Communities of Learning at an IB School
As an IB school in Singapore we adopt an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning, with a heavy emphasis on play in the early years. An inquiry approach places emphasis on “…students finding their own information and constructing their own understandings,” (I.B., 2017, p.14). Our early years students were inquiring into the idea that, ‘knowing what materials do can determine how we use them.’ This is a wonderful inquiry in which students can exercise a great deal of agency over their learning as we explore using a wide range of recycled materials to build and construct things. The Year 1 classrooms regularly become a veritable hive of lively activity as students, sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups, engage in the busy-ness of glueing, sticking, and generally putting things together. The range of recycled materials included lots of different grades of cardboard, plastic, bubble wrap, felt, and an assortment of metals in the form of caps and lids and silver foil.
The Year 1 teachers, with input from the students themselves, design learning experiences that meaningfully engage the students. Through the construction of boats children learn about concepts such as buoyancy and absorption. Through the construction of structures such as bridges, students learn concepts such as balance, rigidity, sturdiness, and strength. The learning culminates, via introduction to Caine’s Arcade in the construction of arcade games.
What are Communities of Learning?
An essential element of building successful inquiries is to broaden and extend the contribution to the learning beyond that of the immediate classroom teacher(s) and student body. In other words, how can we, as a teaching team, offer our students learning opportunities that may be available in the wider community of learners? The IB curriculum refers to this approach as ‘communities of learning, and expresses the idea thus:
The learning community recognizes that education is a social endeavour benefitting all its members individually and collectively, (I.B., 2018, p.1).
The concept of communities of learning is underpinned by the essential insight that a child is not an isolated entity in the context of learning and that learning is an essentially social activity. The implications for teachers, therefore, is to deliberately plan for collaboration, as such collaboration “…demonstrates a commitment to the common goal of supporting and reflecting on a transdisciplinary learning experience and improving student outcomes,” (I.B., 2018, p.4). At Chatsworth International School, our curriculum suggests that other students and colleagues in different areas of the school might help (I.B., 2017, p.42).
Interacting with Year 11 High School students
Our first interaction with other learners occurred when some Year 11 High School students visited our classrooms. These students were exploring the mathematics of probability. In doing so they had constructed their own board games and casino style games. These games gave the Year 11 students a very practical side to their learning. The games generated real-world outcomes from which the students could generate mathematical probabilities and the equations that went with them. For us, however, the Year 11 games provided us with an opportunity to inspire our children with lots of creative ideas for games that they could potentially emulate. Importantly for us, all these games were made with the same kind of recycled materials that our students were exploring.
The Year 11 students were wonderfully caring towards our young students. They listened patiently to their questions, (‘’how did you make this?”, and “what did you make this from?”) and allowed our young students to play and explore the games. Through this play, our students were introduced to game concepts that they themselves could use in their own constructions. Including such notions as games have rules, and instructions – the ‘how to’ of games.
Interacting with Year 6 PYP students
Our second interaction with older students came when we visited the Year 6 classrooms to catch them mid-inquiry constructing futuristic cityscapes using, again, the same kind of recycled materials our students were using. For the Year 6 students, their learning was about constructing the cities of the future bringing into focus such things as renewable energies and the ‘greening’ of cities to make them more sustainable places to live. For our young Year 1 learners, we were offering them the opportunity to notice the ideas, as well as the specific techniques associated with the assembly of the recycled materials themselves.
This collaboration was truly inspiring for our students. The Year 6 teachers shared with us a video (11 ways to cut and connect cardboard), that contained specific techniques for working with cardboard. I showed it to my students as soon as we were back in our own classroom. Flowing spontaneously from this, the teaching assistant and I brought out a bunch of cardboard. After showing them just the first 2 techniques (folding, and slots) our students were busily creating folds and slots. They were very excited with the outcome, enthusiastically showing me all their new skills. Just as importantly, some of these skills made their way into the constructions that our students were making. Our students also became very enthused with the painting of their arcade games as they had just supported the Year 6 students in painting their games.
And families too…
Our learning in this inquiry comes to fruition with the opening of our classrooms to our families. We invited our families to our ‘Arcade Game Day’ so that they could share in the learning with the children. Our students were excited and so happy to show their mum’s, dad’s, and grandparents how to play their amazing games. On the day itself the children were able to demonstrate a range of games including football games, marble race games, a variety of throwing games and others. Just as important as the games themselves, our students were very earnest in ‘teaching’ their family the ‘how to’ of their games. Just like real arcade games, some were very complex and required a degree of learning on the part of the player to master. A wonderful morning was had by all!
At the heart of the inquiry-based approach at Chatsworth International School is what students learn and how they learn. Find out more about our International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, or make an appointment for a campus tour today.
11 ways to connect and cut cardboard. (2018, August 28). YouTube. https://youtu.be/GKvntV6HC-0
Caine's arcade. (2012, April 9). YouTube. https://youtu.be/faIFNkdq96U
International Baccalaureate Organization, Primary Years Programme: The Learning Community. Cardiff, Wales, 2018.
International Baccalaureate Organization, What is an IB Education? Cardiff, Wales, 2017.