Why Concept Based Learning Works in the IB PYP


Newsflash: Concept based learning is not exclusive to the IB PYP and it is not new. It may be buzzing around right now but it is certainly not simply the latest buzz word. It is how we have brought depth to understanding and transferrable knowledge within inquiry, ANY inquiry, in ANY subject, for a very long time. If you are just now learning about a concept based approach to learning, then welcome. You will never go back from here. :)

Form: What is Concept-Based Inquiry?

If you are new to this idea, consider that working from a concept-based approach to inquiry is going to bring two approaches to teaching together. We are merging inquiry-based learning with concept-based learning to produce this multi-dimensional approach that supports student agency, develops 21st century skills, amplifies understanding and enhances transfer of knowledge. 

Traditional learning typically chases facts and skills, bringing a two-dimensional approach to teaching and learning. Knowing facts is not enduring understanding. Too often the facts are frontloaded by the teacher with not enough investigation by the children. Consider the following as an example:

Fact: We know the sky is blue.

But do we understand why the sky is blue? 

Inquiry-based learning focuses on your students' questions to drive the inquiry and direct learning.  Student-led inquiry asks the children to take an active role in presenting their questions and also in finding the answers to those questions, all whilst they construct meaning. It is through this investigation that skills are developed and understanding is founded. Reflect on how the children's questions could add depth to understanding and further develop skills required in order to find the answers. 

  • What makes the sky blue? 
  • Why does the sky change colour with the weather? 
  • Is the sky still blue even at night?
  • What if pollution affects the sky?

Concept based inquiry recognises that facts have a role in learning. However, it lends itself towards a synergy between facts and skills merging through a conceptual lens that can be timeless, universal, abstract and transferrable. This allows the inquiry to go in multiple directions dependent on the children's curiosity rather than one single fixed, teacher-decided plan. 


Using this combined approach, your students begin to make connections, identify patterns, synthesise information more fluently and with a greater ability to apply their learning across disciplines, further extending beyond the inquiry and into real-world situations. Conceptual understanding transfers across disciplines, through time, across situations, place and cultures. It brings an authenticity to learning and a purpose. 

  • making connections; students relate new knowledge to prior knowledge 
  • transferring understanding from one context to another across disciplines  & the programme of inquiry
  • builds international mindedness as those connections are made across place, time, culture and situations.
  • requires development of skills to construct meaning and articulate understanding
  • supports intellectual development over simply memorising facts
  • demands active participation of the learner rather than passively learning
  • enables and supports an agentic approach to learning, which in turn leads to higher student and teacher engagement

How can I learn more about a Concept-Based Inquiry?

If you’re looking to deepen your own understanding of the concept-based inquiry approach and ready to feel more confident planning  a student-led inquiry through concepts, you can enrol in Essentials for Inquiry: Getting Started with Student Led Inquiry.  With over 12 hours of video-based, online learning, you can go at your own pace and refer back to the content over and over as you prefer or need. Once you purchase it, it is yours for life! Take a look and please do reach out with questions. 

PYP Schools: If you would like access to the course with school-licensing, just reach out via the contact form here and I'll send you more information.

More Information: There is a lot of information out there and one of the key players, Misty Paterson, offers her insights in this article with this FREE video in the blog: Concepts vs. Topics. Definitely take time to watch and learn the basics. 

You might also like these blog articles too: 

I look forward to working with you again! 


P.S. I have many, many tools to support concept-based learning that you can find in my store. Take a peek here: Developing Conceptual Learners



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