I am an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator at a K-12 public school in Chicago, Illinois. In my role as coordinator, I assist teachers in planning and teaching using the MYP Framework, which focuses on inquiry-based, conceptual learning. IB has recently revised its planning and teaching framework for the MYP. Teachers at our school have had limited opportunities for learning about these changes and what they have learned has left many of them feeling like the MYP planning expectations are an obtuse set of requirements that do not connect in any meaningful way to their instruction or student learning.
My goal for the year is to help teachers understand the importance of teaching for conceptual understanding. Teaching for conceptual understanding will create shifts in our instruction so that we are more selective about which concepts we teach allowing us the time necessary for student-centered learning experiences that deeply explore ideas and students understanding/misunderstandings around them. Teaching for conceptual understanding will also require that connections are made between concepts within a content and the concept’s context in the world and other disciplines.
This shift towards conceptual teaching and learning will be ongoing throughout the year in a variety of professional learning settings. Whole staff development will occur in the days immediately preceding the beginning of school and then continue bimonthly throughout the year. The application of learning from pd will be supported in weekly department meetings and monthly one-on-one check-ins between each teacher and myself. During these meetings, teachers will explore ideas around conceptual teaching and learning and the role of learning experiences and performances of understanding in teaching for conceptual understanding. Some of the ideas that teachers will uncover during this inquiry include: understanding vs. knowledge; the difference between learning activities and learning experiences (*); the role of performances of understanding; and how to integrate technology to complement teaching for conceptual understanding.
In general, my pedagogical approach is to model the instructional strategies expected of our teachers as we explore teaching and learning for conceptual understanding. As such, PD will be inquiry based and teacher centered. A foundational understanding of teaching for conceptual understanding will be established through several learning experiences for teachers during PD in the days prior to the start of school.
Teachers will work in teams of three to research and answer one question of their choice from a provided list of questions (see below). Teams will summarize important aspects of articles they found that help answer their question and will pose additional questions generated as a result of the search.
Questions for inquiry:
What is teaching for conceptual understanding?
How is teaching for conceptual understanding different than traditional teaching?
What are the benefits of teaching for conceptual understanding?
How are learning experiences difference when teaching for conceptual understanding?
How can student misconceptions be used as a teaching tool?
What is a performance of understanding and how is it different than a traditional assessment?
Teachers, in groups, will be given multiple examples of learning activities from various content areas. They will work together to increase opportunities for conceptual understanding by modifying the learning activity creating ways to explore student misconceptions, connect meaningfully to other content/applications, or deepen understanding/exploration of the concept being learned. A padlet will be created for each learning activity and groups will post their modifications on the padlets.
Teachers will explore the concept of TPACK. After a brief introduction, teachers will participate in a learning experience where each teachers is given a card with either a pedagogical strategy, technology, or content. Teachers will then form groups of three with one of each of content, technology, and pedagogy. Once in their groups, teachers will generate an learning experience that integrates the three components. Each group will enter their components and a brief description of the learning experience in a google form. The teachers within the groups will switch cards, then all teachers will re-sort into new groups of three and repeat the process generating another set of learning experiences. The list of learning experiences will be shared with all teachers.
Teachers will be asked to reflect on the three learning experiences and how what they have learned might enhance their teaching. Teachers will also be asked to generate a goal for their teaching for the year.
Moving forward through the year teachers will develop unit plans evaluating and creating performances of understanding and learning experiences through the lens of increasing teaching for conceptual understanding. We will use the Understanding by Design model to develop overarching goals of each unit. Sharing and evaluation protocols will be utilized to help structure teachers collaboratively designing assessments. Teachers will also analyze student work and continually reflect on the effectiveness of various pedagogical strategies, technologies, and assessments on student learning.
The performances of understanding that teachers will complete to demonstrate their level of understanding about teaching for conceptual understanding will be three unit plans they revise or rewrite, the performances of understanding they create for their own classes, and their ability to lead future professional learning for the school as the process of reflection and revision of work throughout the year continues. In addition to informal feedback on their learning during professional development, I will review and provide written feedback on their performances of understanding. The purpose of individualized feedback is to further insure each teacher is reflective about their own teaching practice and level of understanding as we move our teaching towards conceptual learning goals.