New to IB PYP Unit of Inquiry? This is for you


If you're new to the IB PYP and about to step into the realms of the unit of inquiry, then this article is for you. In response to many questions, I've put this overview together for you as a guide to the whats, hows and whys. Get excited! Inquiry based learning is such a hands on, fun way to learn....for all involved! I have also created a guide for 10 Ways to Bring Inquiry Based Learning Into Your Classroom. If you'd like this free guide, simply add your e mail in the box below and I will send it to you. If you're looking for more in-depth guidance and training, you may be interested in my Getting Started with Student-Led Inquiry training kit or the complete online course, Essentials for Inquiry. So many options. This is a lengthy read, so grab a pen and notebook and get comfortable. Read on!

The Unit of Inquiry: Its form & function.

The unit of inquiry is the road we take for all of the teaching and learning that will take place over the course of 4-6 weeks. It is a long inquiry-based project, based around significant concepts ( both key concepts and related concepts) in which the children will gain knowledge and apply on-going skills through an in-depth inquiry based on a theme and a central idea. (There are six themes: Who We Are, How the World Works, Sharing the Planet, How We Express Ourselves, Where We Are in Place and Time and How We Organise Ourselves. Early years classes generally only do 4-5 themes and for those older grades who participate in the PYP Exhibition, they can choose to use one of the themes for their Exhibition or create their own additional theme.) Information accurate as of date of writing, 2022 The unit of inquiry is transdisciplinary, making for an authentic learning experience and a more in-depth understanding of the concepts that your student needs to understand. While exploring the unit's broad central idea, and narrower lines of inquiry, the children learn specific skills and strategies from the core subjects ( maths, language arts, science, social studies, personal, social and physical education, art, music and drama), making their own connections between what they already know, what they are learning and how it relates to the world around them.

It is not expected that you shall cover every single subject in every single unit. Some units will be more science based than others, whilst some are more social studies based and so on. It all balances out across the year and the entire programme of inquiry. You can find an entire collection of transdisciplinary units of inquiry in my store. These all support the process of inquiry as the children develop understanding of content through the concepts. Take a look here!  [caption id="attachment_10231" align="alignnone" width="1056"] A selection of units of inquiry to support concept based inquiry.[/caption]

Components of the Unit: The Elements

Content: The content is delivered through investigations of big ideas or concepts, tied around one concept-based central idea. The concepts bring context to the content. (You can read more about developing conceptual understanding in this article.) Each unit is focused on having the children transfer their understanding as they learn important knowledge and skills that come through those concepts and the IB Phases/Standards. Thus, the Programme of Inquiry is a continuum of transfer of progressive understanding of concepts within each of the transdisciplinary themes. For example: place & time, organisation, expression, who we are etc.)  Examples can be found in the free overview.

Concepts bring context to the content.

The Inquiry: With specific lines of inquiry that intrigue and inspire curiosity, along with student-driven questions, the children are engaged in an extended process of investigation as they learn how to find answers to their inquiries and present solutions to problems that arise along the way. In other words, they are learning how to learn through skills-based learning experiences. Those skills are commonly known as 21st century skills and within the PYP as the Approaches to Learning Skills.  Knowledge: The children will see that there is a need to gain further knowledge and understanding of the content, skills and concepts in order to progress through the inquiry. They will be applying the Approaches to Learning Skills ( read more about the ATL skills here) in order to answer the lines of inquiry. And this all begins with a provocation. The Provocation: This is a way to generate interest, spark curiosity and invite the children's wonder to our plans as we are about to begin the unit. It can be an event, artefacts or a visitor. It can be a powerful way to bring the children's' questions to the front, in effect having the students lead into the inquiry. And it isnt a one off occurrence. It is our job to plan to provoke the children's wonder throughout the unit of inquiry. For simplicity, plan to have a provocation for each line of inquiry to begin and, as you become more adept with the art of the provocation, you can plan more opportunities for this powerful method of inspiring student-led inquiry. For practical ideas on the art of the provocation, read this article I wrote especially for it. The Approaches to Learning Skills: Thinking, Research, Social, Self Management & Communication: These are skills that are crucial to 21st century learners. They work in conjunction with each other. By explicitly teaching and practising these skills throughout the inquiry process builds competency and moves the children from teacher-guided inquirers to independent learners.

We are ultimately developing thinkers and inquirers. We strive to encourage a love for finding out as well as giving the children the tools to figure out how to find out.

Further reading can be found here: 

Student Agency: This is a key component within the IB PYP. It is giving the children a voice and allowing them choices about the inquiry and it's direction. The teacher will act largely as a facilitator throughout the unit, depending on the level of inquiry that your students are capable of. Are they wholly independent or do they require structured inquiry or guided inquiry? Most often, you will find that your class is a mixture of all levels depending on the activity. You will therefore model it as teacher differentiated and student-paced. Collaboration: This is a BIG deal in the inquiry based classroomm. PYP schools commit to and support collaboration to improve the transdisciplinary learning experiences and student outcomes. You absolutely want to allow the children to share ideas through discussions, comparing perspectives, working together to solve problems, embracing failure and celebrating combined success. Plan your class layout to allow room for this group work to work smoothly. This article Supporting A Collaborative Classroom for more suggestions. Reflection: The entire unit includes time for the children to reflect; giving and receiving input on their work, the direction of the inquiry and the quality of their efforts. This allows them to self-assess, make revisions, decide upon next steps and take action. It is an on-going process and NOT to be held off until the very end only. Assessment will fall under this component - formative and some summative assessments for all aspects of the inquiry. ADDITIONAL READING:

Action: You ideally want this to be initiated by the children. However, guiding the action is not frowned upon as you help the children to understand what action looks like and how they can take action for themselves, by themselves. It can look very different across grade levels and can be as simple as a child bringing in a book related to the inquiry to share with the class all the way to a class-organised charity fundraiser that was suggested by a group of children and guided by the teacher. Further reading on TAKING ACTION:

[caption id="attachment_121" align="aligncenter" width="980"] Grade 5 publicly voice their perspective in Denver for improving human rights.[/caption] An Audience: Make this another component that is present throughout the unit and not just at the end. By presenting their work to others, the children become confident in their ability to communicate their thoughts and their knowledge. This can be a simple partner to partner sharing of ideas, a group effort presenting their thinking or a grandiose summative presentation to families.

Collaboration is a 21st century skill that is used all the time in an inquiry-based learning environment.

I have provided more suggestions for this in the free guide. As with anything new, give yourself grace and take it one small step at a time. The IB PYP can, understandably seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. There's a lot to learn, particularly around the language to begin. Don't lose sight of the fact that you are bringing your own experience into your PYP classroom and that you are the greatest resource for the children. The rest will come to you, I promise. However, once you have grasped the basis of inquiry-based learning and armed yourself with visible thinking strategies, you'll be well on your way. Feel free to reach out. My door is open. Enjoy!

P.S. I do offer an online, video training course, for those who are new or just getting started with inquiry-based teaching. You can find more information about that here. In addition, there are free video trainings and tons of information on my blog, my Facebook page PYP Teaching Tools and Instagram, @pypteaching where I share my classroom activities and learning experiences.


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