Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Living Transdisciplinary Curriculum: Teachers' Experiences with the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Programme

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Living Transdisciplinary Curriculum: Teachers' Experiences with the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Programme

Article excerpt

Introduction

Educational reformers in the 21st Century note that integrated or transdisciplinary curriculum approaches address the needs of the 21st Century learner to learn the skills and worldview necessary to negotiate a complex global world (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009). A transdisciplinary curriculum is an iteration of an integrated curriculum (Drake, 1993). A discussion of transdisciplinarity and its merits can be heard at the university level (see, Klein, 2014), however, there is little application at the other end of the educational spectrum (Richards & Shea, 2006). A notable exception to this is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) for students aged 3 to 12 years. IB took the concept of transdisciplinary teaching and learning and based its entire PYP on the concept.

It is very important to understand what we are doing in terms of teaching and learning and why we are doing it. It is equally important, however, that we understand how we are doing it (Pop & Maties, 2008). The purpose of this study is to explore the lived experiences of teachers, administrators and coordinators who teach in these transdisciplinary IB programs. Since the IB PYP appears to be a good model of 21st century learning, a deeper understanding of implementing transdisciplinary curriculum as a lived experience may facilitate other educators with similar goals to move toward implementation in their own setting.

Defining Transdisciplinary

The term "transdisciplinary" first emerged during the 1970s. It was specifically referenced in an OECD conference held in France that was focused on problems experienced by instructors and researchers in postsecondary settings (Cantar & Brumar, 2011). It was defined as a, "comprehensive framework that tried to go beyond combining existing disciplinary approaches in an interdisciplinary fashion to create new frameworks, new overarching syntheses" (Cantar & Brumar, 2011, p. 637).

Wiesmann et al. (2008) argue that transdisciplinary teaching, learning and research has emerged as a response to the complex problems that exist in 21st century society. It has been found that disciplinary approaches to these complex problems are insufficient and that only by looking beyond the disciplines can the problems be understood and solutions determined. Nicolescu (1998, 2008) posits that transdisciplinary teaching and learning is not just an intellectual activity but rather must involve the entire person: mind, body and emotions. He states, "a viable education can only be an integral education of the human being." (p. 3). In the K to 12 context, transdisciplinary is often seen as at the far end of a continuum with increasing degrees of integration; it is an approach that transcends disciplinary boundaries (Drake, 2012).

The IB PYP Context

There are over 4500 IB schools around the world situated in 3 of IB's geographic regions (The Americas; Europe, Africa and the Middle East; Asia and Australia) and they are public, private and international. The PYP program is noted for its rigour and relevance. Studies show that students achieve high levels academically. For example, a study conducted in Australia found that the science proficiency level of Year 6 students enrolled in PYP schools was significantly higher than the national level (Campbell, Chittleborough, Jobling, Tytler, and Doig, 2014). Another study, conducted in Australia and Singapore, which focused on the early years PYP programme demonstrated that students' literacy skills were well-developed, their school readiness was similar or better than children enrolled in a traditional early years program, and they were developing essential learning skills faster than a comparative sample (Morrissey, Rouse, Doig, Chao & Moss, 2014). Standardized test analysis conducted in New Zealand indicated that academic achievement within PYP schools generally exceeded the academic achievement of schools with similar school populations (Kushner, Cochise, Courtney, Sinnema & Brown, 2016). …

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