I want to transition the PYP grade 3 How the world works unit I teach into a more Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach.  The unit’s Central Idea is, “Community’s have systems to meet the needs of its people.” Basically, students inquire into systems (transportation, sanitation, safety, etc.) in a community and learn how those systems help the citizens in that location. Teachers also bring their attention to places that do not have systems in place or have inadequate systems that do not fully meet the needs of the people. 

I want to shift this unit to a PBL approach because to start with, it is beneficial for ELL students. Shifting to a PBL approach will also allow the students to get a better understanding of how cities care for their citizens. My school is located in Shenzhen, China, which is a Special Economic Zone. It was created in the late 1970s specifically to test out capitalist ideas and compete with Hong Kong, which is located right across the bay. It is considered the “Silicon Valley of China” and is prospering. This prosperity links directly to my students, who are wealthy and don’t have a frame of reference for systems not meeting their needs. For example, the Shenzhen government is constantly upgrading and improving the infrastructure of the city, so there is little opportunity within our bubble for students to recognize others’ needs not being met.

The creation of this plan is exciting because I have never facilitated an entire unit centered on  PBL. However, my students, co-teacher and I are not starting from ground zero. We do build students’ independence and encourage them taking ownership of their learning. Additionally, students engage in a weekly Genius Hour, which is like a mini-version of PBL.

Students will work in groups to choose a location in need of new or improved systems. It could be in Qinghai, near Tibet, where our Primary students raise money to help send girls to school. Or they could investigate an area that has had a natural disaster and is in need of recovery. Or they might find a different location that is not meeting the needs of its citizens. Depending on the locations they select, I will do my best to connect students with “experts” living in or near those areas using my PLN or other contacts.

Students will research the details of the problem and plan a feasible solution. They will need to: (1) construct a before/after model showing the intended changes they aim to achieve, (2) maintain a project notebook of their design process, (3) design an infographic to show the impact of their solution (4) create a reflective podcast to discuss their learning journey and (5) present their learning and solution to an audience of school community members and to the “experts” they communicated with. By presenting to their “experts,” I am hoping to provide authenticity, which tends to raise the level of work from students.

My first challenge may be getting all eight grade 3 teachers on board to change the unit. Some teachers are more comfortable releasing responsibility to students than others. As I want students to select groups based on interest, which could include students from other classrooms, having all teachers following the same approach is essential. One way to achieve buy-in is to present this as an opportunity for students to build the skills they will need for the Grade 5 PYP Exhibition. Another potential challenge is how much students will be able to understand the places that are in need. Will they truly be able to empathize with what it is like to not have everything right at their fingertips? I believe the potential for them to and truly invest themselves in this project and feel that connection is what makes this change in unit design complete worthwhile.