Sunday, 23 March 2014

Planning with the New IB Biology guide

Planning activities with the new IB Guide - using the Understanding by Design format

The 2014 IB guide has been written with a new focus on concept based learning and for this reason the command terms and the details of the syllabus to be covered is not so much a list of facts as they were before.
One good thing is that someone, or rather a group of people, have spent quite some time working out what the students will need to understand. It's reassuring to compare the new guide to the old familiar guide because in many sections there doesn't seem to be a great change to the biology we will cover.
So why not make some good use of the new guide's 'understandings' section and use it as the first stage of planning. This fits nicely with the ideas of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins in their Understanding by Design (1998).
In a very simple form the idea is this. First identify what the students need to understand, what skills should they have and what are the key questions which they will need to be able to answer. The next step is to imagine what it will look like whant a student has these skills. This is really the first stage in design of a performance task, or an assessment. Once these two steps are clear it is possible to identify learning activities which will will lead the student step by step to the desired goals, and the understanding. One great advantage is that your assessment tasks will always fit the learning activities, and no student will complain that, 'we never covered question three' but more importantly careful planning of the curriculum will promote a deeper understanding and help our students to cope with the new IB exams.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

First impressions of the new 2014-2021 IB Biology Guide

The most reassuring thing is that there is no great change to the Biology content of the new guide.  Lots of the sub-topic titles are familiar and there isn't any revolutionary change to the topics. There seems to be a slight reduction in the quantity of concepts for students to understand but no great change to the breadth and depth.

One of the most striking changes, which should help teachers to finish the course in time to prepare for the exams, is that students will now only study one option.  Some will miss the old Evolution option but a new SL topic called Evolution and Biodiversity has been created. There are no specific standard level options but the popular options of Neurobiology and Ecology remain. The reduction in options studied has an impact on the paper three exam. This will now have a boosted first question including practical techniques as well as the usual data analysis.

Another important change is to the Internal Assessment (IA).  Students will be required to submit one investigation worth 24 marks as the only piece of moderated work.  This will undoubtedly save time for teachers in administration of the sample but as the students will now want to suceed in all the assessment aspects in one piece of work, preparation of students before this assessed investigation will need some careful thought.  The PSOW document will also remain a requirement of the teacher, and so will the obligation to complete a given number of hours and to include ICT in the programme.

The group four project seems to remain largely unchanged but I could see no requirement to assess personal skills during the project.  I fear this might detract from the seriousness with which students approach the project, but the old assessment didn't discriminate very well between students.

There is a whole new emphasis on 'The Nature of Science' which seems to have been developed with some thought, and the illustrations of how biologists have arrived at new discoveries by disproving hypotheses or using new apparatus will be welcome by most I think.

One last change is the layout of the guide itself.  The new layout makes better links to International mindedness, TOK and the learner profile, but it leaves more room for individual interpretation of the biological aspects.  Better from a learning perspective but potentially dangerous in preparation for exam papers.

Time will tell if the new Biology guide is an improvement on the old one but I find myself reassured to see some of the details. There are some discussions on the OCC forum which may be worth following until you can get to a training course.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Biozone Student Workbooks now available for IB Biology

IB Biology Student Workbook (Paperback)

By Tracey Greenwood, Lissa Bainbridge-Smith, Kent Pryor, Richard Allan

It is the unique combination of textbook explanations and structured questions on a single page which make Biozone books such a useful resource.  The content of these books is outstanding; the authors have obviously spent much time on research and the Biology concepts are illustrated by interesting and novel examples. Explanations are clearly written and there are plenty of data tables and graphs for students to interpret, all of them seamlessly woven into the resources. Diagrams are clearly drawn and well labelled, enhanced by the blue of the effective two colour layout.

I first encountered the Biozone books fifteen years ago while teaching A-level Biology in the UK and I was very pleased to find the new IB book this year.  The resources are comprehensive and well-suited to the most able IB students.  The collection includes a Student Workbook, a CDrom of resources for IB options, a huge database of biology links, a book of Model Answers and a Teacher's Guide including ideas for making best use of the resources in the classroom.

The workbook is divided into chapters according to the Biology, not adhering exactly to the IB Guide, but well structured including a variety of different types of activity.  There is a Chapter Topic Page for each topic which identifies key terms and learning objectives as well as the code numbers from the IB Guide.  I noticed one or two small differences in the content between IB Guide and the Biozone workbook so it is still worth checking against the IB Guide.

The SL and HL biology material is well integrated in one single volume which is great for students in a dedicated Higher Level class. Tabs in the bottom corner of each page are colour coded, blue for AHL material, but the colour difference is not very noticeable.  Standard Level students might find it difficult to separate the higher material from the standard level resources, but this shouldn't be difficult for the teacher.

One exciting innovation is the Biozone eBook app on the iStore.  Students can buy the workbook resources, and some revision units on their iPhone, iPad or iPod. We know how much time students spend using these devices so this could be a great revision tool especially leading up to exams. The reviews from enthusiastic teachers on the iStore seem to prove that the concept works.

When I tested the iPad App I found that there was a lot of flicking to do to find a page to buy, and a contents list would have been useful. It's unfortunate that the preview pages are too small to read and I didn't immediately find the free sample to download. The workbook materials are organised into small chunks and the full colour images look great on the iPad.  It may be a nice way to buy the books but, from what I have seen, it doesn't look to be much more than a digital text book. However this is the first serious IB resource available as an app that I have seen and should be applauded for embracing the new technology.  I wonder if an Android app is being planned.

Overall these Biozone resources are a great addition to the IB Biology textbooks already available.  They are most useful for able Higher Level biologists and with careful planning they are a good resource for Standard Level students too.

You can order a copy of the IB Biology Student Workbook Directly from Biozone or from this independent workers co-operative, who pay their taxes: News From Nowhere Bookshop.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Tag clouds for HL Bio Topics
Plants topic 9

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Tagxedo - Creator lovely

Tagxedo - Creator:

DNA - topic 7

Topic8 Respiration & Photosynthesis

Sunday, 4 November 2012

2012 Photomicrography Competition | Nikon Small World

2012 Photomicrography Competition | Nikon Small World:

There are some outsanding and compelling images in this gallery.
Small World is regarded as the leading forum for showcasing the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the light microscope. ThePhotomicrography Competition is open to anyone with an interest in microscopy and photography. The video competition, entitled Small World In Motion encompasses any movie or digital time-lapse photography taken through the microscope.

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Thursday, 25 October 2012


If your IB Biology class has just finished the Cells topic and has spent some time looking at the stages of mitosis in a microscope then your students could be ready to participate in real biological research.  Physics students have been looking for exoplanets for a while on Zooniverse and now it is the turn of the biologists.

ClickToCure: " It takes human intuition and the human eye to spot patterns, defects and anomalies-computer algorithms just aren’t good enough. The process is slow for a lone scientist, but with the collective power of hundreds of thousands of people, we can speed up this research by years."

In collaboration with Cancer Research UK, Click to Cure ( wants to use the power of the Zooniverse  to speed up trials of new cancer treatments. By spending a few minutes looking at microscope images, and answering a few simple questions, students can assist in the effort to find cures for different cancers.

Why not set this as holiday homework and turn your IB Biology students into Biologists.  It might even look good on a university ap

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