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“Unit plans‽ But we have a subject guide!”


This post (June 2012) relates to my MA assignment in Curriculum Studies and recognises the tension that can be generated when asking IBDP teachers to plan a unit: traditionally the subject guides have been very prescriptive, making a content-driven approach to exam preparation relatively straightforward. The shift into more holistic unit planning in the IBDP can be seen as a challenge, and often needs to be justified. More recent posts address this as well, including “Curriculum development IS professional development,” “An Inquiry Crossfader,” and “Give a Student a Fish.”


With the MYP’s move to the Next Chapter and the work of H. Lynn Erickson on Concept-based Curriculum being instrumental in this redesign, I figured I should get reading! 

At the moment I’m thinking about how to make this model work best in a content-heavy high school science syllabus (HS Science MYP moving into the heavily-prescribed IBDP subject guides). I’ve written before about how the delimiters of inquiry and differentiation change as we move up the MYP, largely as a result of content and assessment backwash. I feel the same might be true to some extent in designing concept-based curriculum in these classrooms.

DP Planner

As part of the ongoing programme evaluation of the Diploma Programme at Bandung International School I worked a lot with DP teachers and the regional office on creating unit planners for DP courses (model here). I think this was a step in the right direction, and I was fortunate to have a great group of colleagues who were willing to put in a great effort. It had the added bonus of providing a lot of evidence for the standards and practices in our self-study.

The bods at the regional office were keen to see unit planning develop into a more widely-used tool and source of evidence for IBDP schools in the region. However, when we introduced it to other schools at DPDunia teachers’ conferences, it met with substantial resistance from some schools, typically:

“Why do we need to plan our units when the subject guide tells us what to teach?”

So why did other DPCo’s experience resistance where I did not? Is this sentiment global? To what extent then does the prescriptive IB Diploma subject guide sacrifice content validity for reliability in assessment?

And more importantly, how will we be able to successfully design and implement concept-based curriculum in those in-between years of MYP 4 & 5? 

I think this is going to make for some interesting reading. For now, I’m scrubbing up on Erickson. If anyone reading this has some links to excellent papers on concept-based learning in the high school, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Author: Stephen

International Educator: China via Japan, Indonesia & the UK. Director of Innovation in Learning & Teaching. Science educator. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer. MA International Education. Experienced Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator. Interested in curriculum, pedagogy, purposeful EdTech and global competence. Find out more: https://sjtylr.net/about. Science site: http://i-biology.net.

3 thoughts on ““Unit plans‽ But we have a subject guide!”

  1. Pingback: Philosophy First: Contrasting Approaches to the Curriculum | Profesorbaker's Blog: A Bit of Everything

  2. Pingback: Philosophy First: Contrasting Approaches to the Curriculum | Edcamp Santiago

  3. Pingback: “Curriculum Development IS Professional Development” | i-Biology | Reflections

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