Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The importance of the PYP Key Concepts

The aim of the PYP curriculum framework is to develop the understanding of significant conceptual ideas.  We want students to go beyond the memorization of isolated facts and to make connections and generalizations to form deeper understandings.

During the PYP curriculum development phase, the developers of the programme concluded that there are clusters of important ideas across all curriculum areas that can be grouped under a set of eight key concepts. These key concepts are considered to be universal across all curriculums, regardless of time or place, within and across all disciplines (Making the PYP Happen 2009).

The slideshow below shows the eight key concepts (form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility, reflection) and the driving questions that can be used along with the various topics and bodies of knowledge identified in a curriculum.

Each unit of inquiry your daughter studies will have one overarching conceptual understanding - the central idea of the unit.  This is the deep understanding - or the big idea - we want the students to be be able to demonstrate and articulate by the end of the unit.

In order to guide students through inquiries that will lead to this understanding, teachers plan the units by identifying essential knowledge that students will require in order to be able to develop  the deeper understanding.  Alongside this knowledge, three of the PYP Key Concepts are chosen, which help to focus the inquiries and guide the students towards being able to make a generalization, or understanding a central idea.  The diagram below shows how, starting with a strong factual foundation (or essential knowledge), identifying key concepts can guide students towards making a generalization to show their understanding of a particular topic (what we call the central idea of a unit the PYP). 

This particular example comes from the current Grade 4 Multi-Faith Religion unit of inquiry.  The model on the left here is Lynn Erickson's Structure of Knowledge (2002) and the information on the right shows how, starting with the identification of essential knowledge, inquiries can be planned with the aim of helping students achieve deep, transferrable understanding of the unit.  

By focusing on just three of the PYP's eight concepts, a unit of inquiry becomes more focused, allowing the students to inquire deeper and go beyond memorizing a set of isolated facts. 
The key concepts can also help the students to focus their own inquiries.  Often students will have many questions about a topic/unit that may not be uncovered during class times if they don't fit the chosen key concepts of the curriculum unit, or connect to the central idea.  Giving students the key concepts as a scaffold to help them formulate questions helps them focus on relevant wonderings that will help develop an understanding of the central idea.

Here are some examples of Grade 4 student questions that were generated in preparation for an upcoming visit to a cathedral and synagogue.  The question scaffolds worked together with the key concepts to ensure their inquiries were focused towards developing their understanding of the central idea identified in the diagram, above (People of different faiths believe in sacred places and special people).

The next step for these students will be to sort the questions and prioritise which ones they can answer together in school with the information they have already found, and which ones will become the questions they ask the Priest and Rabbi when they visit the places of worship. 

You can click here to view the details of the units of inquiry each grade level studies throughout the year.  This is our Programme of Inquiry, with each unit detailing the central idea, key concepts, lines of inquiry and PYP subject areas. 

Giving the students opportunities to interact with the these key concepts will enable them to use sound factual foundations, make connections and deepen their understandings of the unit content, depending on the particular 'conceptual lenses' identified in the Programme of Inquiry. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Three Way Learning Conferences

Next Wednesday, 23rd November we will be hosting our annual Three Way Learning Conferences in the Elementary School.

In the past we had conferred with parents and not included students in the conversations.  Parents and teachers would meet together to discuss the girls' progress and identify the next steps.  Now students are included in the conversations and are at the centre of the conversation.  They spend time in their homerooms beforehand, selecting work samples that show success, progress, higher-order thinking or creativity.  They reflect on how they have progressed using success criteria and learning outcomes, and they are involved in conversations with their teachers to set ambitious learning goals to work towards.  We hope that this process will give students more insight into their learning and allow them to become actively involved in their assessment and goal-setting.

Michael Absolum (2006) summed up the importance of involving the students in conversations about their learning in his book Clarity in the Classroom: Using Formative Assessment:

“If the focus is to be kept on learning, and the ownership of the learning with the child, then the best person to talk about the learning is the learner. Providing an opportunity for students to tell their family what they know can significantly assist with that learning.”

The main objectives of our Three Way Learning Conferences are to:

  • encourage students, parents, and teachers to engage in open and honest dialogue about student learning.
  • increase parental understanding of their child’s learning (Where is their learning going?  How are they doing?  What are their next steps?).
  • provide students with an opportunity to share and celebrate their achievements and clarify their next learning steps.
  • allow students, teachers and parents to set learning goals together.

We hope that the learning conversations can continue beyond the conferences.  Students will take home their portfolios after the conferences, where they will have more time to discuss the work samples chosen that reflect their growth since the beginning of the year.  Moving beyond the conferences as we head towards the end of the first semester, we would also encourage you to talk to your daughter regularly about how she is doing with the goals and targets she sets at the conferences.

Here are some reflections from our first Three Way Learning Conferences in 2014.  Look out for Mr Brittain on Wednesday, who will be searching for volunteers to appear on camera for further reflections and conversations about the process.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Going Deeper with Social Media & Technology in Teaching and Learning

Dr. Alex Couros presents to Seisen Teachers
Dr. Couros facilitates a discussion with
Elementary Teachers in Grades 4-6
On Friday, November 11th Dr. Alex Couros gave a series of presentations and facilitated discussion with Seisen teachers and subsequently Administrators and our ICT specialists on recent developments in technology to support teaching and learning.

Later in the evening, Dr. Couros talked with Seisen parents about "Raising the Selfie Generation." Dr. Couros argued that our focus and concern about student well-being and e-safety should be less on technological tools, for example, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc. as applications will continually change and be up-graded, and more on preparing students to be citizens of a digital community. Dr. Couros highlighted the need to educate students to be cognisant of the responsibilities and protocols membership of an e-community entails. He argues against sensationalising the dangers of the cyber world and scaring students in the hope they'll behave appropriately but pinpoints areas he believes all students should be explicitly taught about:

  • Inappropriate content
  • Digital Identity
  • Information Literacy (what's true / untrue, reliable / unreliable sources on the net)
  • Digital Kindness

Dr. Couros stressed the importance of students taking ownership of their digital footprint. He shared that 92% of US toddlers have a digital footprint; 34% from before they were born (with parents sharing sonograms or announcements of the happy impending event). 59% of children under the age of 10, Dr. Couros argues have their own adult social media account.

Comparing a digital footprint to a credit rating, Dr. Couros put forward, that a bad digital footprint, equates to a bad credit rating, no digital footprint equates to no credit rating, while a good on-line presence reflects a good credit rating. The importance of schools and families working together to support students as digital citizens capable of navigating and benefiting from the opportunities this global connectivity affords was a central tenant of the evening's message.

Quoting Jason Otter, Dr. Couros shared, "I'm in favour of an internal [organisational/school filter] but, I just want to have them moved from the router to my student's heads." Dr. Couros argued against Digital Dualism; an online verus on off-line citizenship and stressed the need to prepare students for an integrated citizenship where their on-line and off-line self reflected the same intrinsic values and behaviours. Dr. Couros shared the wisdom of teaching students to think before they post:

For Seisen parents interested in this topic and unable to attend the evening's event, Dr. Couros kindly compiled a list of readings and resources, which can be accessed by clicking below:

Parenting in the Digital Age: Resources & Information

As members of EARCOS, Seisen will host a Weekend Workshop lead by Dr. Couros this Saturday & Sunday. We expect about 30 visitors to the school.

Ms. Colette Rogers, Head of School
introduces Dr. Couros
Parents listen to Dr. Couros' presentation,
"Raising the Selfie Generation"

Grades 3, 4 & 5 participate in a fund-raising concert in aid of Refugees International Japan (RIJ) - An uplifting experience!


On Thursday, November 10th, Seisen third, fourth and fifth graders gathered in St. Mary's International School together with students from St. Mary's and the British School in Tokyo, for a wonderful evening of song, drama and dance in aid of Refugees International Japan (RIJ).

Jane Best OBE, President and CEO of RIJ previously visited Seisen in September, prior to our Global-Mindedness Day and spoke to the girls about Refugees. Jane's message to the girls was that refugees are often girls just like themselves, living ordinary lives until one day they are forced to flee their country because of violence, war or persecution. The girls learned that most likely, refugees cannot or are afraid to return home.

After an unsettling week when the ideals and values that we share at Seisen were decidedly challenged in media reports of the US election campaign, it was uplifting to listen to the girls sing "Just a Single Voice." The grade 5's integrated dance/drama performance, "Origins," about the life of refugees poignantly reminded us of the aims and ideals of an IB PYP education; to develop caring students "who recognizing their common humanity, help create a better and more peaceful world though intercultural understanding and respect" (IB, 2011). This piece was then followed by the elementary grades energetic performance of "Better when I'm Dancing."

Gr. 5s dance/music performance - Origins

A little over a  million yen was raised through ticket sales, donations and the sale of art work during the  concert. A very, very BIG THANK YOU to all our Seisen families - parents, grandparents and friends for their involvement in the concert. We are extremely proud and grateful for the contribution and support of our Seisen Community. Congratulations to our Seisen performers and thank you for a wonderful evening's entertainment! Congratulations and special thanks also to our  Elementary Music Teachers; Ms. Kampa, Mrs. Handel-Johnson, Mrs. Hashimoto-Uesaka and Dr. Dallaire for all their hard work and dedication in helping to bring this concert to fruition. Congratulations to Mr. Brittain, for the wonderful drama performance and stage management. A special thanks and congratulations to Ms. Diana Parker, our Elementary Art Teacher for the wonderful dolls created with our grade 3s which helped raise nearly 22,000 yen towards the final amount. Much appreciation also to our grade 3, 4 & 5 Homeroom Teachers for their invaluable support and involvement on the night. We acknowledge also the support of Ms. Amanda Marcon, HS Head of Arts at Seisen.

Please visit: to see the RIJ performances!

Thank you Seisen Parents! 

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, I'm possible!" (Audrey Hepburn)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Japanese Culture Day in the Elementary - 文化の日 (Bunka no Hi) - November 3rd

November 3rd, the national holiday held annually to promote Japanese culture, the arts, academic effort and achievement saw Seisen's Japanese Language teachers lead a day filled with Japanese delights!

Our morning started off in the gym with grades 1-12 gathering to participate in a Japanese exercise program usually broadcast over the radio. Students from Nittaidai, Nippon Sports Science University located nearby at Komazawa, led Seisen through a series of moves to music. During an impromptu House competition to see which House could perform the best moves, Ontake students emerged as winners while Asama teachers secured a win for their House. We're awaiting however, a decision from our Grade 6 Captains to see if these wins count towards House points!

We were then treated to a wonderful display of Taiko drumming.

Other Elementary activities included: Kite making, a Koto performance, the Tea Ceremony (or as we learned more correctly called, 'The Way of Tea,') and a Kendo demonstration.

I think we can definitely say, we had a wonderful day!

As well as providing us with wonderful opportunities to enjoy the delights of our host country's culture, Japanese Culture Day also reflects the school's educational beliefs and values and the philosophy, standards and practices of the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Program (PYP).  It promotes the development of International-Mindedness and offers students opportunities to demonstrate and practice the attitudes and values explicit within the PYP: appreciation, cooperation, enthusiasm and respect. We also saw many instances of our Learner Profile evident in student interactions: open-mindedness, caring behaviours, reflective thinking and some great communication skills! Our grade 6s deserve special recognition and thanks for their leadership skills. They paid great care and attention to the younger students as they travelled from activity to activity. A day such as this enables us synthesis many of the essential elements of the PYP into action!

Congratulations to our Japanese Language Department and thank you for sharing the wealth of your home country's culture with us all! 

Elementary Halloween Celebrations!

Monday, October 31st was the time to host Halloween Celebrations in the Elementary School. We saw lots of scary outfits, cute costumes, creative and fun dress-ups throughout the halls and classrooms. Teachers and visiting parents in costume contributed to the fun atmosphere.

Lots of smiles and excited voices were evident as students enjoyed the games and craft activities organised and facilitated by Room Parents and Parent Volunteers during class parties. Grade 1 & 2 students had fun during 'trick or treat' visits along the lower corridors.

We'd like to extend a HUGE THANKS to all those involved in planning and providing this fun event for the girls to enjoy!

See if you can recognise any of the individuals or characters in these photos!