You can’t change the world in 6 weeks – Thoughts on sharing the planet 

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Of all the transdisciplinary themes in the PYP Sharing the Planet is the one that brings up a lot of ethical concerns for me as a teacher. This is particularly the case in my context where I teach at an international school in highly developed Singapore.

The kids and I live in a bubble of international school inside the bubble of our country. Inequality in our little corner of the world is something that is a lot harder to see and take action outside of fundraising.

Many schools have quite rightly moved away from bake sales where the consumption of baked goods often obscure the cause being fundraised.

‘Raising awareness’ campaigns in the form of posters end up being just another poster in school.

Service based learning where kids are out doing manual work in communities in need seem better on the surface but is this any better? It makes the kids feel good about contributing but in doing so is their free labour displacing work that could be done by a member of the community?

History is littered with unintended harm that  comes when people with money rush into ‘help.’ I think back to Cambodia and the explosion of orphanages in the number of orphanages in 2012 compared t the first time I visited the country back in 2006.

Over the course of this unit of inquiry, my class has been I contact with a friend of mine who works in development in Malawi. The children identified that  their perspective of the developing world is limited and they wanted to find out more.  I had a connection. After learning more about the country, the kids were quite rightly upset about some of the living conditions and were chomping at the bit to help.

They were desperate to sponsor a child and make games to share their learning.

I felt a bit like Mr Bumble reminding the children that as a class we had only 10 weeks together and they needed to make sure their commitment was one they were going to see through. I also challenged the kids to think really hard about what the purpose was behind their games and what they hoped to achieve at the end of it.
Am I wrong to be putting my own adult considerations on the kids learning?

During this unit I often find myself thinking back to the process of  the digital learning inquiry I did with my class in 2012.

  • It was low hanging fruit in terms of the potential for kids to make change and influence change.The New Zealand government was looking to make an investment in digital learning and the kids had a lot of first hand knowledge to advise their representatives.
  • The class had time, the unit officially  ran for two ten week terms but I had the freedom to extend another few weeks for the verbal submissions. That’s nearly an entire academic year devoted to one inquiry!
  • That extra time enabled the kids to make connections during their research with other schools and the wider community.
  • This was a real world inquiry, the children presented in front of actual members of parliament and the committee made real recommendations.
  • Half of the kids were able to see their recommendations when the final report came out the following year because my school was one that looped students.

Before I started teaching the PYP, this part of the programme really excited me. Yet now I’m teaching it I find the narrow timeframes for UOIs constraining and wondering how authentic the current contexts for learning really are.

I’m also wondering if rigidly adhering to the tuning, finding out, sorting out of ‘stages’ of Kath Murdoch’s inquiry model is hindering real true inquiry.

But then I could quite possibly over thinking things.

I shouldn’t compare the teaching I did  for a unit which was very much a product of time and space.

Nevertheless, there’s a fine balance between children being aware of the world outside their bubble but also making change in a sustainable and meaningful way.


12 thoughts on “You can’t change the world in 6 weeks – Thoughts on sharing the planet 

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  1. Hi Stephanie, I really appreciate your honesty here. I live in Tanzania where we meet that economic disparity square on and we still struggle to make action meaningful! We work hard to encourage children to stop saving the world one bake sale at a time! I think we suffer from the opposite problem as you do in Singapore: it is so in our faces that we feel the need to protect children from some of the reality they see all the time. And sometimes situations are so dangerous (largely in terms of pollution rather than people) that parents do not want their children to be exposed to the potential risks of cleaning up, for example, an exceptionally dirty beach. Strange how it is a struggle at both ends of the spectrum!

    Also, I think that we do take the stages of inquiry too literally at times. Definitely we need some information to start taking action, but we don’t need to make our way through the entire cycle to start drawing conclusions. Inquiry is messy. I think planning for inquiry is really tough, especially when we have to do it on a fairly linear planner. I think it’s time that this get opened up and schools are freed up to explore planning in more personal, ‘messy’ ways.

    We are in the midst of Final Exhibition right now and sometimes the students’ ideas about action seem so …. immature. And then I remember that they are 11 years old and that they are immature. Maybe sharing through games is where some of them are at. I think we need to find that balance and push them beyond at times and let them be kids at other times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leah
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your thoughtful comment. I am glad I am not the only one grappling with this issue. I’m wondering if the transdisciplinary themes need to run over a longer period of time?



  2. I completely agree with you here. I almost groan when we hit ‘sharing the planet’ with our grade levels. I hear the teachers dipping into ‘theme’ boxes and “they love learning about living things” etc.
    The reason I groan? I feel that it is tokenism. “It is just something we do” – I find teachers are not buying into it – so how can the students?
    I am constantly pushing my teachers during planning to ask the “so what?” and asking them to think about authentic action – be it for 5 year olds or 12 year olds. I suggested that for a unit focusing on the needs of living things that we introduce and develop a vegetable or herb garden – the reply was that there was not enough time in 6 weeks….so where are our values? What is really important – introducing, exposing and teaching our children the importance of nuturing, caring, maintaining and sustaining? or finishing a unit?
    I find there is a lot of lip service, but things are then just put back in the box….(hate that box)
    Sharing the planet, ( or the sentiment, understanding and learning behind it) I feel, should be throughout the year, and developed constantly as authentic learning experiences make themselves available…..but then I also feel this way about ‘Who We Are”,,,,,,and come to think of it….the others too. We need to stop thinking of our units of inquiry as 6 week units’ or stuckin time in 6 week blocks, we are encouraged not to do this with our daily timetables….so why our yearly schedule.
    Am I being cynical? Am I expecting too much?
    (Am a kiwi too so is it our training that wants to pull it all out and keep all the authentic transdisciplinary learning blend? )
    Thanks for sharing!


  3. I also found that there was just not enough time. I would love SHaring the Planet to be something that could be started early and continued throughout the year. I work with very young learners and felt that viewing the TDT as something of a ripple effect, starting with the micro and building on that as their understanding of what is outside of their selves increases. This can take a really long time with young children who have little or no English language skills. I also feel that with the very young we should be looking towards our daily routine and the attitudes that we foster through our interactions and school belief systems, this is where a TDT can be continued or even started. It is less formally assessable, I guess, but in the end planners can always be added to with anecdotal notes as time goes on and I think it is possible to have a long running TDT and assess over periods of time. I dont know how practical this would be by the time you get to 11 years olds. I still find that the concepts and attitudes are what stay with me the most from the PYP.


  4. Hey Stephanie. What an interesting post – I think the issue of ‘taking action’ is one that definitely needs more conversation and thought…thank you for raising it. Sometimes I wonder whether we should more often adopt the intention behind the adage ‘charity begins at home’ (or ‘think global, act local’) when it comes to young children…as others have said, it’s about considering the impact of learning on the lives of the children as relevant to their context now as well as the future. Your comment about rigid adherence to an inquiry cycle is another reminder of the problem of using the cycle as a ‘recipe’ rather than a framework for conceptualising a process of inquiry/investigation. Some of the best inquiries I have seen begin with action and work backwards from there. So thanks for reminding folks of the importance of remaining open and flexible – and for your link to the relevant post. Cheers! Kath


  5. Interesting read! Next year we running STP as a year long unit in grade 4. We’ve mapped out how we can authentically connect it to all our other units. Hopefully that will give time for meaningful action and a deeper understanding. Excited to see how it goes.


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