Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IB Internal Assessment 2014: Choosing a Topic

My students and I have been brainstorming topics appropriate for the new 2014 IB internal assessments. Our department created a timeline that would allow kids to submit topic choices by early November, write an outline and then some drafts in the winter / spring, followed by final submission in May. One of my colleagues recently went to an IB Category 3 training, which focused on the new internal assessments. After we sat down as a grade-level team to discuss the issues that came up at this conference, I now feel fairly confident that I understand what is expected (as much as is possible at this early stage of implementation of the new format), so here is what I gather. I hope it is helpful to you and/or your students.

The new format entails two parts: research and your own application. The math topic selected should be one that goes beyond the IB curriculum (quadratics is too easy, for example). The student is supposed to research and read literature on the math content beyond the course related to their topic, and then break down the math literature in their own words. Then, they need to basically show "engagement" by applying the learned knowledge to a situation of their own creation.

For example, one student of mine wishes to study a certain card game. I said that is OK, and that the research would entail this student explaining step-by-step how to calculate all of the probabilities in the standard rules of the game. And then, as part of their project, they could create a second game similar to the one that they have studied, but with varied rules, and then they would re-do all calculations to show that they had made the understanding uniquely their own. This kid can also run actual game simulations to compare with their theoretical results, in order to further reflect upon their understanding.


If your kids are lost (as mine were) about exploration topics to pursue, I find that the Numbers Guy from WSJ is a good place to start to think about the connection between math and real-world issues. If they are familiar with GeoGebra, there are also possibilities of studying various GeoGebra animation-based problems that are comfortably within the realm of the SL topics. Or, any extension from 2-D to 3-D is always interesting. Besides that, Vi Hart has some unusual connections between math and various art forms, that might also jog some ideas. The kids can basically study anything, or even model data, so long as the data is sufficiently complicated. For me, a good rule of thumb is that if I can already imagine without any research what the data / result will likely look like, then the topic chosen is already too simple and not sufficiently "juicy" to get all the upper marks. In that case, the kid would need to add a twist to it to make it more interesting / complex, or abandon that idea and look for a new one.

Happy hunting for good topics! What an exciting time! Let me know if you find other sources of inspiration for you and your students. I find in my own class that if a kid picks a topic as a starting point, and they just take the time to start talking to me about it, usually we can brainstorm together until we find something that is sufficiently interesting/complex. The resulting direction may have nothing to do with what we started with, but just the process of talking a kid through a topic can jog my mind through related ideas that I have come across/read before.


  1. Mimi I think you're mistaken that the mathematics has to be "beyond the IB curriculum." At summer training, they told us the math should be stuff that's in the curriculum. Just not below it. So for your card game example, if all the kid was using was the counting principle, that would not be enough. But if they were using conditional probability, that would be okay.

    Now that I think about it, I am teaching SL. If you are teaching HL, maybe the expectation is different.

  2. Well, that's what they say technically, but it's a bit tricky because really what they want is something firmly in the realm of IB or beyond. From the Category 3 conf, my colleague brought back a sample of a very nicely written quadratic modeling piece, but the IB moderators graded it and brought the score down several notches because of the simplicity of the math used. (Of course there was push back from the IB teachers regarding this, since quadratics is a part of both SL and HL curricula.) So, if your students are using IB topics only, you have to make sure it is sufficiently complex, well beyond the pre-IB topics.

  3. Anyway, the conditional probability suggestion is a good one. I should re-read what is considered pre-IB probability concepts and make sure that the students go well beyond it in their discussion...


  4. Mimi and Kate, I agree with Kate that students are not required to go beyond the syllabus. In fact, I wonder if they might be inadvertently penalized if they do. I've had math studies students in the past go beyond and use a t-test for correlation - definitely outside the syllabus - and the examiner down-marked everyone because "t-tests are not used for correlation". Ugh.
    I wonder if the new SL and HL IAs will turn out very similar to the Studies IAs, in the end.
    Lots of statistics - at least that's easy to work with and you can easily identify whether a task will be manageable. Modelling is a great option, as well, and for SL and especially HL I would believe that questions about interpolation and extrapolation can reach new depths.
    I starred this post, Mimi, will refer our SL teacher here when time is due.

  5. Mimi, as a fellow IB math teacher with several years of experience, I have just this piece of advice to give you: Check yo'self b4 you wreck yo'self

  6. I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not sure what you mean. I re-read this post and didn't think I gave any frivolous advice. The advice to go a bit beyond the IB curriculum is based on the Category 3 workshop my colleague had attended in Helsinki, in which they focused particularly on discussing internal assessments 2014 and had a lot of disagreements when they discussed the necessary difficulty level of the topics, while looking at student work that had been graded and moderated. It's possible that they had said different things at other training workshops because apparently IB had not done a pilot of their new format prior to rolling it out (the samples available online now are from a teacher who had participated in the development of the new format and had done the portfolios at their school without being officially sanctioned to do so).

    So yeah, if you think we're making a mistake, I'd be very in hearing where you're getting that info from, since official IB info on the new format is pretty incomplete... Thanks! We are well aware of the formats and expectations in Math Studies, but we think that the SL and HL expectations are much higher, again based on seeing work that had already been graded and moderated.

  7. Hi! I am taking math sl and I am clueless about what to do for my exploration. what is the easiest topic but an interesting one? Your help is much appreciated.