one semester? It’s overwhelming. There are too many variables to consider all at once, so you put a stake in the ground. You pick up a textbook. Now at least you’ve got a table of contents to use as a rough road map. That’s comforting. So you start mapping the chapters to the 14 weeks in your semester. Then, for each week, you can subdivide the topics into lectures. Finally, based on the topics you’ll lecture on, you decide what will be on the students’ exams.”

The problem with this approach, as Palmer points out, is that “instead of starting with your goals and working backward, you started with no goals at all! You simply took a big pile of content and subdivided it into class-sized chunks.”

Here at EARJ, we are moving toward becoming an IB Continuum school. While we have already had the IB Diploma Programme (DP) for nearly 40 years, the lower schools on both campuses are now implementing the Primary Years Programme (PYP), and both of our upper schools will become candidate schools for the Middle Years Programme (MYP) by the next school year. Central to inquiry-based learning inherent in all these IB programs is a backward-design approach.

Which brings me back to the work of Palmer. How did he get university professors to change their traditional approach to planning a course? He starts by asking them to imagine they have a group of dream students. “They are engaged, they are perfectly behaved, and they have perfect memories… Fill in this sentence: 3-5 years from now, my students will know __________. Or they still are able to do __________. Or they will find value in ________.”

This simple but powerful exercise made professors rethink their courses because they realized the traditional approach focused on covering content, yet what they ultimately wanted from their students was not so much content knowledge, but instead qualities like “connecting and collaborating with colleagues. They will feel confident reviewing new research,” or “I want them to think of math as fun and interesting in its own right, not just practical,” or “I want them to know the scientific process. If they see some animal doing something interesting, they can come up with a way to work through the scientific process to study it.”

As I read through this account of Palmer’s work, it made me think about our shift to the MYP (International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme) over the next five years, and what this will mean for parents, students, and teachers. Of course, the IB Learner Profile will continue to be an important overall goal for all of our students. But more specifically, how would a school that offers the MYP respond to Palmer’s fill-in-the-blank questions above?

The MYP aims to develop students who are:

  • Active learners;
  • Internationally minded;
  • Able to empathize with others;
  • Have the intellect and skills to pursue lives of purpose and meaning.

According to the IB Website, research shows that students who participate in the MYP:

  • build confidence in managing their own learning;
  • learn by doing, connecting the classroom to the larger world;
  • outperform non-IB students in critical academic skills;
  • consistently have greater success in IB Diploma Programme examinations;
  • thrive in positive school cultures where they are engaged and motivated to develop an understanding of global challenges and a commitment to act as responsible citizens.

So the learning that lasts in the MYP would mean that 3-5 years from now…

My students will know… how to actively and confidently manage their own learning.

They still are able to… empathize with others and be internationally minded. They will find value in… pursuing lives of purpose and meaning.

Those are just some of the goals our teachers will help students achieve as we move forward with our MYP implementation and continue our journey as an IB continuum school!

Howard De Leeuw
Gávea Upper School Principal

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