Taking the PYP Forward - UdB and PYP

I wasn't going to do a post tonight (is it Xmas eve?), but I looked at this chapter and saw it was only a couple of pages long.  My son was tucked into bed snugly, the presents are wrapped under the tree, the living room is prepared for the madness that will follow tomorrow morning, and I too excited at the thought of spending the day tomorrow making Lego and playing that I can't sleep; so why not.

My first thought is this; in 1950 Ralph Tyler came out with his Tyler rationale of curriculum design:
Teaching consists of organizing knowledge into some pattern, of presenting the facts and generalizations in a clear, easily understood fashion, of testing to determine the amount of information acquired, and of marking the pupil’s attainment ... any change from this pattern is a softening of the educative process, a departure from the fundamentals. They are concerned with better ways of telling, explaining, drilling, testing, and marking.
Essentially, UbD is taking these principles and turning them around, making a backwards design.  Grant Wiggins, a great writer and someone I enjoy reading, mentions Ralph Tyler as a huge influence in his research and work.  Yet, I have concerns with any system that states it is able to plan a learning engagement without the students being present.  A methodized system, to me, seems to lack the authenticity of a more improvisational approach to teaching, learning, and knowing.  That being said, I am not an expert on UbD, and I do know that it is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for reductionist purposes or it can be used as expansionist.  It is all about how the tool is used.  My only question at this point is; if this work is based on ideas that originated in the 1950's, what is new about this?

touch hearts as well as minds (pg 67)

This is stated as a goal of the PYP.  I agree wholeheartedly with this.  However, it always feels to me that the documents and official tone of them are separating the two.  Mind and heart are different things, and we need to reach both of them.  I see them as one and the same.  You can't have heart without mind, and you can't have mind without heart.  It is like yin and yang.

Big Ideas (pg 68)

As a student-teacher (in Canada we call them pre-service teachers) this was drilled into us.  We were being taught the concepts of backwards planning in our curriculum course, and the big ideas were a constant calling point.  So much so, that they lost their meaning and were a constant point of frustration.  I get it now, but back then, it was incredibly annoying.  We wanted to run wild, engage in ideas, follow the students and let them guide us, but we kept getting pulled back (like one of those canes that comes out during an old vaudeville performance and hooks the actor off stage) to the big idea.  To this day, I still get that feeling when following a plan.  I want to go off on a tangent, but I......

Essential questions (pg 68)

I like the UbD approach to questions over central ideas.  Something about me just likes the open ended part of a question that gets left hanging, and everybody answers it differently.  Such a great metaphor for life.  For more on this debate, see the PYP Threads discussion.  It is a great read.

Students asking their own questions (pg 70)

This is my favorite part of the job.  A student can come up with a question that changes everything, and makes everybody stop and think (if the attention is drawn to it).  This is a great aspect of the PYP that keeps me working with it.  Independent inquiries (or group or class) that are driven by authentic questions from the students are so powerful.  A great friend of mine and research partner told me of his grade 1 class that asked, how many bricks are in the yellow brick road?  This question sustained them for nearly the entire year, and they covered the entire grade 1 curriculum trying to answer it.  You can't plan that kind of thing, and if you did, would be authentic?

UbD offers a more universal framework that is being used to plan curriculum from pre-K to university levels (pg 71)

I think this is my big issue with UbD.  Here is my problem; I don't teach university. I teach children.  I teach all subjects (except for PE and Music).  I don't want to focus on a specific discipline because that is not the way the world works.  In the first chapter of the book, Kathy Short quoted Gregory Bateson.  Bateson was a polymath.  He did everything.  His career ranged from so many disciplines that it was impossible to say what he did.  In his own words, he webbed the disciplines, and found the connections between them and above them.  If the curriculum planning template gets in the way of me trying to provide that atmosphere for my students, then I have to question it's value.  (Note: having not read a lot of the literature around UbD, I cannot say how it reacts to this type of environment.  Maybe it works wonders.)

Do not need to reinvent the wheel (pg 71)

I don't like the OCC and I am equally sure I would not like UbD exchange.  I want to reinvent the wheel.  I want my students to get as authentic and real as experience as I can give them, and I want them in control.  They drive the bus, I just make sure it doesn't crash.  By taking somebody else's unit plan and applying it to my class, that is like putting a pair of somebody else's old shoes and thinking that it makes you more like that person.  They are just shoes.  What works in one environment, may not work in another.  Ideas are fine, but taking a planner and using it in exactly the same way, no thank you.

I like my shoes


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