February Principal Chat: A PYP Journey…..REVEALED

Our gathering was dedicated to one special guest, Amy Mitchell, BSE’s own Primary Years Program (PYP) Coordinator.  Amy took us step by step through BSE’s PYP history, from our start in 2008 through our evolvement into our present day goals and ambitions.

Humble Beginnings (2008-2010)
While the IB program seems all the rage these days in north Beaverton, back in 2008 just two BSD schools were seeking authorization of the Primary Years Program through the International Baccalaureate Committee.  Bonny Slope had to begin with a mass training of all its teachers and staff.  There was a heavy focus on a learner profile in both the classroom and through weekly assemblies, where teachers reinforced acting “principled” and being “a risk-taker,” words we smirk at these days, but back then were brand new to the students, staff and parent community.  

One of the biggest challenges was adapting to the constructivist model of teaching.  But seriously, what is that?  Let’s break it down a bit.  A constructivist teacher poses more questions and problems to their students, prompting them to inquire and formulate their own questions in a collaborative setting.  Confused?  A traditional teacher would say, “This is a volcano.  These are the three aspects of a volcano.”  A constructivist teacher says, “Let’s talk about volcanoes.  What do we think we know? What do we notice?  What do we want to know?  Let’s research and collaborate to answer our questions.” 

Concepts Catching Fire (2010-2014)
Once BSE was granted authorization, now what?  The school continued to develop a deeper program.  Our staff began tightening up the collaborative effort with grade level teams meeting weekly with the PYP coordinator to plan the annual six units.  A PYP Night was added, so parents could have a hands-on example of this method at work.  

As the school community became more familiar with the PYP vocabulary, there became less of an emphasis on the learner profile and a stronger shift into developing conceptual learning, as opposed to factual learning.  

Time out.  What does that even mean for us non-education majors? 

Here’s Amy’s example.  Studying the Oregon Trail is a state standard for fourth grade.  A factual approach to this standard would be to have the students memorize important dates in Oregon history and then test them at the end of the week.  Sound familiar?  It should-- this is the method most of us parents grew up with.  Teachers tell us information, we spew it back to them via a test.  Information retrieved on demand.  Easy.  

A conceptual PYP approach to this standard would be to incorporate it into the PYP Unit, “Where We Are in Place and Time” by integrating this standard with the broader subject of migration.  Instead of just looking at one event, the development of the Oregon Trail, our fourth grade teachers broaden the spectrum, using the Oregon Trail as an example of a more global subject and phenomenon.  Instead of students repeating dates and facts, they are challenged to form their own questions on migration, research and develop these ideas, and then ask themselves what they can do with the knowledge they’ve just acquired.  Ugh.  Wow.  JEEZ.  That is SO MUCH HARDER than just remembering Oregon’s birthday.

Reauthorized, Revitalized  (2014-2015)
In spring 2014, BSE had its first evaluation visit, common every three to five years, and was reauthorized.  The IB standards are the consistent goals and practices that our staff must conform to--  a common core for IB teachers, if you will.  Not only are grade teams working horizontally (planning out their yearly units), they are now focusing on working vertically (comparing units to what other grades are doing) and aligning themselves accordingly.  Basically, second and third grade can realize that perhaps two of their units are too similar, or fourth can better support fifth’s unit by adding blah blah blah-- you get the idea.

The PYP movement was growing in Beaverton, and instead of our teachers having to fly across the country for training, now IB professionals come to us.  Our teachers are deepening their conceptual learning base, while new teachers are being trained as well.  There’s a stronger specialist involvement in the units.  BSE was lucky to host Lynn Erickson, a leader in the conceptual teaching method, for a staff-wide workshop.

Where We Are in Place and Time  (2015-- current)
Our students and staff have worked hard to developed the inquiry, PYP formula in the classroom.  The new challenge is to see that method in the hallways, the playground, the lunchroom.  Part of encouraging that behavior has been the learner profile board at the bottom of the stairs.  It’s a way for our specialists and IA staff to celebrate those learner profile attributes in areas outside of our classrooms.

The PYP units continue to deepen, integrating technology, science and literacy.  We have more digital support than ever before, and some of the student binders have even gone digital.  Eight years later, our once novice staff are veterans in the conceptual, inquiry method, with several of them offering after-school workshops to teachers new to this type of classroom.  Ellen Alquist, a PYP Pioneer, who literally wrote the book on PYP standards, visited BSE this month to further support our PYP effort, funded via BSCO funds (shameless plug).  Support of PYP programs has grown tremendously in our neck of the woods, with ten BSD schools now somewhere in the process of PYP authorization.

Successful Status Quo
Is our PYP effort as flashy in the hallways as it once was?  Nope.  It doesn’t need to be anymore.  We got this. Our families and students are now well-versed in the vocabulary, procedures and expectations.  If you walked our hallways, the PYP initiative may look more sedated from years past, but only because BSE no longer needs to run a PR campaign to educate the community on what PYP looks like.  Our inquiry-based PYP movement is now firmly, deeply, and confidently operating in our classrooms.

To learn more about BSE’s PYP program, complete with in-depth teacher check-ins, check out Amy Mitchell’s blog.  

We look forward to next month’s Principal Chat on March 18th.  See you then!