By Jo Mathis
AAPS District News Editor
On their first day of summer break, dozens of AAPS teachers met for a day-long International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) introductory workshop called “Launching the MYP.” It was the first step of the Ann Arbor International Baccalaureate journey.
The goal for the day was to develop a deeper understanding of the MYP and what it takes to create a learner-centered environment.
“The teachers are getting an overview of the MYP and how it will transform teaching and learning at Scarlett Middle School and Huron High School,” said Kevin Karr, who coordinates the district’s K-12 International Baccalaureate.
Over the next two years, Huron, Scarlett and Mitchell Elementary will develop into IB World Schools that use a curriculum promoting student inquiry and engagement.
Karr said the thing he most wants parents to know about the IB programming working on in Ann Arbor is that it’s an engaging way for students to learn the content that’s expected by the state.
“And when it’s more engaging, kids tend to learn more,” he said. “Kids have some ownership around the learning. The ownership comes because they’re asking questions and seeking answers to those questions, and then they’re reflecting about whether or not those questions have been answered and coming up with new questions.”
As AAPS transforms curriculum whether through STEAM, Project Lead The Way, or curriculum development, all children will be exposed more and more to this kind of approach.
“It is true that inquiry-based International Baccalaureate teaching an learning is going to be set at Mitchell, Scarlett and Huron, but that kind of thinking and those kinds of approaches will be available to other teachers and other schools,” he said. “Just as we benefit from STEAM, other people will be benefitting from learning about what we know about International Baccalaureate.”
The transformation will start gradually this fall at all three schools, and the process will take three years to completely transform.
“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be developing new curriculum, and certainly in the fall, kids are going to start to be touched by these changes,” said Karr.
Participants Monday learned about the IB mission and philosophy, using the MYP framework to support teaching and learning, and how to create MYP units.
Scarlett language arts teacher Sal Barrientes has been excited about the transition to IB since last summer went he went to a formal training in Philadelphia.
He said teachers shouldn’t worry that the transition will add a lot of work, and in any case, the rewards are well worth the effort.
In fact, Barrientes was able to roll out an IBMYP science fiction unit earlier this year.
“That thing was amazing!” he said, noting that he talked with the kids at the onset about what they were doing and why they were doing it.
He said watching the individual and group presentations at the end of the class was exciting.
“Those kids that normally don’t do anything were actually able to stand up in front of their classmates and give a 30-second spiel about their part in that process,” he said. “I was amazed at the pride the kids took in what they were doing. And normally the kids are only required to read one novel in science fiction. Some of them were at two and three novels.”
Barrientes said curriculum can sometimes be rote as students memorize facts, while IB asks kids to not just tell the teacher what the teacher already told them, but to come up with new ideas and creative ways to prove they understand the larger concept.
Students who don’t do well on standardized tests will especially benefit from IB, he said, because they can show ways they understand the material in the way that works best for them—whether that’s through visual arts, for instance, or a multi-media presentation.
“I couldn’t be happier that my kids get to actually experience this,” he said.
Todd Newell, the newly named Middle Years Program facilitator at Huron, previously taught several IB courses at the International Academy in Oakland County.
“I view it as definitely the way to go because it maximizes the skills the students can achieve and acquire when they leave high school, to really promote success at that next level,” Newell said, noting that they’ll gain critical thinking skills that will help them gain confidence when encountering unfamiliar situations.
In August, the teachers will return for a three-day IB workshop that is content-specific, while the Mitchell teachers will learn how to transform their curriculum.
Barrientes said the IB program is in a transition period right now as teachers learn how it all will work.
“So many times we ask our kids to take risks; to step out of their comfort zone,” he said. “This is one of the times I and my colleagues have to practice what we preach. We have to step out of our comfort zone a little bit and be able to grow and expand. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds in the next few months and year.”