Planning pages & Learning activities

How to use the planning pages and the activities for learning

The new IB Biology guide has been written with an emphasis on concept based learning. The IBO wants to encourage teachers to focus on the students' understanding and the development of their skills rather than simply listing facts for teachers to get their students to learn.

For this reason the details of the syllabus to be covered are now presented in the guide as a set of "understandings" rather than a list of facts and processes as they were before. The command terms are included at the end of the guide for reference as they will appear in exams of course.

In the practical programme the IB guide also promotes higher order skills. It clearly states that, "It is important that students are involved in an inquiry-based practical programme that allows for the development of scientific inquiry."

This change in the format of the IB guide raises a few questions:

  • Is there enough time to deliver all the key concepts to students as well as developing their skills of critical thinking in Biology?

  • Is it possible to work out exactly the biological details that will be used in the exams?

  • Can students who like to be 'spoon fed' the key concepts but who feel uncomfortable when asked for their opinion about some biology be encouraged to begin thinking more deeply about Biology.

  • Lessons where the outcomes rely on the students own skills of analysis and inquiry are risky. If the outcomes are not clear will students feel frustrated in lessons?

The biology curriculum review team have spent quite some time working out what the students will need to understand. So the planning pages make good use of the new IB 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) approach to lesson planning.

Simply put 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 when a student has these skills.
    This is the first stage in design of assessment tasks
  • Once the understanding and assessment are clear it is possible to plan learning activities which will lead the student step by step to the desired goals.

The planning pages have three sections: Desired outcomes, Evidence and Learning activities which cover the three stages of planning.

In the first section 'understandings' from the IB guide are linked to 'essential questions'. These questions will help to foster inquiry and meaning-making during lessons. There is also a section on TOK, International Mindedness (IM) and the Nature of Science (NOS) set out in a simple table. It's important to include all these aspects in planning because IM and NOS can be used in the new exams. The following is a quote from the new guide.

The contents of the “Nature of science” section above the two columns and contents of the first column are all legitimate items for assessment. In addition, some assessment of international-mindedness in science, from the content of the second column.

IB Biology guide 2014

The second section outlines the parts of each of the learning activities which could be used for assessment. I.e. the things we will see a student do once they have the skills and understanding. There are also suggestions for more open ended assessment tasks in some places.

The last section outlines the learning activities which you can find on this site and use in lessons. Details of these learning activities are provided in specific learning activity pages which contain resources for a teacher to use on an interactive whiteboard, student worksheets, online activities and teaching notes.

Some teachers use the planning pages and learning activities as part of their own lessons planning. Others may simply read them to find out how the activities link to the IB guide. In either case they help to ensure that the learning activities in this site thoroughly prepare students for success in their IB biology exams.

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