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Oct 10, 2022

Education is becoming more and more challenging; the concept of knowledge is transforming, and so are methods of teaching and learning. 

The world is going towards an accelerated transformation that demands a new profile of learners. The 21st Century is not in the distant future. Almost all kinds of professions require innovation, creative thinking, flexibility, and practicality. Learners of today need to acquire not only knowledge but also competencies for developing innovative solutions, thinking creatively, and working collaboratively in the future.

At the Western International School of Shanghai, conceptual learning is an integral component of the IBMYP curriculum, emphasizing the learning process and integrating skills development. At WISS, we strive to make the knowledge relevant for our students help them draw connections between what they learn and the world they live in. We also strongly believe that learning happens best when set in a specific Global Context.

According to Erickson (2011), concepts and generalizations allow the brain to make connections and see patterns. These connections and patterns will enable a learner to make sense of the knowledge and skills required to be successful in an increasingly complex and changing world.

The Middle Years Program (IBMYP) is developed by conceptual understandings to connect the content of a unit of learning to the past, and present (Wiggins 2014). For instance, a close look at Mathematics presents us with a picture of a subject mired in layers of abstraction that is somewhat difficult for students to understand the meaning of, let alone master.

Learning subjects through transdisciplinary connections offers WISS students a methodical understanding of how theories and concepts can be applied in our daily lives through an inquiry-based knowledge acquisition.

Wees (2018) writes ‘The reason why conceptual understanding is an important goal is because otherwise we might be tempted to rely on teaching kids tricks instead of mathematics’.

Conceptual understanding involves that the goal is more important than the process of achieving the goal, thus finding the trick to success is a discrete skill that is neither transferable nor leads to deep understanding.

It is true that students can learn a body of facts, such as who wrote ‘Macbeth”and how to perform discrete skills, such as solving for x and indeed they may even learn how to pass an exam with this, but you need to ask yourself if that is all that there is and is it enough.

The world is now very complex and changing fast, new knowledge is created every day and to keep up with this, and contribute to, students need different skills. One being the ability to make sense of this new knowledge. 

As Gardner (1994) puts it ‘Schooling, in turn, aims to furnish students’ minds with powerful lenses available in a society at a given time in order to help the young become keen interpreters of, and contributors to, the world in which they live’ . 

It is no longer sufficient for teachers to fill empty heads with knowledge, facts and skills, we need to develop in our students a deeper understanding of what these mean and how they can connect to them.

Interested in finding more about the rigorous academic IB programmes at WISS? Visit the WISS website.


By Martin Mathieson, Middle-Years Programme Coordinator / Design Teacher at The Western International School of Shanghai.


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