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Merrimac School

The Merrimac School at Sweetsir and Donaghue and the IB PYP

What, then, does it mean to be an educated person? It means developing one's own aptitudes and interests and discovering the diversity that makes us each unique. And it means becoming permanently empowered with language proficiency, general knowledge, social confidence, and moral awareness in order to be economically and civically successful. But becoming well educated also means discovering the connectedness of things. Educators must help students see relationships across the disciplines and learn that education is a communal act, one that affirms not only individualism, but community. And for these goals to be accomplished, we need a new curriculum framework that is both comprehensive and coherent, one that can encompass existing subjects and integrate fragmented content while relating the curriculum to the realities of life. This curriculum must address the uniqueness of students' histories and experiences, but it also must guide them to understand the many ways that humans are connected.

The above quote comes from the late Ernest Boyer, former United States Commissioner of Education and President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It summarizes well the basis of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP) curriculum.

In addition to its focus on helping develop all aspects of our students – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, personal -- another foundational element of the IB PYP is the comprehensive and coherent curriculum organization it uses. As a Massachusetts school we continue to base the content knowledge and skills we teach students on the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks. The IB PYP then helps to organize this content in six broad and enduring themes and eight key concepts. These provide students a way to organize knowledge and skills they learn in a meaningful and relevant way. Students learn to see the connections between different ideas and knowledge, which helps them to better understand what they learn.

During each year of school, students in Grade 1 to Grade 6 will experience six different units of inquiry and spend approximately six weeks on each unit. Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students will experience four units of inquiry throughout each school year. Each of the units explore one of the transdisciplinary themes of:

* Who We Are

* Where We Are In Time and Place

* How We Express Ourselves

* How the World Works

* How We Organize Ourselves

* Sharing the Planet.


Together, the themes help students learn about who they are, the world around them, their place in it, and their responsibilities for helping it and the people in it thrive. These themes are selected by IB for their relevance to the real world and because they reach beyond individual subject areas. For this reason, we refer to them as transdisciplinary. 

Each unit of inquiry also develops five essential elements of learning: knowledge; skills (social, communication, thinking, research, and self-management); concepts; attitudes; and applying and taking action with what they learn.

What we want students to understand is also expressed in the eight concepts that help students understand themselves and their world. Each unit of inquiry focuses on developing one or more of these concepts. The concepts, and the questions they help answer are:

  • Form - What is it like?
  • Function - How does it work?
  • Causation - Why is it like it is?
  • Change - How is it changing?
  • Connection - How is it connected to other things?
  • Perspective – What are the point of view?
  • Responsibility – What is our responsibility?
  • Reflection – How do we know?


You can see from the quote at the opening, that the program also places an emphasis on the importance of language proficiency. At the Merrimac School, we place great emphasis on helping students acquire proficiency with reading, writing, and speaking, as well as the languages of mathematics, art, and music

By bringing these together with the learning outcomes in the state curriculum learning frameworks, all students experience comprehensive and coherent education opportunities in the Merrimac School that will provide them with the foundation to continue to learn challenging knowledge and skills, apply creative solutions to problems, recognize their unique role as meaningful contributors, and fulfill their roles as stewards for communities they belong to now and in the future.