A Global Context is a conceptual lens, not a related concept

Global Contexts in the MYP are perhaps the most misunderstood element in the conceptual framework (key concept, related concept, global context, statement of inquiry), as MYP teachers design the purpose for their inquiry. This misunderstanding is also further enhanced by the insufficient literature around “global contexts” as defined by the IB. Therefore, due to the very broad definition provided, a lot is left to interpretation.
At present, in my school, a lot of our collaborative efforts are being directed towards developing a unified understanding of global contexts in order to purposefully unpack them for our students as we launch a unit. This initiative emerged from the responsibility we recognized to support students to understand how to pick a global context for their personal project; therefore, it is imperative that we, MYP educators, become aware of the accountability this implies.
I have read several “creative examples” about the use of global contexts  that I find to be misleading or reductive to the true power of global contexts. I don’t think that not using technology for a day at a school is an effective way for students (or the learning community) to understand   “Technical and scientific innovation”. This approach would be effective if we added an intention. If we were to say: “we are not going to use technology for a whole day in order to understand that [complete the sentence]….” , then I would believe we would truly be looking at the essence of the global context.
Global contexts suffer from the same issue as the IB Learner profile: many times they are solely talked about by considering the name and not the descriptors. Many times they are used as a reason to choose topics; but they are rarely seen as the conceptual lenses they represent.
I have also witnessed how pictures are used to guess what global context can be observed in all the information in it. However, rarely have I seen how ideas are “placed” into the context presented in the pictures in order to see how the context of the picture changes the pathways the learning would follow. In an MYP Mathematics meeting we explored Global Contexts by looking at pictures that presented real life situations and wondered: “What mathematics can you see here?”
Considering what they add to a conceptual inquiry, the definition provided by the IB, and the nuance they add to the statement of inquiry, Global contexts act as the conceptual lenses (as defined by Lynn Erickson) in a unit. Global Contexts have a deep impact on the course of learning, on the intellectual layers of the inquire teachers and learners pursue; on the kind of background knowledge that is needed to explore the target learning in a unit; and on the way language will be used to demonstrate specific ways of thinking; on how it will be used to build community, and on how it will be employed model responses. As I shared in an old blog post about the approach to choosing Global Contexts while writing units for my MYP Spanish by Concept series “If we could say that the Key Concept is a soccer player, and that everything he or she is able to do on the field are the Related Concepts, then the Global Context would be the filed on which s/he would play. In other words s/he would still be him/her and would be able to do the same things all the time, but in different scenarios.”
A Conceptual Lens is a particular concept, or perhaps two concepts, that are selected to focus the thinking for a classroom unit of study. The conceptual lens is chosen after the unit title has been selected. The thought process in choosing the lens answers this question: “What concept(s) do I want my students to understand at a deeper level through this unit of study?” For example, if my middle or high school unit of instruction is related in some way to Human/Environmental Interactions, I might want my students to do the inquiry using the conceptual lens of “Sustainability.”  (Erickson, L. 2011)
If subject groups in the MYP used global contexts in a slightly different way as PYP uses Transdisciplinary Themes (which are supposed to be the antecedent to global contexts), teachers would be able to see how having 6 contexts to place their context, and this would lead to a more interdisciplinary exploration. Nonetheless, it is my impression that the true impact they could have is seldom observed.

To finalize this entry, going back to the motivation of my current school’s efforts to consolidate our understanding of Global contexts, we cannot tell students to use their neurons and think on a learning scenario for their personal project if we do not model the process.  Students need to be involved in understanding the reasons why learning was designed and placed in a specific context, for they have the right to procure the tools that will best empower their learning.

About J Rafael Angel

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instructor Independent Trainer and Consultant. Concept-Based Language Curriculum and Instruction specialist. Teaching and Learning Director; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB Continuum Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
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