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.