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Published: Thursday, August 16, 2018

IB Biology: teacher tips and ideas

Martin Ward, IB Biology teacher at Escola Internacional del Camp in Salou, gives a range of ideas and practical suggestions for delivering the IB Biology course:

  1. Plan the entire course from day 1: you have to fit in six topics, one Option topic, a Group 4 Project, an Individual Investigation (II), an additional 20 hours of experiments and revision. In reality you will have to get the course taught in one-and-a-half years to leave time for revision.

  2. Print and distribute the ‘Subject Brief’ from the IBO website. Dedicate a wall in your lab to IB, placing key dates and information, as well as past papers and mark schemes, II examples and the assessment criteria and space to display their work. They love this!

  3. Start with the longest topic, Molecular Biology, Topic 2. Students have fun making models of the organic molecules using ‘Molymod’ kits. Challenge them to be the first to be able show the bonds that form between two molecules as a ‘flip book’.

  4. Cover the short topics of Photosynthesis and Respiration as an election campaign, whereby two teams represent each process and explain why they need the voters to elect them! Get the students to evaluate the (six) proteins by debating which protein is most deserving of the ‘best protein certificate’. The arguments get very heated … but they never forget their uses.

  5. Start the Practical Scheme of Work (PSOW) by performing enzyme experiments, BMI calculations and a dilution series (to represent the ‘memory of water’ concept behind homeopathy). Treat each PSOW as an official exam, sign and date the work, it's amazing how seriously they take it if you do!

  6. Use acrostics such as ‘SODA’ (to recall lipids versus carbs) and make up some silly ways to remember that cis fats have the hydrogens missing on the ‘same side.’

  7. Move on to Cell Biology (Topic 1) and then Topics 4 and 5 together (Ecology and Evolution & Biodiversity). This ticks off four of the six topics and at least 15 hours of PSOW within the first year.

  8. Study Genetics (Topic 3) and Human Physiology (Topic 6) in the final year, as most students are motivated by the relatable content within.
  9. Students have to study one of four Options (A, B, C or D.) Time is tight, so put the IB1 (first year) students in groups according to their chosen Option and, in the weeks before the Christmas and Easter holidays, get the students to make cloze text (fill-in-the-gaps) exercises and a ‘Kahoot!’ quiz, which they have to continue during the holiday.

    Tell them the course requires them to conduct many hours of independent study and that this is it! They should show and share these items with IB2 in the first week after Easter (coinciding with their revision schedule.) The Option has to be studied inside and out, as a large part of Paper 3 focusses on the Option.

  10. Throughout the topics, share acrostics and mnemonics such as Dr.Mario (comparing prokaryotes to eukaryotes) Clever Vampires Can Confront Sunlight (animal versus plant cells) Die Ice (impacts of melting Arctic sea ice) TRIM (characteristics of alveoli) King Philip Counted Over Fifty Green Snails (classification system)

  11. The course could be supplemented using video clips from the ‘Amoeba Sisters’ who present many biological concepts simply and provide guided worksheets. Go to the Amoeba Sisters You Tube channel.

    There is also a subscription website supported by the IB called InThinking for end-of-topic tests and other excellent resources.
    Go to the InThinking Teacher Resources site

  12. Make the students use an A4 notebook for all notes, avoiding folders at all costs. This is because their folders fall apart; work never makes it in there or disappears or gets hopelessly out of order; and they are heavy and clumsy to take in and correct. A notebook is portable and it is easy to check back for progress from one week to the next, to add up the hours of PSOW (make the PSOW sound so important as ‘evidence’, that they dare not lose the book!)

  13. In the first week back of IB2, spend time going through some statistical analysis worksheets (Chi-squared, correlations, error bars, error analysis and standard deviation) and then join the Chemistry and Physics classes to do the joint Group 4 project. Use it as a template/rehearsal for their II (also known as the Internal Assessment, IA) which they could start straight after.

  14. For AHL students, invest in the Student Workbook and Model Answers from BIOZONE. It's a life-saver! These books contain incredible images and challenging questions. If the students can answer the questions in the BIOZONE books, they can pass an AHL Biology exam! The students love the fact that they can write in the workbook and that there are weblinks and model answers. I use it for the standard level when revising and I set pages as homework for one less worry.

  15. If you plan ahead, you can be left with three or four weeks to revise. Do past papers, get them to peer mark by using the ‘majority must have it right’ technique. This works by not providing the mark scheme; get them to decide between them if the answer is correct and how many of the marks it is worth. This conversation reinforces knowledge, brings up misconceptions and provides support among the team of students you have spent the last year-and-a-half nurturing. 

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