The evolving role of the Diploma Programme Coordinator

I am currently completing an online course about IB Diploma Programme Coordination to better prepare me in as I step into a new role as Coordinator (DPC) from August of this year. In this post I want to reflect on my learning from this week –  Module 1: The evolving role of the Diploma Programme Coordinator.

The DPC has 15 key roles within the school leadership team as outlined in the document Diploma Programme: From principles into practice. During this week’s module, we reflected on the role of international mindedness and the learner profile in our school before looking at these key roles. We completed a Venn diagram of challenges and opportunities using padlet, which allowed us all to comment on the same document.

We then examined the programme standards and practices through two exercises: in the first we were given a standard and associated practices and asked to comment on their relationship to the role of the DPC before being asked to pick three practices and DP requirements and think about what evidence we would need to collect and store to demonstrate that our school was meeting these standards.

Long-term responsibilities

The DPC provides a key role in connecting the school and the IB. More specifically they are responsible, with the rest of the school leadership team, for ensuring that IB standard and practices for the Diploma Programme are understood and articulated within the school community.

As part of the five-year evaluation schedule, the DPC will collect, collate and store evidence that the standards and practices are being met. They are responsible for the organisation and completion of this evaluation process.

Medium-term responsibilities

On an ongoing basis, the DPC is responsible for the guidance of the school community on several fronts. They work with parents and students and the school counsellors to ensure that subject choices are fully understood by all parties and what the impact of those choices may be on access to higher education after completion of the Diploma Programme. In this vein, they also work with the middle school leaders to ensure that students are fully prepared to enter the DP. They also work with the school’s admissions department to ensure that there are proper processes in place for admission of students to the Diploma Programme. They also work with the DP subject teachers and core team to support these individuals in their work and to provide pedagogical leadership, thus ensuring the programme is properly implemented and that teachers are resourced appropriately and familiar with tools like MyIB that can support them in their work.

Short-term responsibilities

The DPC is also responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Diploma Programme, communicating with the IB and administering on IBIS. This includes the entering of exam entries and administration of the external assessments and managing a database of information on IB alumni.

More generally the DPC should strive to foster the spirit of international education within the school community and ensure that the school embraces the IB’s mission and learner profile.

 

 

 

Where is the evidence for your ideology?

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right. – IBO Mission Statement.

As I outlined in this post, I am an IB educator who really believes in the mission of the IB. I believe in developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better world. I think these aims are laudable and, with enough schools, teachers and families on board, achievable.

However, as I have reflected on my own practice over the last few years I have begun to question some aspects of the IBs ideology. In this post I want to examine the IB’s approaches to teaching. These “main pedagogical principles that influence and underpin IB programmes” are:

Fairly innocuous? Why write a post that is critical of these statements and principles? Well, there is one general reason and some specifics which I will come to.

My problem with the approaches to teaching in general is the following: The IB is the only awarding body offering a truly international curriculum. There are others; IGCSEs spring to mind, and of course, some international schools do offer national curriculums but the IB really is one of a kind in the sense that it is the only qualification awarding body, that I know of, that is not rooted to a national system and is found in schools, both private and public, countries all over world. It has no competition.

The ITT that teachers from different countries and from within countries will vary widely. For example my school-based training, via the GTP, really offered nothing academic – no explanations or reasoning or evidence for why teachers have to plan their lessons a particular way – it was essentially a check sheet of fadish skills that I had to demonstrate I was doing. When I converted this to a PGCE I was motivated by a desire to get to understand the theory behind teaching. I have since come to reflect that those theories I was exposed to had little to no evidence to support them.

As someone who has completed a science degree and masters, when my someone explains a theory to me without evidence, it just translates into my mind as an idea, an unsupported hypothesis. And this is what the great many “theories” in education circles appear to be, whether you are talking about Vygotsky, Piaget, Freire, Bloom, Bruner or many others, ideas without evidence, or if they have evidence it is low quality, small-scale or anecdotal.

The IB admittedly was founded in the era when some of these ideas were being taken up seriously:

From its beginnings, the DP has adopted a broadly constructivist and student-centred approach, has emphasized the importance of connectedness and concurrency of learning, and has recognized the importance of students linking their learning to their local and global contexts. These ideas are still at the heart of an IB education today. – ATL website

But now the tide is changing and I wonder if the IB is willing to keep up with that. Robust, evidence from cognitive science is seriously beginning to shine a light on what works. Even better some of this evidence is being triangulated not just from laboratories but from classroom studies as well.

My general concern is, therefore, this: if national ITT systems vary inter- and intra- nationally then the IB has to do something to help get all its teachers on the same page. Becuase it lacks competition it also has quite the sole market on influencing the teachers of its programs. It must make sure that the teaching methods it advocates are backed up on solid evidence, not just on what feels good socially and culturally or what is simply a la mode.

Now to my issues with specific approaches to teaching:

A focus on inquiry

A lot has been written about the effectiveness or not of inquiry-based teaching and learning. The debate rages on but essentially some of the arguments against inquiry-based teaching are:

  1. It is inefficient – students simply cannot learn as much knowledge in the same amount of time as they can from guided instruction.
  2. It is inequal – students who have knowledge richer home lives bring far more to the table than their knowledge deficient partners (just think about EAL learners in that context for a minute).
  3. It generates misconceptions – students can easily discover wrong-knowledge which can be very hard to dislodge and unlearn.
  4. It can lead to the illusion of knowledge – this is when students think that they know something but lack deep understanding of the content.

Concept-based teaching

Is great so long as you teach the right concepts and don’t make the unproven assumption that skills and knowledge can simply transfer from one domain to another. They can’t. Skills are context and domain specific. Concepts are domain specific. We should focus on domain-specificc threshold concepts, which requires careful planning on a content rich curriculum. Once you know the content that needs to be taught then you can identify the threshold concepts in your curriculum and plan your teaching interventions appropriately. The arbitrary lists produced for the MYP nor the self-imposed “essential ideas” of the DP biology curriculum, which forces teachers to lump certain knowledge together, in what may not be the most appropriate way, will do.

Differentiation

The black art of teaching. There are so many issues with this I don’t know where to start. On one hand, you lower the boundary for some students, therefore making a value-based, subjective decision about what a student can achieve and potentially limiting their potential, on the other, school management have carte blanche to drop any student into your class and expect you as the classroom teacher to “differentiate” even if that student doesn’t speak English.

Yes, we are all individual and unique but as David Didau points out, so are snowflakes and those differences mean nothing when it snows. The fact is we all learn in broadly similar ways and we all have broadly the same ability. Differentiation assumes that ability is the cause of differences in what students learn in the classroom but it may well be that ability is the consequence of the student’s classroom experience. Therefore if you lower the bar, overtime you lower their ability.

Differentiation to the point of tailoring learning engagements for individuals students is a huge workload issue for teachers and at what opportunity cost? There also appears to be no evidence for the efficacy of differentiation, even some that may suggest it has a negative impact.

For more information see chapter 22 of “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” by David Didau.

From Knowledge to Understandings

Recently (when I first started this post at least) I blogged about the best way to begin the DP biology syllabus and I was frustrated by the limitations of the syllabus to be able to pick and choose different assessment statements.

The DP biology course has always been knowledge rich. Maybe not as full as the A Level syllabus to take account of the fact that students are taking six subjects plus a summatively assessed course in Theory of Knowledgea summatively assessed research project: The Extended Essay, and their Creativity, Activity and Service Program.

Now, the IB changed the syllabus to allow more conceptual teaching, by removing the series of statements about students should be able to:… “explain x” and “state y” and grouping knowledge into brief statements under the heading of understandings, applications and skills. However, the structure of the syllabus with the essential idea for each topic tends to hamper the ability to lift assessment statements out and add them to new areas. i.e. mutations and oncogenes in topic 1.6 could be taught with topics 3.1 after 2.6. See the biology guide for the full IB syllabus.

This year, my Diploma Programme Coordinator, asked the subject departments to focus on developing their written curriculum.

It seemed timely to be asked to do this, when over the summer I had been musing about the best place to begin the course and the best ways to break up the different topics – many of the schools I have worked in simply teach the course topic by topic and the IB is keen to point out in the biology guide:

The order in which the syllabus is arranged is not the order in which it should be taught, and it is up to individual teachers to decide on an arrangement that suits their circumstances. Sections of the option material may be taught within the core or the additional higher level (AHL) material if desired or the option material can be taught as a separate unit.”

Over the course of this academic year, I have thought a lot about how best to structure the course to allow the “best” progression of concepts. Actually, I think that this is a process that began when I first started teaching my current Y13s, and I am an exceptionally slow thinker! I do remember reflecting on how to best position evolution within the course and which topics would be best coming before or after it.

But it wasn’t until this year that I have had the time within my working week or the emotional time within my personal life to really dig down and get to grips with writing up my ideas into the formal IB course outline.

I have also been exposed to new ideas about teaching and learning over the last twelve months. Last summer I read Dan Willingham’s book “Why don’t students like school?” which I think I got put onto after reading Michela’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers”.

Idea’s from cognitive science have become more and more prevalent on my twitter feed as well as I have started to interact a little more with the #CogSciSci crowd.

All this to say that my thinking has evolved in the last twelve months.

I now know that, generally speaking, content knowledge, concepts and skills are domain specific and that learners have to become fluent with a subject’s facts before they are able to transfer that to abstract concepts and develop understanding let alone build connections with other subjects.

I am also beginning to understand the concepts of retrieval practice, spaced practice, dual coding and the distinctions between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge and how all this may apply to my subject teaching or pedagogical content knowledge as Lucy Crehan puts it in “Clever Lands”.

Translating this into biology teaching is still not well understood (or so it seems from my vantage point) but conversations like the ones below (propositional knowledge = declarative knowledge) and blogs like this one, are beginning to help me unpack this.

The finished product

The below is the finished course outline that details the units and sequence of the teaching of the course. It is an official document used in the authorization and evaluation process of IB World Schools.

The below is my SOW for the course. It has six tabs. The DP overview shows the number of teaching hours recommended by the IB for each subtopic along with my grouping of them per unit. The Year overview shows the spacing of the units through time for both Y12/Y13. The next two tabs are for the week to week (mid-term planning). The Bio and TOK tabs show the TOK links that I have chosen to focus on the topic and are to support collaborative planning with the TOK team. Finally, the PSOW tab shows the practicals that can be built into the course. The IB mandates a specific number of practical hours for both SL and HL courses.

Final Word

The other effect of this learning for me is that I am now worried about the direction that the IB is taking in its philosophy.

If research from cognitive science is telling us that learners need a solid factual knowledge base before they can build conceptual understanding then what does this say for a course whose syllabus is about “understandings” as opposed to knowledge?

I have not heard anything from the IB that shows that it is reviewing research from cognitive science. Is the IB becoming an ideologically run institution that ignores research that doesn’t fit in with its own paradigm?

What is the best place to start teaching IB DP Biology?

Every year I like to think about how I approach the delivery of the DP Biology course. I think about what are the best examples to use to illustrate concepts like the pentadactyl limb, or what is the best way to structure the teaching sequence into a coherent sequence.

This summer I have been thinking about how best to approach the start of the course. I think this is important in my context because I cannot be certain of the biological background of all of my students and I don’t want to make any assumptions about what they know.

I polled teachers on facebook and twitter about this and most teachers tend to start the course with 1.1 – introduction to cells, although other areas like to 2.1 – molecules to metabolism and 5.3 – classification of biodiversity are also popular if not nearly so as 1.1.

My issues with starting at 1.1 is that I think that while there are some essential ideas that are natural to start a Biology course; the functions of life and cell theory, there are others which are not so helpful like stem cells, gene control of differentiation, and evolution of multicellularity. Some of these concepts are tricky to get your head around and do not count as foundational knowledge, in my opinion.

What I want in the start of my DP course is to introduce students to the simplest biological concepts that will go on to serve as a foundation for future learning. I believe the functions of life and the classification of life (“what is life?” and “ok, we know how to crudely define living things, but what types of living things are there?”) are understandings that students should address before going on to look at how living things work.

What I am struggling with is this: the IB’s TSM states that topics don’t need to be taught in order, or that even subtopics don’t necessarily need to be taught in order. We should, as teachers, construct a course that draws different elements into coherent units. Personally, last year, I made a move away from going through topic by topic and tried to link subtopics into themed units. I love thinking about what topics flow well together.

But what if you want to split sub topics? Is this allowable? Obviously you could do this but, with the way the IB has structured the sub-topics each with their own “essential idea”, should you? The issues with the essential idea is that it aims to force all the understandings in that subtopic under a single umbrella. Because the essential idea is examinable, surely all the understandings, applications and skills should be kept together as they serve to illuminate the essential idea.

Personally, I think I may go ahead and chop up 1.1 so that I introduce these:

  • A2: Investigation of functions of life in Paramecium and one named photosynthetic unicellular organism.
  • U2: Organisms consisting of only one cell carry out all functions of life in that cell.

With this from 5.3:

  • U4: All organisms are classified into three domains.

Which will then act as a segway into topic 1.2 the ultrastructure of cells, before going on to consider cell theory and the then the rest of topic 5.3.

Its a little bit pick and mix, but do I run the risk of not covering the essential ideas. To solve that, what I may do is leave the essential ideas  (of these sections) for revision in grade 12. In-fact now I think about it, all the essential ideas would make great revision points.

I could get the students to memorise Allott and Mindorff’s paragraph’s that describe each essential idea and force them to regurgitate them at random points through G12…..

15-16 Term 3 week 1: Adventures with shopping trolleys..

Last week on Monday we returned to school for the final term of the year. At least my colleagues did; I was hauled up in bed with a stomach bug that I had caught from my 11 month old daughter! When I returned to work on Tuesday I was left feeling drained, washed out and wiped out – a feeling that took a surprising number of days (and early nights) to get over. Anyway this is what happened in my working life last week:

Tuesday:

A hard start to the working week. Seeing as I had missed Monday sue to illness I had also lost the planning time that I was banking on to get ready for TOK. TOK is a new subject for me to teach this year. While I relish the challenge of teaching a brand new subject and I am very interested in the subject content, I would be lying if I was to say that teaching this subject had not put me under a lot of strain this year. Not only is the concept of the subject wildly different to teaching a science subject, the style of teaching needed to make the subject inspirational is very different to what (I think) one needs to bring to a science classroom. It is unusual at to say the least. Basically it has been taking me at least two hours to plan each lesson, sometimes three, sometimes more. But it has been excellent at pushing me to go further with my teaching style; forcing me to make my teaching more discussion based. This week I had agreed with my co-teacher that I would introduce Religious Knowledge Systems as an AOK. After reading the relevant chapters from several textbooks I decided not to reinvent the wheel. After a google search I came across ideas on the links at the end of this post. Using mostly the ideas I found here plus those from the Dombrowski textbook, I created this powerpoint activities:

Download (PPTX, 57KB)

The video that is removed from the slide is religion good or bad can be seen here:

I also taught my grade 10 Biologists. In this lesson we recapped mitosis. I started the lesson with this hook which is essentially a review of the material we had covered at the start of this current unit:

I then had the students review the posters that they had made at the end of last term before working together to piece jumbled images of a nucleus undergoing mitosis together into a coherent, labelled sequence. Finally we completed a wordcloze exercise, summarising mitosis

Wednesday:

Originally I had a trip out this morning with several grade 10 and 11 students to go and hear some presentations from UK universities. However there was a  last minute cancelation which left me having to cobble a two hour DP lesson together in about an hour. This was actually a relief as I was worried about missing my G11 DP Biologists all this week as I would be out on Friday as well. This lesson was a great opportunity to get some review in of the topics covered so far this academic year. We started by brainstorming all the concepts and word related to biology with no filter as they came to our heads. We then quickly placed these into the relevant topics of the DP syllabus on the board. Students then created tedious links – you pick to concepts and have to link them together in a concept map via as many steps as possible. Finally students had to pick one word and definition to write up for the G11 word wall in the lab.

After break we returned to the second lesson where we recapped topic 5.1 “evidence for evolution” before watching the first 10mins of carl sagans cosmos episode 2 – one voice in the cosmic fugue as a hook into the concept of natural selection:

We then moved on to complete the first few pages of this workbook. In our first lesson next week we will carry out a beak finch practical and students will create the natural selection presentations.

Download (PDF, 11.22MB)

In the afternoon I had my first university visit. We hosted members of the European Universities Consortium – EHL; Bocconi; IE and Carl Benz School of Engineering. The presentations were engaging and following from my visit to Esade last week, they added to my growing knowledge of the possibility for studying in English on the continent for an undergraduate degree. I am very much enjoying networking and building relationships with communities outside of our school. I feel a real sense of pride when I meet these guests and give them a tour, while explaining what we are trying to do at our school. I was disappointed by the lack of turn out. We only had three students and three parents, but the universities seemed pleased at the end. I was also pleased to have more options for summer schools for engineering outside of the UK, but still in Europe. After the meetings I had a chat with one of our parents who lamented the fact that some of the parents of our G11 students were not aware that this even was happening. We discussed communication and I wondered what I could be doing better but I do think when it comes to comms less is more. This mum was suggesting further avenues that I could communicate to parents with but I already have four or five chanels through which I send info: ManageBac, Newsletter, Letters home, emails and messages in HR. I conclude that schools need to streamline the information they send out to one or two sources and encourage the teachers and parents to all utilise those. If different groups start using different avenues, information gets lost.

Thursday: 

This day saw me running round like a headless chicken with final preparations for the International Award Bronze Practice Expedition all morning, bar 15 minutes at homeroom time where I ran round, G9, G10 and G11 homeroom to publisce the visit from Westminster College UTAH and their talk on the US Education System. After that and checking with colleagues that they were happy to release kids early for the talk and then firing off a few emails to the spokesperson, I had a contract meeting with my line manager. At 10am I began the process of IA prep – printing off the maps and information for my supervisors and putting the staff briefing in place, before raiding the IA stores and organising the needed kit all into an IKEA shopping trolley so that it was ready to roll on Friday morning’s kit check. This was topped off by a lovely department meeting before lunch.

In the afternoon I taught my Grade 10 again. We began by reviewing the wordcloze exercise before using word, phrase sentence to learn and discuss about chromosome structure.

After the lesson, I had my second visit of the week. This presentation was much better attended and my guest gave a very succinct and helpful overview of applying to the states.

Download (PPTX, 3.9MB)

After the presentation, we had a tour and discussed the differences between teacher and counselor recommendations, and what type of information should be included in each. I thought that next time I do this then I should a) film the presentations to be included on this or another website and b) perhaps record a podcast interview of any specific questions like the difference between counselor and teacher recs.

Friday & Saturday:

International Award Expedition! Met the kids in the morning in the Dining hall at 0830. Collared by parent at 0810 would wanted to ask what happens in a lightening storm (can I have my coffee please!). Kit check and then on to the minbuses to start the hiking at 1000. I was ably assisted by some very reliable colleagues. All in all this was a successful expedition despite a very wet and wild night. I will not forget my G9 students up at 6am in the morning cooking noodles for breakfast on the Saturday morning.

This year we had built in an afternoon training session with the students in early October which I think really helped the process for many of the students.

Challenges for moving forward with award: route planning time (its currently to pressured in school) proposal to use HR time; time to produce presentations at the end of the journey; managing the stores.

Ideas from the week:

  • Next time we have university visitors to the school I will arrange to film their presentations and begin to build a library of these for the school website.
  • I may also arrange to run an interview in the recording studio and make a short podcast. Topics could range from admissions procedures to overviews of the education system in different countries to advise on writing personal statements.
  • The International Award is running well at school but we still need to tighten up a few areas like goal setting with the students and I need to find ways that next year we can do this. A closer working relationship with the CAS coordinator needs to be developed but currently there just isn’t the support structure to make that easy. In particular we need to identify more long term service activities that students can get involved with.