The role of technology in the PYP

This post will outline the aims of the PYP (the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate) and the role that technology plays in helping teachers and students to achieve those goals. The role of technology is not significantly different to non-IB schools, so the ideas of good practice outlined below will also apply to other educational settings.

What is the philosophy of the PYP?

 The overall aim of all IB programmes (PYP, Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme) is to develop international mindedness in our students. This is achieved through the development of the Learner Profile, which is made up of ten attributes (see below image). Specifically in the PYP, these attributes are developed through the programme’s Five Essential Elements: knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. At the core of all IB programmes is inquiry as the leading pedagogical approach. This is just a very brief overview of the PYP. For more information, please refer to the IB website.

“Since its inception, the PYP has been infused with a spirit of inquiry.”

(Making the PYP Happen)

Tech in the PYP - Primary Years Program

What does the PYP say about technology?

 Though many schools teach ICT as a discrete subject, the PYP strongly emphasises that technology should also be used as a tool for learning by all teachers and students. The PYP acknowledges the transformative potential of technology, when it is used purposefully and meaningfully as a tool to facilitate learning.

An excerpt from Making The PYP Happen:

The use of ICT:

Can document the learning, making it available to all parties

Can provide opportunities to rapid feedback and reflection

Can provide access to a broad range of tools to store, organize and present their learning

Encourages and allows for communication with a wide-ranging audience.

As you can see from the excerpt above, the effective use of technology in the PYP does not significantly differ from non-IB schools. The document also makes reference to further uses of technology in specific subject areas, but again, these are identical to non-IB schools. Technology has made these things possible for all teachers.

In a later document, designed to clarify the use of ICT, the PYP identified six skills to be developed through technology, which reflect the Learner Profile and the Five Essential Elements: investigating, creating, communicating, collaborating, organizing and becoming responsible digital citizens. To read descriptors for each of these ICT skills, click here.

In addition to these general uses, PYP teachers should also use technology to aid the development of international mindedness, support inquiry learning and to help students to reach deeper understandings.

How does technology support the development of international mindedness?

 The world has shrunk significantly. Technology allows us to effortlessly connect with others around the world. For example, the image below shows our Year Two students in Hong Kong interviewing Dr. Willie Smits in The Netherlands about his conservational work in Indonesia. He was able to answer the students’ questions, provide further information about that area and its issues, and (in true inquiry style) spark more student questions.

Tech in the PYP - Primary Years Program

 In another example, we used technology to connect with a partner class in Australia. By giving students access to cultures, perspectives and ideas that differ from their own, they become more open-minded, respectful and appreciative of their world and its diverse communities. They learn to understand and appreciate different perspectives.

“Through ICT, there are greater opportunities for interactive communication and exchange of information through global collaboration, authentic learning, expansion of the learning community and empowerment for all learners.”

(Beliefs and Values about ICT in the PYP)

If we want our students to have a greater understanding of cultures, people and issues around the world, we should simply give the students access to them. The development of international mindedness is the most important aim of the IB programmes; by achieving all of the other aims, we hope to achieve this ‘umbrella’ aim. Technology has made it easier than ever to develop international mindedness because the rest of the world is no longer inaccessible.

How does technology support inquiry?

 Making The PYP Happen goes on to outline the IB’s definition of inquiry learning:

“Students should be invited to investigate significant issues by formulating their own questions, designing their own inquiries, assessing the various means available to support their inquiries, and proceeding with research, experimentation, observation and analysis that will help them in finding their own responses to the issues.”

My students tuned into our migration unit by listening to The Lost Boy by Greg Holden. As curious inquirers, they had questions about the song, its meaning, and refugees generally. I sent their questions to Greg over Twitter and, wonderfully, he created a video message for my students in order to answer them.

Tech and PYP

This is just one example of how technology can assist student inquiries. Though not specifically PYP, Kath Murdoch is known as one of the gurus of inquiry learning (if not the guru). In a 2015 blog post, she explained that technology should be used by inquiring students to sort, gather and share. Furthermore, she describes it as a “warning bell” if there is no evidence of technology in a supposedly inquiry classroom. In other words, as explained by PYP teacher, Sean Thompson, there is a “natural connection” between technology and inquiry learning.

PYP Teacher Amy Adams (2015) explains that technology offers “extra avenues” for students to generate ideas. Thus, supporting the inquiry process. However, as with educational technology globally, the impact of its use depends on how purposefully it is integrated. In the document Good ICT Practice, the IB states that technology should be used to enhance learning, not just for its own sake. The SAMR model is an excellent point of reference when considering purposeful technology integration. Please refer to this Ed Tech 4 Beginners post: What is the SAMR model?

How can we develop conceptual understanding?

 Though the PYP acknowledges the need for factual knowledge (it is one of the Five Essential Elements), it places greater emphasis on understanding. It is concepts that drive the learning as opposed to facts. Nowadays, technology can be effortlessly used to access facts. Our aim should be to develop deeper conceptual understanding. Wiggins and McTighe explain it as “a move from covering content to uncovering understanding”. This is in line with the PYP philosophy. Technology has changed what students learn and how they learn. As a minimum, PYP teachers should acknowledge the ease at which facts can be accessed and use these facts as a foundation for questioning and deeper understanding.

One way to achieve this (but by no means the only way) is through the Flipped Classroom. The Flipped Learning model is being used increasingly around the world (not just in IB schools). In this model, technology is usually the tool for giving students access to surface level information before class, so that precious class time can be utilised for developing understanding and applying. This pedagogical shift is gathering momentum and I believe that it will continue to do so. For more information, click here.

What about PYP teachers who are not ‘tech-savvy’?

 IB teachers aim for students to love learning and for this enthusiasm to be maintained throughout their lives. Teachers should model lifelong learning. As stated earlier, it is an expectation that all teachers integrate technology. It is not accepted that some specialist teachers integrate it whilst others do not, though it is understood that the confidence of teachers will vary. Whatever the current level of technology expertise, teachers should continually strive to learn and grow as part of being a lifelong learner. The IB places fundamental importance on the training of teachers in this area. Furthermore, Good ICT Practice goes on to state that teachers’ genuine interest in technology is also vital in order to model positive attitudes and usage. It encourages the use of online networking of teachers through social media and blogging.

Tech in the PYP - Primary Years Program

It is important to once again emphasise that the ideas outlined above could be applied to any education system, not just IB. However, the IB does place additional emphasis on international mindedness, inquiry learning, conceptual understanding and lifelong learning. Sean Thompson highlighted the natural connection between technology and inquiry learning. I would argue that there is a natural connection to these other aims, too. The PYP, as all educational systems should be, is about more than academic progress. What we teach and how we teach is very different to traditional schooling. Our use of technology reflects that.

About the author: Adam is an experienced primary school teacher who relocated to Hong Kong from the UK. He now teaches Year Four at Victoria Shanghai Academy, a bilingual PYP school. Adam is passionate about educating the ‘whole child’ and preparing students for their futures. Follow him on Twitter @AhillAdam and click here to read his education blog.

Tech in the PYP - Primary Years Program

2 thoughts on “The role of technology in the PYP

  1. Pingback: The role of technology in the PYP (Guest post for ‘EdTech 4 Beginners’) – Mr. Hill's Musings

  2. Hi Neil,

    Thank you for the opportunity to write for your blog. I benefited from the research that went into this. I hope that your readers find it useful. I will be notified of new comments (I checked the box below) and I’ll be happy to respond to them.

    If your readers actually want to work in an IB school, they might be interested in this post:

    Thanks again,


    Liked by 1 person

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