Planning IB PYP in the Specialist / Single Subject Classroom

With no prior experience with teaching in an IB PYP school, starting out last year in my new school as the Classroom Music Teacher was quite a daunting experience.  I was truly blessed though to have great support in my Principal and other staff members who encouraged me to teach my music program from my previous school and try and link in to the class UOI’s where I could.

As I do in any situation I set about trying to impress as much as I could and link as often as I could to the classroom UOI which I thought would be the best PYP inquiry teaching.

What I found though was the skills/techniques I wanted to teach the children were not being done chronologically/developmentally as I tried to focus too much on the OUI taught in the classroom.  I was a little frustrated with this and didn’t understand how I could honour my discipline of teaching musicianship and authentically link to the PYP units being taught.

At the beginning of this year I went to the 3 day course “Making the PYP Happen in the Classroom”.  This was my first experience of IB PYP Professional Development and yes at the start I was completely overwhelmed by the whole thing.

While I learnt an incredible amount about how to teach using the PYP inquiry method my biggest question still wasn’t answered:

How can I teach classroom music in an IB school, using the inquiry methodologies to AUTHENTICALLY link to the class UOI and at the same time HONOUR my developmental curriculum.

This answer came 3 months later at an Arts Workshop for Single Subject Teachers presented by Theo Mandziy (Coordinator of Primary Single Subject Programme and Visual Arts teacher, Australian International School, Singapore)

At this workshop I realised I was focusing too much on the ‘UOI’ and not on the skill development of the children because I mistook linking with the classroom to be more important than the skill set I was teaching.

I was focusing on the topic/theme/idea eg using an indigenous song and then singing, dancing or playing instruments to it, rather than focusing on the skills & techniques and using my language during my lesson to link into the “concepts” being taught.

Theo presented 3 ways of planning:

  1. Specialist Driven UOI

This may be a wonderful concept & idea but Theo said it is very hard to pull off, especially if you are only part time.  This is where the Specialist subject teacher/s plan the UOI and the classroom teacher links in with it.

  1. Link with a class UOI

Specialist teachers don’t need to link with every UOI, as long as you find at least one UOI to link with in the year that is suffice.  To find this UOI look for authentic and purposeful links to the work in both classrooms, which allows you to honour the discipline that you are teaching.

You can write your own UOI that links with it or even take a line of inquiry from the classroom UOI.

The best way to link in is with the PYP Concepts being taught. Here the key is ensuring the language (key words/ideas) used in both class settings is the same or similar.

These links can be done before, during or after the class UOI is taught.  For example this year I have linked with the Year 6/7 OUI on Ancient Civilisations by teaching my Ancient Celtic Music unit before the class did theirs and this worked fine.

  1. Stand Alone OUI

Single subject teachers don’t need to teach all 6 transdisciplinary themes because it is unrealistic & not authentic to the disciplines being taught.  So while we need to teach 6 UOI over the whole year it may be more appropriate to teach from certain themes eg. “How we express ourselves”.

Our Stand Alone Units may also be taught throughout the whole year with no fixed start or end date.  For example you may use Musical Elements as your UOI.  Beat for example can be taught all year round as you refer to it along the way.

How have I now implemented this in my classroom?

I have since revamped my program have a look at my example overview from my Reception (5 yr olds) class:

IB PYP Single Subject Overview plannerview a pdf version here: IB PYP Single Subject Overview planner

I have 6 UOI, 4 year long ones & 2 that link to the classroom UOI.

To honour my discipline, I still use my developmental curriculum ‘The Interactive Music Room: A developmental classroom music program for interactive whiteboard, Book 1- beginning primary’ which I have adapted from ‘Music Room: A developmental classroom music program, Book 1 – Beginning Primary’.

However while this resource has been written with inquiry learning in mind, I always add other resources to this to enhance the UOI being taught and bring personal meaning to the students learning.

In the future I will post a blog on how I present and display this in my lessons.

I am and will be constantly looking at how I can better improve this.  And in no way do I believe I have conquered this task of a 100% answer to my initial question, on how to authentically plan a PYP UOI as a specialist/single subject teacher.  But I do believe I am now on the right path, or at least on the verge!

For me I have loved (and will continue to) the chase of aspiring to plan in the most effective and authentic way in a PYP school.  I am becoming a better teacher for it and can’t wait to see the results.

How has it changed me as a teacher?

The skills, techniques, activities, songs and instruments haven’t changed.  It has been the vocabulary I use when teaching which has changed as I focus more on the way I deliver information to the children to keep the lines of inquiry at the forefront of my lessons.

My questions to other PYP specialist/single subject teachers out there are: How do you plan?  What has worked for you in your school?  How do you link to the classroom UOI while staying true to your discipline?

Read part 2 in this series showing the overview of my 2014 planning.



Teach to transform!


Classroom Organisation

In the 6 years I have been teaching Classroom Music I have tried to find the most efficient way to organise my classroom

I would like to share how I have set up my classroom this year, hopefully it will help you and I would love to hear how other people set their classrooms up.

I was blessed this year to be given permission to buy some furniture so off to IKEA I went!

The Expedit 2×2 shelving units & Drona boxes were perfect for storing instruments

Instrument storage
Instrument storage

My labels are laminated and stuck onto the boxes with velcro sticky dots.

download my posters here percussion_instrument_posters.pdf

images used by permission from Music Room: A development classroom music program by Bushfire Press Pty Ltd

Group name sheets
Group name sheets

During my lessons I have my classes split into 5 groups. Each group has a group name card which has check boxes next to the students name. Each week I check the next students name on the list and they are my ‘Leader’ for that lesson. Their job is to get any instruments or materials needed, pack up and put away things or even cast the deciding vote when doing a project!

download my proforma here  group_organisation.docx

images used by permission from Music Room: A development classroom music program by Bushfire Press Pty Ltd

class set up ready for Lesson
class set up ready for Lesson

I have enough percussion instruments in a box to cater for 1 group. When using percussion instruments with my students I will give each group a different box of instruments and these boxes are rotated clockwise around the room by the leaders of each group. My rule is that when you are the leader you get to choose which instrument is given to each student in your group (works most of the time although you can’t stop some children from trying to buck the system and complain 🙂 ) .

positive reward chart
positive reward chart

For positive reinforcement I award house point stickers for good behaviour, being on task and showing they are ready to learn (the school is split into 3 House Teams for sports day & points are also awarded for being good students in the classroom and around the school)

download my template below

house points chart

How do you organise your classroom?



Teach to transform!





I am a primary classroom music teacher, teaching levels Reception through Year 7.

I have been teaching since 2003. My first 3 years I taught in the UP classroom and since 2006 I have also been a specialist Classroom Music teacher.

This is my 2nd year teaching in an International Baccalaureate School and am loving the challenge of learning how to plan IB PYP.

My Aim is to better understand how to marry specialist music with classroom units of inquiry, while trying to create authentic links that not only link to classroom learning but allow me to honour the music curriculum I teach.

I am also the author of ‘The Interactive Music Room‘ a joint project with Bushfire Press where I adapt their ‘Music Room‘ resource for use in the Interactive classroom on IWB’s & soon mobile devices.

Easy Teach MR1 COVER

Here I will be posting music resources, strategies, lesson ideas and activities I am using & trialling with my students.

I hope you can benefit from my posts.



Teach to transform!


BEd. Grad Dip Th Ed.