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International Primary Curriculum: Children discover first-hand about the brain and learning

May 3, 2013


Children at The British Embassy School in Ankara, Turkey have been discovering first-hand about the brain and how people learn in, what teacher Tom Henley describes as a “profound learning experience.”

BESA (5) As the Entry Point to their learning with the International Primary Curriculum Brainwave unit, the 8 and 9 year old children from Year 4 took part in a hands-on experience to learn about the composition and layout of the brain.

“We used cow brains from a local Turkish butchers (they are on the menu here)” says Tom, the Year 4 class teacher. “We initially decided on sheep brains which are more common, but they were actually a little too small [for the learning experience].” The children wore science lab coats, glasses and gloves to conduct the investigation and used scalpels for dissection on wooden boards.

The school has a Science lab with a highly qualified specialist teacher and lab assistant who supported Tom with the learning. “They prepared the lab in advance and delivered a presentation on the parts of the brain and how, in very simple terms, the brain works in relation to learning,” explains Tom. “They modelled good lab practice such as how to use a scalpel safely, and wearing safety glasses, gloves and lab coats.”

The children dissected the brains to explore and see for themselves the major areas that had been identified and discussed during the presentation by the Science teacher. “We looked closely at how the brain is connected and in particular why greater surface area (wrinklyness) is a key indicator of greater brain power. Rabbits have quite smooth brains compared to dolphins or humans,” Tom explains.British Embassy School Turkey

“The children were very surprised at how soft the brains were, they expected them to be quite hard and firm,” says Tom. “After some initial squeamishness, they all got stuck in and really enjoyed themselves. It was a profound learning experience. They still talk about it now.”

The British Embassy School in Ankara is one of over 1,500 schools in 85 countries around the world learning with the International Primary Curriculum. The IPC leads children through an engaging learning process that has clear outcomes for academic, personal and international learning. It helps children look at everything they learn through a local and global perspective, developing adaptable, globally-minded learners prepared for the world of tomorrow that they will be living and working in. For more information about learning with the IPC go to www.greatlearning.com/ipc

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Discussion Topics

New International Middle Years Curriculum Already Making its Mark

February 8, 2012


This year, eleven and twelve year-olds from several international schools, as well as schools in the UK, are experiencing a different way of learning with the new International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) – and it is already proving to have a positive impact.

Developed by UK-based Fieldwork Education – the organization behind the increasingly popular International Primary Curriculum (IPC) – the IMYC is a curriculum that focuses foremost on student learning. It responds specifically to the needs of 11 to 14 year olds by providing independence and interdependence in their learning through discrete subject learning and themes, encouraging learning that helps them make connections that are relevant to their own lives. It draws on current media platforms, involves active skills-based learning, and promotes self-reflection and the opportunity for students to make sense of their learning.  The IMYC was launched by Fieldwork Education in September as a result of requests from many international schools wishing to extend the thematic, rigorous and engaging learning approach of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) into middle years.

The IMYC has already received very positive feedback. At the American International School of Rotterdam, Secondary Principal Alison Lipp says: “The children have already grown. The IMYC is definitely engaging them more, it’s been a big confidence-builder for many of them and it’s helping them all to want to solve problems and take ownership of their learning.” In Germany, at the International School of Bremen, Maths teacher Sabine Keeley said: “It’s shown us what our students are capable of achieving because previously, the teachers wouldn’t have expected so much of them. It’s getting the students to think out of the box and it’s amazing to see.”

The IMYC involves six week units of learning based around a ‘Big Idea’.  This Big Idea centres on an abstract, conceptual theme that challenges young teenagers to think about its meaning and connection through each subject as well as a personal disposition. For example, in the IMYC Balance unit, students’ learning is all based around the Big Idea that ‘Things are more stable when different elements are in the correct or best possible proportions,’ and in the IMYC Collaboration unit, learning follows the Big Idea that ‘When people work together they can achieve a common goal’.  Through the learning of specific knowledge, skills and understanding in all subjects (science, art, ICT, music, history, design and technology, PE, geography, language arts), students make connections between their various classes by investigating how the Big Idea relates to each discrete subject.  Through blogging or journaling over the course of the unit, students are encouraged to reflect on the Big Idea and to develop their understanding of how it relates to them personally and to the world around them. At the end of the six weeks of subject learning, students collaborate to produce a media project (such as a podcast or video) to present their personal understanding of the Big Idea to the rest of their classmates.

“Eleven to fourteen year olds have very different needs than primary learners. It’s not all hormones and attitude; their brains are changing,” says Emily Porter, Director of the IMYC. “The Big Idea provides them with a ‘rope’ to hold on to as they move from subject to subject which is hugely beneficial for them at this age; it gives them meaning in their learning and helps them to organise that meaning in a better way. The Exit Point at the end of each unit encourages them to express their understanding of the Big Idea in a collaborative media presentation which they share with their classmates. The projects we’re seeing reflect the thinking and personal connection that students are experiencing.”

As for the teachers, Bart Van Den Haak, Principal of Verenigde Scholen J.A. Alberdingk Thijm, in The Netherlands says: “We are constantly trying to get teachers to think about the work and the learning and to be innovative. For me, that was the most important reason for introducing the IMYC. The IMYC is an inspiring framework and a source to stimulate teachers to support their children in a challenging and 21st century way. The IMYC helps teachers to facilitate not only the average students but also to let children of all abilities have exciting, challenging learning experiences. Because the IMYC is not static – it’s very dynamic – the teacher can differentiate for every student. The IMYC gives children space to develop in their own way, something that we really miss in a lot of schools in The Netherlands.” Nina, a sixth grade Science teacher from the American International School of Rotterdam who has been teaching with the IMYC says: “It’s just the right amount of detail in the IMYC framework, so that then I can customise the learning. It’s giving me freedom and autonomy but also giving me ideas based on a theme that everyone is following.” And Senior Principal at the school, Alison Lipp adds: “It’s forcing us all to support the same approach and that’s getting the teachers working together. This is focusing our communication and it makes the time that we do have together much more productive. The IMYC is so natural. It spreads, it’s infectious. We’re already sharing our experiences and our thinking, and to see and hear what everyone’s doing, that’s huge. It’s amazing to see the teachers collaborating with each other on the Media Project. I’ve never seen that level of collaboration before.”

For more information about the IMYC or to talk with a school already using the IMYC contact Fieldwork Education at +44(0)20 7531 9696 or visit www.greatlearning.com/imyc

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Highlighted Articles

Highlighted article – The IPC: a curriculum growing in popularity amongst many international schools (Part 2)

November 4, 2011


Intercultural Awareness
Each IPC unit has embedded within it, learning-focused activities that help young children start developing a global awareness and gain an increasing sense of the ‘other’. Every unit creates opportunities to look at learning of the theme through a local perspective, a national perspective and an international perspective.

With schools in over 63 countries learning with the IPC, opportunities abound for children to share their local experiences related to an IPC unit with children in dramatically different environments. Take the children at the International School of Iceland last year, who shared their first-hand experiences of the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano with their IPC friends around the world learning with the IPC Active Planet unit. These children have listened to, communicated with and learned from each other in a real world context.



Developing Personal Dispositions

The personal dispositions we form as individuals do not come from reading about them in a book or discovering them spontaneously. But rather, they are established over time with constant use and that’s how the IPC views children’s learning of personal skills. So instead of ‘add-on’ lessons about such elusive personal skills as morality or respect, the opportunities to experience and practise very specific personal dispositions are built into the learning tasks within each thematic unit. In addition, many of these tasks are group activities which encourage children to consider each others’ ideas and opinions, share responsibilities, respect other people’s views and communicate effectively. For example, in the IPC Water unit, a group of children have to make a water turbine. They start by creating if from cardboard and, through their own research and development  – along with gentle guidance from the teacher – work out how to improve their design to make it more resilient and effective. Not only are they learning about the power of water, but at the same time these children are developing the skills of cooperation, enquiry, communication and adaptability.

Supporting Teachers
Each IPC unit has a very structured yet flexible teaching framework providing teachers with a series of learning tasks. These are designed to achieve the learning goals through creative, meaningful and memorable learning activities that appeal to all learning styles and are relevant for all children of all abilities. In addition, these learning tasks have been carefully designed to help children build upon their development of individual skills from previous IPC units.

However, the learning tasks are purely a guide and provide plenty of scope for creative teaching, personalisation to the class and the locality, and development on the theme.

For UK and British international schools, the IPC learning goals are cross-referenced to meet the National Curriculum guidelines of England, assuring teachers that their children are learning in a rigorous as well as engaging, creative and relevant way. Cross-reference documents are also available for other national schools including Welsh, Scottish, Dutch and Vietnamese schools.

Supporting Schools
The IPC was originally designed purely as a curriculum. But ten years of growth and development have resulted in a vibrant, global IPC community of schools in over 67 countries as diverse as Swaziland, Malaysia, Qatar, Japan, Russia and Brazil. In the UK the IPC community embraces over 1,000 schools including state primaries plus academies, independent schools, special schools as well as several highly active Local Authorities. This provides a sharing of best-practice and minds encouraged through blogs, podcasting, conferences, summer schools and more, ensuring that no school, however remote, feels isolated.

Measuring Success
So what about the feedback from teachers, parents, inspectors and authorities? Headteacher Alex Butler of Hampstead Norreys Church of England Primary School in Berkshire, UK which was awarded Outstanding School of the Year in the 2009 League Tables of English Primary Schools sums up the feelings of many: “The IPC provides you with a very clear teaching framework to follow which we personalise to meet the needs of our children in our locality. Some people have said it’s an off-the-shelf option but that’s not true; there’s huge depth to the learning process, a real understanding of what ignites children’s interest, true expertise of community and international-mindedness, a very careful balance of knowledge and skills in every unit, and some really creative ideas for teaching and for learning with a flexibility to make it your own. Because of doing something quite innovative such as the IPC, everyone is watching you! Our success in the League Tables and the Ofsted inspection have proved to our Local Authority and to other schools that the IPC really is making a difference for us. It’s particularly down to the engagement and to the focus on learning.”

In a quite different setting, Louise Grant, Principal of Elementary, SJI International School in Singapore says, “There is real depth to the IPC. The learning goals and the learning process are the real strengths of IPC. It does a great job of making the learning goals explicit so we all know where we’re heading for. And it takes us through a learning process that immediately engages children and helps them to see a purpose to what they’re learning,” and in Norway, at the British School of Stavanger, Principal, Anne Howells says, “What a difference the IPC has made to the whole school! It not only meets the thematic, creative approach and develops thinking skills but it also focuses on discrete subjects, approaching them in a cross-curricular way which helps to create links between the subjects and, as a result, gives children purpose and meaning to their learning. We’ve seen such a change in the children. Now they are engaged in their learning, they’re switched on to learning, they are going home talking about their learning and this feeling is universal across the school; teachers included.”

For more information about the IPC contact the IPC at +44-207-7531-9696 or visit www.internationalprimarycurriculum.com

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An article by the International Primary Curriculum: Leading a change in learning.

October 30, 2011


Leading a change in learning. Vietnam, now Bangkok

An article by the International Primary Curriculum

David Lowder is a Headteacher who is leading change. As Head of An Phu, the largest Primary Campus at the British International School Vietnam, David led the very first international school in Vietnam to introduce the International Primary Curriculum. With it, he adopted a creative and internationally-minded approach to learning relevant for all children within the school; both the locals and the expatriates who were not just from Britain but from all corners of the world. Not only did this establish a new curriculum choice for parents in Ho Chi Minh City, but it put the IPC on the map for other international schools within the FOBISSEA group (Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia and Asia) looking for an up-to-date and more engaging curriculum for their primary age children.

Since moving to St. John’s International School in Bangkok, David has led the field again; becoming the first school in Bangkok to adopt the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and, as Chair of TISAC (the Thailand International Schools Association Committee) in Bangkok, he looks set to drive a curriculum rethink here too.

“It all started because we needed a change,” David says, explaining why he originally introduced the IPC at the British International School Vietnam. “The curriculum had become quite stagnant. Not only that but it was too anglicised. The children were learning about the great fire of London and WWII from a European perspective. For our many non-British children living and learning in Vietnam, this was totally irrelevant. But also there was no consistency of curriculum development and no strong teaching and learning philosophy within the school. We had become too passive in our teaching; there was a lot of wasted time, missed learning opportunities and very little creativity.”

David says that, once introduced to it, he immediately saw the value of the IPC. “I listened to Theresa Forbes (the then Director of the IPC) speak about it at a conference and was inspired. So, fully supported by his Deputy, Ben Dixon who played a key role in its introduction, and with advice from Theresa and the team at IPC, David launched the IPC at BISV and saw immediate success.  “It brings a more exciting, active element to children’s learning.  The IPC is totally relevant for today’s children. It’s helping us to take a more global approach to learning.  A good part of our IPC learning is linked to where we are living now, as well as looking at our learning from the perspective of other countries too.”

As well as making learning relevant for all students, the IPC introduces an active, collaborative and engaging approach to learning that David says made a big difference to the children in Vietnam: “No longer did we have children sitting at desks the whole time being spoon-fed knowledge. The children now learn through enquiring, investigating, collaborating together, as well as through creative approaches to learning such as painting, dancing, music, model-making and role-play; all hands-on, shared, problem-solving experiences that encourage them to lead their own learning and to think for themselves. The IPC is fun but with a clear purpose and direction. It’s making our children adaptable, resourceful and independent in their learning. Children are quite naturally inquisitive learners, and if they’re put in the right environment to do this, they become excited about their learning. Through the IPC, the real learner is allowed to flourish.”

During his three years learning with the IPC in Vietnam, David saw several other FOBISSEA schools follow suit. “As a result of our success with the IPC, we were able to show other schools within the group what a difference it was making to the school and to the children’s learning,” he says. “Our staff was great at speaking about the IPC to other FOBISSEA schools and were eager to talk about the impact it was making on the children. In fact, we were so convinced of the power of the IPC that we hosted a regional IPC conference to show other schools what we were doing.” Not only did David share the IPC with other school leaders, he also shared it with his parents. “During its introduction, we hosted a number of parent workshops and open days to show parents how their children would be learning. It was important for us to know the parents understood what this change was all about.  As a result, we had the full support of the parents who could see that their children were getting a very exciting and rigorous curriculum programme.”

David says that as other schools in the FOBISSEA group adopted it, so the IPC “became an educational currency. Relocating expat families would move from one international school to another and they would start looking for a school using the IPC so that there was a common learning approach that meant the transition was much easier for their child,” he explains.  David expects the same to happen for families moving to Bangkok and it’s not just because of the engaging and creative curriculum. “It’s the standards that the IPC is helping us to achieve too,” says David. “In Vietnam, we received great references from CIS accreditation on the high quality of learning witnessed throughout primary and CIS also paid a lot of attention to our international dimension which the IPC helped us to deliver.”

It is the global perspective within the IPC learning which, David says, has made a significant difference to both BIS Vietnam and is now also doing at St. John’s. “The IPC has helped to lead both schools out of a blind Britishness and in its place has introduced a more refreshing, exciting, far-reaching, up-to-date and international ethos.” Needless to say, knowing that the IPC meets the requirements of the English National Curriculum has still been a very important marketing tool for both schools. “We are still providing an English education but in a more internationally-minded way,” says David. “Our parents relate to Britain’s academic standards and see it as a pathway to a good education, leading to excellent university possibilities. It’s important for them to know that the IPC delivers all the learning of the English National Curriculum but with a relevant and up-to-date approach to the learning. For the children in Vietnam, the IPC enabled and actually encouraged us to explore the Vietnamese culture in a meaningful and learning-focused way, at the same time, helping to develop their understanding of their place in the world.  And for the children here in St. John’s, the same is true for the Thai culture. It’s a significant part of the IPC and it’s a key priority for many parents, particularly of the local children here.”

So does David see himself as a pioneer? “Not at all,” he says. “All I’ve done is tried to make a change to a situation where both children and staff were restricted as far as the learning was concerned.  I think it’s just about having confidence to make that change. Now what I see is so exciting.  It’s taken the British International School Vietnam to another level and I believe it will do the same at St. John’s. There is a real buzz about the place. I just know that what we’re doing with the IPC is the right thing. You can see it in the children and in the teachers. It is a dramatic benefit to the whole school.”

Press enquiries:
Anne Keeling
Media Relations
International Primary Curriculum
Email: anne@greatlearning.com

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Highlighted Articles

Highlighted article: The IPC: a curriculum growing in popularity amongst many international schools (Part 1)

October 18, 2011


The IPC is a very popular curriculum used by many international schools (in 68 countries around the world) because it is very learning-focused, allows great flexibility for teachers to personalise it to the needs of their children and their school, and also brings international-mindedness into much of the children’s learning. The following is a good explanation of the IPC which helps teachers, school leaders and parents alike to understand it.

Learning with the International Primary Curriculum

It has always been important for children to receive a great education. In the challenging global, interdependent world of the 21st century it is more important than ever before.


Oshwal Academy Mombasa, Kenya explore their local beach as part of the IPC Habitats unit

But it’s also more difficult than ever. In the same way that far fewer children play football because there are so many other competing things for them to do, so it’s far harder to help young children learn in school when other parts of their lives can seem so much more attractive, and when so many children are in homes – professional and non-professional – where time for parents to be attentive to their children is at a premium.

This is the paradox we inhabit. The need is great and, at the same time, the opposing forces are more powerful than they’ve ever been.

Getting a primary curriculum right is more difficult today than it’s ever been because it has to meet multiple goals. Of all those goals, the most essential ones are:

– Rigorous learning: Paying attention to essential and transformational knowledge, to the development of key skills, and to the slow, steady progress towards deep understanding across a broad range of subjects.

– High levels of children’s engagement: Making sure that this rigorous learning can win the battle against superficially more exciting out-of-school activities so that a) children enjoy it and stick to it and b) come to like learning enough to want to continue throughout their lives. And incorporating easy, accessible opportunities for parents to get involved in order to encourage and support their kids.

– International, global and intercultural awareness: So many of our problems at local and global level are caused by different groups not knowing or respecting each other. So many of the key problems we face today will only be solved through local and global cooperation. So many of the opportunities open to our current generation of children will be in countries and cultures different from the one in which they are growing up.

– The development of personal dispositions: Creating opportunities for children to develop qualities that will help them on their journey through life as individuals, citizens and partners. Qualities such as adaptability, morality, respect, resilience, enquiry, cooperation, communication and thoughtfulness.

– Supporting teachers: Providing teachers with everything they might need to make the curriculum work to its very best for every single child.

– Supporting schools: Providing all that a school requires to be confident in delivering good practice

A curriculum that thoroughly meets each one of these priority areas is not an easy trick to pull off. But feedback from schools, parents, teachers, children, inspectors and authorities tells us that one curriculum – the International Primary Curriculum – is well on the way.

If that’s the case, how does the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) ensure rigorous learning? What does a high level of engagement mean in IPC practice? What about the development of personal dispositions?  And what is it about the IPC that has gained the commitment of over 1,300 schools in over 63 countries around the world in just ten years?

Engaging Children

Well, for a start, we all know that children learn best when they want to learn. That’s why the IPC has over 80 different thematic units of learning; all child-friendly, modern-day topics appealing to all ages of primary children. Themes such as Time Detectives, Airports, I’m Alive, Inventions and Machines and Global Swapshop. Teachers use the theme as the hook, the learning platform and the ‘wrapping paper’ in order to excite and engage children.


Students at BIS Ljubljana in Slovenia investigate what’s going on within their soil colletions as part of the IPC Habitats unit.

The theme enables young children to remain motivated through the learning of science, geography, history and so on. It also allows them to make purposeful links and connections throughout their learning and to see how their subject learning is related to the world they live in.

Within each theme, the IPC suggests many ideas for collaborative learning, for active learning, for learning outside the classroom, for role play, and for children learning from each other. “All these approaches are crucial factors affecting engagement,” says Director of the IPC, Steven Mark. “Teamwork with a purpose, where every person plays a vital but different role, enables children to become deeply engaged in their learning, especially when that learning is relevant to their interests and needs. At the same time, there’s a huge flow of knowledge and many skills are practised and developed.” For example, in the IPC Rainforest unit children, through role play, debate the impact of slash and burn from all perspectives; from those of the indigenous forest dwellers to the prospectors. “This is something that we have continually prioritised and developed within the IPC,” continues Steven. “Child-friendly themes involving issues relevant for today’s children and creating opportunities for them to make their own choices in the progress of their learning. As a result, the learning becomes inspiring and fulfilling for them.”

The IPC’s engaging approach also encourages parental involvement as children, inspired by their learning, talk freely to parents and family members about what they’ve done at school and often choose to continue their learning at home. Parental involvement is also promoted through learning-focused letters, extended learning ideas, and end of unit ‘Exit Point’ events.

Rigorous Learning

Each IPC unit incorporates most of the core subjects including science, history, geography, ICT, Art and PE and provides many opportunities to incorporate literacy and numeracy. Subjects are only included into each theme if there is a direct link between the required learning and the ideas behind the theme. Each subject then has a number of learning tasks to help teachers to help their children meet a range of learning goals set out in the curriculum.

Take, for example, the IPC Chocolate unit. In history, children explore the discovery of chocolate, the period it was discovered, the motivation for discovery and the changing attitude to chocolate through the ages. In geography they look at the countries that grow cacao and how particular localities have been affected by its production and by slash and burn. They look at the links between countries that grow cacao and countries that produce chocolate. In art children look at how chocolate is sold and how packaging is designed. In science, children use the Chocolate unit to look at the energy values in foodstuff and to explore the effects of heating and cooling.

The IPC learning goals are deliberately explicit; designed to make sure that teachers distinguish clearly between children’s learning of knowledge, skills and understanding.

IPC Director, Steven Mark points out that knowledge, skills and understanding may all be examples of learning but that each is learned differently, assessed differently and, therefore, IPC believes, should be taught differently. “There is absolutely no point in talking about rigorous learning if we don’t make explicitly clear the nature and implications of the learning we want children to achieve,” says Steven. So each IPC unit has a detailed teaching framework incorporating very explicit skills. “As skills take time to develop, children need to have the chance to continually revisit and practise these key skills,” he explains. “To develop these skills, individuals need context and purpose. Which is why the IPC suggests real life, practical learning experiences to help them. All our units encourage children to work individually and together towards learning goals. It’s important that children can see that they are still learning skills found in history and geography but set in the context of the big picture theme.”

For more information about the IPC contact the IPC at +44-207-7531-9696 or visit www.internationalprimarycurriculum.com

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