Primary Years Program

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The elementary classrooms at Princeton Junior School are vibrant and caring learning environments.  Our students actively participate in their classrooms and are encouraged to pose questions, share their interests, and act upon their beliefs.  They are engaged in inquiry, exploration and reflection while building foundational skills in all subject areas.  Our learners are empowered and feel a sense of agency in their classrooms, leading to joyful and passionate learning and excitement to come to PJS each day.

The K-5 Elementary Curriculum is based on the philosophy of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, an internationally-recognized education that challenges students to grow both academically and personally.  With a focus on the development of the whole child, our elementary curriculum provides students with the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and actions to become empowered learners.  This learning framework is built around six interdisciplinary themes of global significance, allowing students to see how concepts connect across subjects.

Program of Inquiry 2017-2018

PJS students inquire into and learn about globally significant issues within the context of units of inquiry.  Each unit of inquiry addresses a central idea that is relevant to one of the six transdisciplinary themes.  Collectively these units are known as the Program of Inquiry (POI).  Within this curriculum framework, learners spiral through the six transdisciplinary themes each year, exploring different central ideas within these themes and deepening their understanding of key concepts across different subjects.

The Program of Inquiry is a dynamic curriculum framework.  In the same way that we teach our students to reflect on their learning process, PJS teachers continue to develop our program through reflection and collaboration.  


Six Transdisciplinary Themes

The curriculum framework of the Primary Years Program is organized around six transdisciplinary themes.  These themes provide IB World Schools with the opportunity to incorporate local and global issues into the curriculum and encourage children to think broadly and deeply across disciplines.  All six themes are explored each year by all K-5 students.  

Each theme integrates language, math, science, social studies, the arts and technology around a central idea.  These six themes are reintroduced each year, allowing students to examine a variety of interconnected concepts as they grow and develop as learners and inquirers.  


Inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human


Inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationship between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives


Inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic


Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.


Inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment


Inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and other living things; communities and the relationship within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution


Students in kindergarten through grade 5 will examine the six transdisciplinary themes every year through six grade-level IB Units of Inquiry.  These concept-driven explorations begin by assessing students’ prior knowledge related to a central idea and pre-determined lines of inquiry.  In each unit, teachers provide provocations and open-ended questions that inspire children to explore the central idea from a variety of perspectives. These questions serve as starting points and prompt students to formulate their own questions based on what they want to know about the topic.  Teachers support student-led inquiry with developmentally appropriate resources and hands-on projects to guide and structure the learning. The IB pedagogical approach supports students as they draw on prior knowledge and experience and engage in learning experiences designed to provoke thinking, and reflect on learning.


The PYP curriculum framework balances the search for understanding, the acquisition of essential knowledge and skills, the development of positive attitudes and opportunities for positive action.  The following five components are emphasized:

  • Knowledge: significant, relevant subject matter that is important to know and explore

  • Concepts: powerful ideas which spiral through the curriculum and have relevance within and across disciplines

  • Skills: what students need to know how to do in a rapidly changing world

  • Attitudes: dispositions which are expressions of fundamental values, beliefs and feelings about learning, people, and the environment

  • Action: demonstrations of deeper learning and responsible behavior through positive action and service



The Primary Years Program Exhibition

At PJS all fifth graders participate in the PYP Exhibition. The exhibition is a culminating event of the Primary Years Program and a personal rite of passage.  The Exhibition provides an opportunity for our oldest students, during their last year in elementary school, to select and explore an issue, problem or area of interest and play a leading role in determining the central idea, lines of the inquiry and student questions.  Throughout the inquiry process, students demonstrate their understanding of the IB learner profile and the essential elements of the PYP as they document their learning.  Mentors and experts from the school and larger community support students as they plan and conduct interviews, surveys, field visits, or science investigations, collect artifacts, and search for relevant information. Students actively reflect on their learning process by keeping a journal or portfolio of work in progress and participating in self-assessment. Students take part in all phases of the planning and staging of the exhibition. They determine how they will share the story of their learning and action taken (or future plans for action) with the school community.  In addition to a research paper and oral component, students choose other presentation methods that may include artwork, poetry, song, dance, film, digital presentations, or use of other technology.