Essential Elements of the PYP | Scots College

Essential Elements of the PYP


Action, the core of student agency, is integral to the Primary Years Programme (PYP) learning process and to the programme’s overarching outcome of international-mindedness. Through taking individual and collective action, students come to understand the responsibilities associated with being internationally minded and to appreciate the benefits of working with others for a shared purpose. When students see tangible actions that they can choose to take to make a difference, they see themselves as competent, capable and active agents of change (Oxfam 2015).

Action is a means for students to show that they have linked their learning to real-life issues and opportunities, and that they are developing responsible dispositions and behaviours towards social and physical environments and to the community within and beyond school. Through action, students develop a sense of belonging to local and global communities. They understand and recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence of issues, and consider these from multiple perspectives (Oxfam 2015, UNESCO 2015). Initiated by students, PYP action is authentic, meaningful, mindful, responsible and responsive.

Action could be:

  • a change in attitude
  • a consideration or plan for action in the future
  • a demonstration of responsibility, or of respect for self, others and the environment
  • a commitment to leading or participating in a youth advocacy group
  • an engagement in school decision-making or an expression of support in community, local and global decision-making.

Students exercise agency by making responsible choices; these choices can sometimes include conscious decisions not to act. It may be that students take time to research and reflect upon possible courses of action and decide against taking action because of the connected consequences and potential impact on others (Boix Mansilla, Jackson 2011). PYP learning communities engage students individually and collectively with local and global challenges and opportunities through action (UNESCO 2015). All members of the learning community contribute to an open and dynamic environment for engaging with the world. Students feel encouraged to take action as a response to past and present inquiries. They are autonomous in taking action and are confident that their actions will be appreciated and supported (Hart 1992; Nimmo 2008).

Approaches to Learning

Approaches to learning (ATL) are an integral part of an IB education and complement the learner profile, knowledge, conceptual understanding and inquiry. These skills are grounded in the belief that learning how to learn is fundamental to a student’s education.

Five categories of interrelated skills aim to support students of all ages to become self-regulated learners who know how to ask good questions, set effective goals and pursue their aspirations with the determination to achieve them. These skills also help to support students’ sense of agency, encouraging them to see their learning as an active and dynamic process (IBO 2017).

When learning about and through the subjects, students acquire skills that best help them to learn those subjects. For example, in language, the students become literate, and in mathematics they become numerate. The acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills, in their broadest sense, is essential, as these skills provide students with the tools to inquire.

Beyond the skills of literacy and numeracy, there is a range of interrelated approaches to learning that are transferable across contexts. These skills support purposeful inquiry and set the foundations for lifelong learning. The development of these skills is frequently identified in education literature as crucial in supporting students to effectively learn and succeed inside and outside of school, (Trilling and Fadel 2009; Wagner 2014). The five interrelated approaches to learning are:


Concept-based inquiry is a powerful vehicle for learning that promotes meaning and understanding, and challenges students to engage with significant ideas. This is central to the Primary Years Programme (PYP) philosophy. Purposeful inquiry is supported by a concept-driven curriculum (Wiggins, McTighe 2005). A concept-driven curriculum is the means through which students develop their conceptual understandings. Students co-construct beliefs and mental models about how the world works based on their experiences and prior learning. They integrate new knowledge with their existing knowledge and apply these understandings in a variety of new contexts. They learn to recognize patterns and see the connections between discrete examples to strengthen conceptual understandings.

A concept is a “big idea”—a principle or notion that is enduring and is not constrained by a particular origin, subject matter or place in time (Erickson 2008). Concepts represent ideas that are broad, abstract, timeless and universal. Concepts add depth and rigour in student thinking to the traditional “two dimensional” curriculum consisting of facts and skills. Concepts place no limits on breadth of knowledge or on depth of understanding, and therefore are accessible to every student.

Concepts help to:

  • explore the essence of a subject
  • add coherence to the curriculum
  • deepen disciplinary understanding
  • build the capacity to engage with complex ideas
  • build understandings across, between and beyond subjects
  • integrate and transfer learning to new contexts.

Concepts are powerful, broad and abstract organizing ideas that may be transdisciplinary or subject-based. They represent the vehicle for students’ inquiry into the opportunities and challenges of local and global significance. Concepts are concise; they are usually represented by one or two words.

Source: “Learning and Teaching,” International Baccalaureate, 2018

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