Essential Elements

In the PYP a balance is sought between acquisition of essential knowledge and skills, development of conceptual understandings, demonstration of positive attitudes and the taking of responsible action.

In terms of achieving this balance, five essential elements of the written curriculum are emphasised. 


1. Knowledge

Significant, relevant content that we wish the students to explore and know about, taking into consideration their prior experience and understanding.

This has led to the selection of six transdisciplinary themes, which:

• have global significance – for all students in all cultures.
• offer students the opportunity to explore the commonalities of human experience
• are supported by knowledge, concepts and skills from the traditional subject areas but utilise them in ways that transcend the confines of these subjects
• will be revisited throughout the students’ years of schooling
• contribute to the common ground that unifies the curriculum in all PYP schools

These transdisciplinary themes are:

Who we are
An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human.

Where we are in place and time An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.

How we express ourselves
An inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic.

How the world works
An inquiry into the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

How we organize ourselves
An inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.

Sharing the planet
An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

Students inquire into and learn about these globally significant issues in the context of units of inquiry, each of which address a central idea relevant to the transdisciplinary theme. These units collectively constitute the school’s program of inquiry.

2. Concepts

The school’s programme of inquiry is concept driven focussing on eight key concepts, each of which, are felt to be of major importance in the design of a transdisciplinary curriculum. These concepts are powerful ideas that have relevance within the subject areas, but also transcend them.. The students must explore and re-explore in order to develop a coherent, in-depth understanding. These concepts are:

Key question: What is it like?
Definition: The understanding that everything has a form with recognizable features that can be observed, identified, described and categorized.
Rationale: This concept was selected because the ability to observe, identify, describe and categorize is fundamental to human learning within and across all

Key question: How does it work?
Definition: The understanding that everything has a purpose,
a role or a way of behaving that can be investigated.
Rationale: This concept was selected because the ability to analyse function, role, behaviour and the ways in which things work is fundamental to learning within and across all disciplines. 

Key question: Why is it like it is?
Definition: The understanding that things do not just happen, that there are causal relationships at work, and that actions have consequences.
Rationale: This concept was selected because of the importance of prompting students to ask “Why?” and of helping them to recognize that actions and events have reasons and consequences. The analysis of causal relationships is significant within and across all disciplines. 

Key question: How is it changing?
Definition: The understanding that change is the process of movement from one state to another. It is universal and inevitable.
Rationale: This concept was selected, not only because it is such a universal feature of all existence, but also because it has particular relevance to students developing international-mindedness who are growing up in a world in which the pace of change, both local and global, is accelerating.

Key question: How is it connected to other things?
Definition: The understanding that we live in a world of interacting
systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.  
Rationale: This concept was selected because of the importance of appreciating that nothing exists in a vacuum but, rather, as an element in a system; that the relationships within and among systems are often complex, and that changes in one aspect of a system will have consequences, even though these may not be immediately apparent; that we must consider the impact of our actions on others, whether at the immediate, personal level or at the level of far-reaching decisions affecting environments and communities.

Key question: What are the points of view?
Definition: The understanding that knowledge is moderated by perspectives; different perspectives lead to different interpretations, understandings and findings; perspectives may be individual, group, cultural or disciplinary.
Rationale: This concept was selected because of the compelling need to develop in students the disposition towards rejecting simplistic, biased interpretations, towards seeking and considering the points of view of others, and towards developing defensible interpretations.

Key question: What is our responsibility?
Definition: The understanding that people make choices based on their understandings, and the actions they take as a result do make a difference.
Rationale: This concept was selected because of the need to develop in students the disposition towards identifying and assuming responsibility, and towards taking socially responsible action. This concept is directly linked to the action component, one of the essential elements in the PYP curriculum.

Key question: How do we know?
Definition: The understanding that there are different ways of knowing, and that it is important to reflect on our conclusions, to consider our methods of reasoning, and the quality and the reliability of the evidence we have considered.
Rationale: This concept was selected for a series of interrelated reasons. It challenges the students to examine their evidence, methods and conclusions. In doing so, it extends their thinking into the higher order of metacognition, begins to acquaint them with what it means to know in different disciplines, and encourages them to be rigorous in examining evidence for potential bias or other inaccuracy.

3. Skills


These are capabilities that the students need to demonstrate to succeed in a changing, challenging world. They may be disciplinary or transdisciplinary in nature and include:

• Thinking skills
• Social skills
• Communication skills
• Self-management skills
• Research skills

4. Attitudes

While recognising the importance of knowledge, concepts and skills, these alone do not make an internationally minded person. Therefore, it is essential that there is also a focus on the development of personal attitudes towards people and the environment, towards learning and attitudes that contribute to the well-being of the individual and the group. These attitudes are:

Appreciation Appreciating the wonder and beauty of the world and its people.

Commitment Being committed to their own learning, persevering and showing self-discipline and responsibility.

Confidence Feeling confident in their ability as learners, having the courage to take risks, applying what they have learned and making appropriate decisions and choices.

Cooperation Cooperating, collaborating, and leading or following as the situation demands.

Creativity Being creative and imaginative in their thinking and in their approach to problems and dilemmas.

Curiosity Being curious about the nature of learning, about the world, its people and

Empathy Imagining themselves in another’s situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others.

Enthusiasm Enjoying learning and willingly putting the effort into the process.

Independence Thinking and acting independently, making their own judgments based on reasoned argument, and being able to defend their judgments.

Integrity Being honest and demonstrating a considered sense of fairness.

Respect Respecting themselves, others and the world around them.

Tolerance Being sensitive about differences and diversity in the world and being responsive to the needs of others.

5. Action

 This involves demonstration of deeper learning in responsible behaviour through responsible action; a manifestation in practice of the other essential elements.

Students have the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference to the world.

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