MYP Unit Planner - the why and the how
Updated: Jul 18
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) unit planner is notoriously difficult to get to grips with, but worth the time to do so. It has many different parts, yet together they work synchronously to create a coherent whole. In essence the unit plan is divided into three main parts based on inquiry, action and then reflection. Over time the unit plan is meant to be developed and improved in a cyclical and iterative fashion based on use and reflection to improve teaching. Further, the MYP unit planning process was meant to be based on backwards planning, with teachers deciding upon a learning outcome as a goal and working to plan backwards to meet that goal with content and various learning activities.
Making a complete and well-rounded MYP unit plan is not necessarily an easy task, but the image below helps frame the idea over initial planning and development and then subsequent years of improvement and tweaking as needed.
Image source: International Baccalaureate MYP: From principles into practice document - published 2014.
There are many varied components to the MYP unit plan. The key ones include the following:
Statement of inquiry
Particularly important as the SOI as it is known in MYP circles sets the scene for the rest of the unit. In theory it is meant to include as much of the key concepts, related concepts and global context as possible, without losing its authentic and holistic aim.
The inquiry questions are the driver for the MYP unit plan. These are the key items that help students know when they have achieved the learning that they are set out to perform during this unit.
Assessment is so often a keyword in education and MYP is no different. Summatives must link to MYP criteria for the given subject and this helps give them direction and make sure they are fit for purpose. This also connects with the necessary to assess each criteria at least twice a year for every criteria. In this way, it is easier to track which units will work together to make a complete years worth of learning and cover different aspects of the subject with varied summatives. In science for example, this leads to not just lab reports, presentations, community projects or scientific essays, but a variety of assessment methods.
Approaches to learning
The Approaches to learning are a large set of possible skills that are meant to be taught across the MYP to students during their time in the program. They are described by the IB as ‘learning to learn’, grouped into five major categories: Communication, Social, Self-management, Research and Thinking. These are then broken down into 10 skills clusters, the framework while not perfect, does help to make teachers think about teaching units in creative ways and not always focussing on the same old skills each unit. It provides another method to encourage variety in teaching and learning.
Formative assessment is so very, very important and I explore the why of this a bit more in the planning example below. However, for now I will mention that there is no limit on formative assessment, but I would suggest you need at least as many formatives as you have summatives. They can also be particularly useful to build the skills or parts of the skills you will be assessing in summatives. They provide another opportunity for excellent well-linked teaching that provides the students rich learning throughout the unit.
Having this section is absolutely critical in my opinion, because so often it gets missed or is in many ways neglected. It is not easy to do genuine differentiation, particularly with large class sizes or lack of time and resources. Yet, having this section in every MYP unit plan supports the idea that we should always be trying to support differentiation and meet students where they are rather than teaching to the middle.
So, how would you actually plan an MYP unit plan?
Let’s look at my free chemical change and energy unit planner as an example.
In order to plan an MYP unit plan, I would start with what outcome am I aiming for? What do I want my students to know by the end of the unit? What assessment methods best suit this learning and how long do I have in terms of duration for this unit?
Once the initial above questions are answered such as learning about energy in chemical reactions for endothermic and exothermic reactions, using experiments and a presentation which runs for approximately 7 weeks or about 20 hours.
We can then move on to choosing the key concept (KC), related concepts (RC) and global context (GC). By selecting these, they can actually change the already considered summatives or tweak the outcomes that I have already selected. In this case, KC: Change, RC: Interaction, consequence and energy, GC: Scientific and technical innovation. These items inform the making of the Statement of Inquiry which is very important as a guide for the unit overall.
The statement of inquiry should include those items where possible and in this case the SOI was: Innovative chemical processes of energy interactions can have lasting consequences for society and the natural world.
Notice that many - but not all - of the items are used in the SOI to add depth and help explore those ideas.
Once the SOI is completed, then it is time to make the inquiry questions: the factual, conceptual and debatable. These are absolutely critical and should make clear all the necessary learning for this unit. Again, while doing this step, it might be that your previous items need tweaking or changing as necessary to really bring it all together and make sure the entire unit makes sense and will work for students.
When considering formative assessment, I really like to make sure that it syncs up well with the summative assessments and wherever possible that they strengthen students skills in similar scenarios before they hit the summatives. For example, a pop quiz for formative if a test is the final summative, writing a clear summary if the summative is a scientific essay or even writing a hypothesis and reflection effectively if the summative is a lab report. They should also be appropriately timed during the unit so that the formative is well before the summative, but also that enough content and learning has taken place to be assessed effectively. So think, well spaced.
The formative should live within the learning process section and can link very strongly - along with summatives - for the Approaches to learning (ATL) skills. The ATL skills are often taught through specific learning activities and / or formative assessments. This is all done with the content as well, because now we are getting to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of what the unit will really, really be like in class and can be done week by week or even lesson by lesson if you want to get engrossed in the process, but that is not necessary. Differentiation should also be kept in mind during this planning and opportunities for when changes can be made and how things can be made better for those either struggling to keep pace and in need for support or those excelling and bored by the pace of their colleagues.
Almost done, we are up to resources. Hunting for those links, ideas, simulations and activities that will make your content pop and lessons even more engaging. Making sure that you can teach this unit in a fun, but informative way is the last step before the lesson is implemented in the classroom.
Once that is all done the final section is reflection, reflection before, during (just after basically) and after in truth. Prior reflection could be about what you particularly want to focus on, what might go wrong, what might change during the unit and anything else you might want to keep in mind when teaching this unit.
What about external supporters?
I have found that external providers such as Toddle or Managebac can add some great value in terms of helping to frame some of these items or giving additional insight into the MYP unit planning process with their own templates and ideas. These different framework supporters who help engage with various aspects of the MYP can be helpful, but also occasionally confusing, so working with others and seeing what is best for yourself and your school is the most important aspect for these collaborative exercises.
I hope the above blog post has helped give some context to the why and how of MYP unit planning and maybe some of the resources below will also do the same.
For a link to a large variety of MYP unit planners for mathematics and science, then please free to go to my online store link is here.
For a free MYP unit plan that is also linked to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), then that link is here.
Thanks for reading.
Cheers and stay curious
Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist
(Note: This blog post was NOT generated by AI and is conceived, typed and uploaded by a real person.)