The International Baccalaureate (IB) values education more as the transformation of personal

understanding and the collaborative construction of meaning, and less as the transmission of knowledge

and rote memorization of facts. Consequently, conceptual understanding is a significant and enduring goal

for teaching and learning in IB programmes.

IB programmes offer curriculum frameworks and courses that are broad and balanced, conceptual and

connected. In the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and MYP curriculum frameworks, students engage with

a defined set of key and related concepts.


A concept is a big idea—a principle or conception that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond

aspects such as particular origins, subject matter or place in time (Wiggins and McTighe 1998). Concepts

represent the vehicle for students’ inquiry into issues and ideas of personal, local and global significance,

providing the means by which the essence of a subject can be explored.

Concepts have an essential place in the structure of knowledge. They require students to demonstrate

levels of thinking that reach beyond facts or topics. Concepts are used to formulate the understandings that

students should retain in the future; they become principles and generalizations that students can use to

understand the world and to succeed in further study and in life beyond school.

The exploration and re-exploration of concepts lead students towards:

  • deeper understanding of the subject group
  • appreciation of ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries
  • engagement with complex ideas, including the ability to transfer and apply ideas and skills to new

situations (Erickson 2008).


The structure of conceptual understanding in the MYP

MYP programme design uses two kinds of concepts.


  • Key concepts are powerful, abstract ideas that have many dimensions and definitions.
  • Related concepts promote depth of learning and add coherence to the understanding of academic subjects and disciplines.



MYP Key concepts

Aesthetics Change Communication Communities
Connections Creativity Culture Development
Form Global interactions Identity Logic
Perspective Relationships Time, place and space Systems


IBO From Principles into Practice