UNPACKING THE IPC: How Does It Work?
Keystone is introducing a new space for teachers to engage with readers, present their voices, and tell you their views on learning and teaching. We give you ‘Teacher Talks.’ In the inaugural article, Primary School English teacher, Virva Palosaari gives you the bird’s eye view of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), and how it works. This is an introduction to the IPC, and we will continue expanding on its many aspects, and curricular cogs over the next few weeks.
UNPACKING THE IPC: How Does It Work?
By Virva Palosaari, Primary School English Teacher
Multi-layered, multi-pronged, and much much fun is how I would describe the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). It is a dynamic and live creature that, sometimes, has a lot of people perplexed. So over the next few weeks, perhaps not consecutively, we hope to write a few articles explaining the cogs of the IPC, and how they work. Unlike many subject-based curriculums, the IPC is thematic. It has a set learning process that allows teachers to flesh out concepts within the themes in line with subject-specific learning goals. Here is the IPC cycle that the learning process of every unit goes through – Entry point, Knowledge Harvest, The Big Picture, Subject Research, Subject Recording, and Exit point. The length of this learning process varies for different themes.
Let me give you a more specific example from one of my grade 2 students IPC units. Over the last few weeks, we have been studying an IPC unit of work called ‘Living Together’. Every IPC unit has a big idea or theme, and this one’s is:
We all belong to many different communities – family, friends, sports teams, activity groups, and more. However, there is one thing that every community has in common – people. The overall purpose of this theme is to enable our students to understand and learn how to respect, support and work with other people, if we hope to become valuable contributors to the communities that we are a part of.
Planning the Cogs
This is a great unit as it brings the self and the whole together, creating a wealthy learning environment. We dedicated eight weeks to this unit. This decision is made in our planning meeting according to student needs, and their current or prevailing ability to understand concepts.
Planning, yes, this is one of the most important phases in realizing the IPC curriculum. Though not mentioned in the learning cycle, every unit requires meticulous planning. Speaking for grade 2, the planning process involves all grade 2 Chinese and English language teachers. We work together to develop an interesting program of lessons, learning activities and experiences that enable the students to explore, discover and learn in each unit. Our planning helps us decide the bilingual delegation of lessons, lesson plans, and we choose the activities that suit our teaching styles and enable vocabulary development for the children. As Keystone is a bilingual immersion school, this planning process is crucial. There have been several learning curves for us too.
For instance, we gradually came to a common understanding about how children learn language, especially in a bilingual and bicultural environment. Sometimes, students understand concepts better in their native languages before they are able to grasp them in a second language. A strong grasp of concepts in two languages means that students can think in two languages, which has a positive impact on a child’s learning.
The IPC is not just all themes. The themes are thoroughly grounded in relevant subject areas. For instance, this grade 2 unit is taught through Geography, History, Art, Society, PE and international-mindedness. Based on the theme, each subject has learning goals. These subjects are integrated in both Chinese and English Language Arts, and specialist subjects as well. Studying concepts and the big picture across subjects gives students a cognitive edge. Just the other day, when I took the grade 2 class around the campus to understand our school community, one of the students noticed a young plant taking root on our grounds. “That plant I put there for my Science class is part of our school community,” he proudly exclaimed. He may not have used the word geography, but it is encouraging and deeply satisfying to see my students make cross-disciplinary connections.
Keystone’s specialist teachers – PE, Math, Music, and others – also integrate the IPC units where possible. Our PE teacher may focus on team sports for grade 2 as part of Living Together, or the Music teacher may teach the students community songs. However, the specialist teachers also have to stick to their own curriculum goals.
Looking Closely at the Cogs
We hope this brief introduction helps you understand our students’ learning process in primary school for now. Over the next weeks, we hope to provide a closer look into how a unit of work – Living Together – unfolds through each stage of the IPC cycle I mentioned above. We will share with you, some of the activities and experiences the children were involved in or have had, the personal skills they have developed, and learning goals achieved. We will have more for you soon.
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