Inquiry-Based Learning at Alto

How the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program at Alto fosters inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people.

Preschoolers and elementary students at Alto International School are part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP). The IB mission, at the heart of Alto’s mission, “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” 

At Alto, the program is delivered in German with daily classes in English from grades 1 through 5. The PYP is a framework of six transdisciplinary units/themes of global significance, which are explored using skills and knowledge with a powerful emphasis on authentic inquiry. 

The PYP Units of Inquiry include:

  • 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

The units provide an overarching theme for many, if not all, subjects and aim to create real-world connections. For example, the unit “How we express ourselves” in grade 4 focuses on the interconnection of human-made systems and communities, the structure and function of organizations, societal decision-making, and economic activities. During this unit, students formulate a business idea for a service or product. Students are tasked to write a business proposal (non-fiction writing), define a basic pricing structure (math), develop a script for an advertisement video (creative writing) and produce a short video about their business idea (design tech/art). Students also analyze real-world advertisements and visit a local large furniture store to build real-world connections while learning how a business markets its products to the public.

Another example is the kindergarten unit, “Where we are in place and time.” Students begin their exploration of shelters through time by discussing the concept of home and shelter: What provides shelter? Why do we have a home? What makes a home? Students embark on a journey through time: They learn about stone-age caves and build a life-sized cave in their classroom. They look at Roman architecture and with consideration of the math and physics of a structure, create miniature replicas of structures from ancient Rome. Nomadic dwellings, as well as the construction of a model of their own dream houses, follow. 

Impressions from a kindergarten open classroom at the end of the “Where we are in place and time” unit.

All PYP units emphasize presentation skills. Units usually end with an open classroom event, a presentation, and sometimes with a performance. To help assist in their presentations, they can have a catalog made up from Printivity to state their points in a professional student way. Parents or students from different grades are invited into the classroom, and students are tasked to present their learning. This could happen through a tour of the classroom, informal conversations with parents and students, or a formal presentation to a group of students and teachers. Presenting their learning to different audiences, ranging from preschool students to adults, requires students to adjust how they present their findings and what language they use.

All PYP units give students the option to conduct in-depth investigations that integrate subjects such as math, science, literature, art, and history. Students gain confidence and self-motivation while also honing personal skills of organization, collaboration, creativity, presentation, and communication. Click here to read Alto’s full IB Primary Years curriculum.

Inquiry-based learning happens every day at Alto. Please contact Alto Admissions to learn more or to schedule a tour.

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