The first Catholic Pre-K-12 International Baccalaureate School in the U.S.
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy offers a curriculum centered on the International Baccalaureate Program. It is the first Catholic school in the United States with all three IB curriculum levels: Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP) and Diploma Program (DP).
The focus of the IB curriculum is cross-disciplinary and is based on the inquiry method of instructional practice. IB is not a gifted education program, but it does provide a model for high standards in education for all students. The PYP and MYP programs provide an educational framework based on what is currently known about how students learn and draw upon best practices for teaching and learning. Through the IB Program, all students are invited to discover for themselves that learning can be an exciting, challenging and rewarding process of exploring the world.
What Is IB?
The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. Challenging academic programs and assessments encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners.
Some of the most common questions I get about the IB program are:
“Is MYP a special class?”
“Do we have to choose IB for our child?”
“How is IB different from traditional education?”
None of these questions are surprising because, like anything else, if you aren’t familiar with something, you have a lot of questions and, the more questions you ask, the more you understand. So, let’s answer those questions.
“Is MYP a special class?”
The MYP, or Middle Years Program, is not a special class, it is a framework for teaching that we use in grades six through 10. It’s the “how”, not the “what”, in regards to curriculum, so every class is structured and taught in a manner consistent with IB.
“Do we have to choose IB for our child?”
Every student at Notre Dame, from pre-kindergarten to 10th grade receives an education that is a part of the IB program. It is not a choice that a parent has to make, it is how all classes are taught. The only choice comes prior to 11th grade, when students must decide if they want to continue with the IB program through the Diploma Program in grades 11 and 12, or if they want to take a more traditional path.
“How is IB different from traditional education?”
The focus of the IB program is not on the specific content being taught, but how students are taught to use the information they learn. This approach to teaching and learning is a holistic one that ensures students are leaving the program with not only the knowledge they need for future endeavors, but also the skills and mindsets that are required. This form of education fits perfectly with our mission to form “Christian People, Upright Citizens, and Academic Scholars”, which also focuses on the whole student and not just the academics.
“The Middle Years Program (MYP) was rigorous and challenging,” says International Baccalaureate Diploma Program senior Lucas Anderson, “and it prepared me for the course work of the DP.” While we have the middle school (6-8) and the preparatory school (9-12) at Notre Dame, the IB divides its program into the MYP which includes all students 6-10 and the DP, which includes self-selected students in grades 11-12. The middle school and preparatory school teachers work very hard to make sure that this progression of skills is purposeful and taught at an age-appropriate level for all five years, and when students are done with the program, they are ready to take on a traditional college-prep track, an AP track, or to elect into the Diploma Program.
The Middle Years Program is inclusive of all students and is not separate from our curriculum in grades 6-10. What makes a class an MYP class isn’t anything extra that students are doing; it’s the way teachers structure the class, the delivery of the curriculum, and the assessments of learning. Teachers organize material around concepts, some specific to the discipline like the concepts of quantity and simplification in a math class, or energy and movement in a science class, and some that reach across disciplines, like change, pattern, and form, which help students connect what they are learning in science to what they are learning in math.
MYP also focuses on standards-based assessment of skills, so while you may see traditional-looking tests in some classes, they are built a little differently to ensure that we aren’t just preparing kids to take the test; we are preparing them for using this information in the real world. For example, the progression of skills on the rubric that measures “knowing and understanding” in science starts with “applying scientific knowledge and understanding to hypothesize solutions to problems in familiar situations.” By the time students end their sophomore year, the last in the MYP, the level we want them to reach for is “applying scientific knowledge and understanding to solve problems set in familiar and unfamiliar situations.” You can see how that elevates learning.
The other benefit of the MYP is that it doesn’t just ask kids to know science; it asks them to think like a scientist. In addition to “Knowing and Understanding,” the science classes also assess students on “Inquiring and Design,” which is explaining a problem, formulating a hypothesis, using scientific reasoning, accounting for variables, and designing experiments; “Processing and Evaluating,” which is presenting collected and transformed data, interpreting that data and explaining with scientific reasoning, evaluating the validity of a hypothesis based on experiments, evaluating validity of method, and explaining improvements to methods; and finally “Reflecting on the Impacts of Science,” which is exploring how science is involved in problem-solving in the real world, how we communicate through scientific language and formalized reporting, and how we document and source our research.
This is one example of the way a subject is organized in the MYP, and the other subjects follow similar patterns. Students learn to think, research, and communicate like a scientist, mathematician, artist, social scientist, and writer. Whether a student enters the MYP in 6th or 9th grade, they will encounter a rigorous program that will prepare them for what comes next.
So, when students are considering how to prepare themselves to transition from the MYP to the DP, even more important than the factor of class placement (the topic of a future blog) is the factor of doing their best in the Middle Years Program. The experience of their MYP courses will prepare students for the kind of skills and activities they will encounter in the Diploma Program.
For more information and how students like Lucas are finding a path to their ambitions through the IB Diploma Program, please contact Diploma Program Coordinator Mrs. Katrina Sagert (email@example.com).
Students in the lower and middle school all participate fully in the International Baccalaureate Program. The difference is that learning in the lower school is transdisciplinary and the middle school is interdisciplinary. Transdisciplinary learning is one of the essential components of any International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP).
Students study various subjects under one theme. They also gain vital skills, which they apply as they work collaboratively with their peers. These skills encourage students to take responsibility for their learning as they ask questions guided by seven key concepts to understand the world around them and explore topics that interest them. Each grade level has well-developed “Units of Inquiry” that are conceptually based on one of these transdisciplinary themes:
Who we are
Where we are in place and time
How we express ourselves
How the world works
How we organize ourselves
Sharing the planet
Notre Dame Lower School students learn to use approaches to learning skills (thinking, research, communication, social and self-management) to inquire and explore topics beyond individual subjects to see how they apply in the real world. Studying issues across subject areas makes it possible to analyze them from multiple perspectives. Different themes and subject areas enhance the learning experience rather than limit it. For more information on the PYP at the lower school please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As I am diving into college applications,” says IB Diploma Program senior Noraa Silver, “the knowledge I gained from the EE is indescribable.” One of the more exciting and specialized tasks of the IB Diploma Program, the extended essay (EE) is a 4,000-word research project studying a student’s topic of choice.
A core element of the DP, the extended essay ties together the content that set a student’s curiosity on fire and the skills students have acquired through all their years of schooling, including critical thinking, communication, and self-management. As is the case with the Primary Years Program’s Exhibition and the Middle Years Program’s Community and Personal Projects, the EE encourages students to explore the value of academic knowledge in the wider world and discover how they contribute to the collective knowledge of the world.
Like Noraa, students in the DP Class of 2022 are currently in the end-stages of revising and finalizing their research. After nearly a year of preparation, research, and writing, students are seeing their work take shape.
Noraa is studying World War II propaganda, specifically how propaganda like “Rosie the Riveter” succeeded in encouraging American women to take up traditionally male-dominated roles in the workforce.
“I became interested in this topic after learning about war propaganda in my IB History class with Mr. Osiecki. This topic was extremely appealing to me because it was the start of the civil rights movement that pushed for women to permanently stay in the workforce. The propaganda would eventually lead to more women having jobs and a steady increase of women in the workforce would progress from there, even after the war,” she said.
The riveters Noraa is studying have paved the way for her own professional ambitions as a woman in STEM, as has the research and writing skills she gained in the EE process. For many students, it is the task that cements the fundamentals and nuances of critical thinking they have been taught across all subject areas.
“The extended essay reintroduced the importance of analysis in composition,” Noraa explains. “So many times before the EE, I would present information, but fail to connect it to the theme and analyze its importance. The extended essay pushed me to be more careful with the information I include in my research papers and to be more thoughtful in analyzing the role it plays in my work. The EE has helped me feel more prepared for college and the intimidating, formal papers that will be required as my education continues.”
For more information about the EE and how students like Noraa are finding a path to their ambitions through the IB Diploma Program, please contact Diploma Program Coordinator Mrs. Katrina Sagert (email@example.com).
Aims to develop students who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge – students who flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically. Subject areas include English, Second Language, Social Studies, Experimental Sciences, Mathematics, The Arts. View more information.
Students engage in eight traditional subjects each year which are organized around a framework for learning that is especially appropriate for the development of students in this age group. This challenging framework encourages students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world. Learn more.
The PYP prepares students to become active, caring, lifelong learners who demonstrate respect for themselves and others and have the capacity to participate in the world around them. It focuses on the development of the whole child. Learn more.