IB learner profile

Attributes for learners

The IB learner profile is the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning attributes for the 21st century.

According to the IB, all those involved in the IB education; students, teachers, school leaders / administrators, secretarial staff and parents should strive to show these attributes.

A teacher's role in school quite obviously demonstrates some attributes, e.g. caring, knowledgeable, principled, communicator. The usefulness of the IB learner profile, in my view, is not that it points out these obvious attributes but more that it helps us to consider whether we should be doing some of the other aspects, e.g. risk taking, and balanced, and if so, how?

The learner profile attributes are clearly described in this IB learner profile page but as biology teachers we are sometimes expected to explain how we encourage the students to show these attributes in our biology lessons. It is not difficult to find examples in biology lessons of opportunities for students to demonstrate these attributes, but it does take a bit of thought.

The rest of this page covers ideas about how IB biology lessons might be promoting each of the aspects.

Knowledgeable

IB learners accumulate a large amount of knowledge through their studies of each biology topic.
Knowledge as factual recall is not the only way to know biology, equally important is understanding, application and skills which is clearly identified in the IB biology guide.

Thinker

IB learners need to use reasoning and critical thinking to examine what they learn.

Students in biology are expected to understand some complex biological processes, e.g. DNA replication, Photosynthesis. This involves reasoning in the form of structure and function of individual cell components. They are able to consider the contributions to society of biological technologies and reach clear ethical decisions for themselves. Examples include benefits and risks related to cloning, IVF, stem cell research, the precautionary principal in medicine and in environmental protection.

In a practical way IB biologists are able to evaluate data and experimental methods using critical thinking skills learned during the course. This involves inductive reasoning, where generalisations are made from experimental date, or deductive reasoning when identifying the probable meaning of a set of experimental results.

Caring

IB learners show care and compassion for others, having respect for oneself and others as learners is caring.

Behaving in a way which shows concern for the environment is also important. This might include actions such as disposing of chemical solutions in the appropriate way, returning pond samples to the pond after examining pond life. Using biology to care for the biodiversity of the earth or to treat patients in a hospital are important caring contributions of biology in society.

Balanced

It is important to keep a balance of the intellectual, the physical and the emotional to achieve personal well-being.

The IB is a demanding academic course which has plenty of intellectual stimulation but would be wise to help students achieve this balance for no other reason than they are more likely to achieve highly. As a biology teacher this might include considering the global demands of the IB diploma when setting work deadlines. If the students have organised a sponsored sporting even for CAS at the weekend, for example. Helping students to cope in times of stress, approaching exams etc. could be incorporated into a biology revision lesson.

Open-minded

Recognising a students own personal perspective is as important as recognising the views of others and accepting that other people may have a different perspectives, values and traditions.

In biology lessons this can be nurtured during activities on ethical decisions, on applications of biology in society.

There are also aspects of the Nature of Science which illustrate that scientific advances have happened fastest when groups of scientists with different expertise and from different backgrounds work together. Examples of this are the human genome project or the recent search for an Ebola vaccine. There are other examples where a new discovery too years to become accepted by the scientific community, eg Mendel's genetics.

The Harvard, visible thinking routine, "True for Who?" could be used in biology lessons to explore different viewpoints in topics like, Conservation of endangered species or Genetic screening.

Inquirer

Someone who loves learning will be a life long learner. Our natural curiosity is easily nurtured in biology as anyone who has watched a wildlife program will know. As IB teachers, the way we guide students through the course is important if we are going to help them to be inquirers. Copying long pages of notes every lessons is not going to achieve that.

To nurture curiosity and help students to be inquirers we should aim to 'hook' students into a topic, make them curious and then provide them with tools to find answers for themselves. This is one way to plan practical work. If we can get students thinking about the cells they are made of, for example, then allow students to discover the answers to their own questions once their curiosity has been engaged then students will begin to behave as inquirers. This could be a simple question such as whether human cells are larger or smaller than moss cells. While finding out the answer a student will need the skills of microscopy which we have to cover in the IB course.

Of course not all lessons can be inquiry based, but the benefits of encouraging curiosity when it is possible during the course are worth the effort. Learning takes place most effectively through questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.

Communicator

Communication is one of the most commonly listed 21st century skills. Being able to express ideas in a variety of ways is vital in today's world.

In biology lessons where students have opportunities to communicate their understanding they remember more of the lesson and their understanding is deeper. Presentations, debates, written tasks, experiment reports and collaborating with other students during practical lab work all give opportunities for students to communicate their understanding of biology.

The emphasis in the learner profile is on variety of modes of communication.

Principled

Acting fairly, honestly and with integrity and therefore respecting yourself while respecting other individuals the group and communities.

In biology lessons students can be encouraged to show academic honesty, to reference the ideas of others in their work. The nature of science in biology includes the role of the scientific community in peer review and the responsibility of scientists to present their findings honestly.

Risk-takers

When student work in unfamiliar situations with courage they are taking a risk. If their knowledge is uncertain yet they still strive to participate in a lesson this is braver than sitting quietly. In both cases students are likely to learn more quickly and this is a transferable skill which might just help them to succeed in many other aspects of life.

In biology lessons this may include designing experiments, making presentations, asking questions in front of others, working with other students. Structuring student participation in ways which allow all students to participate, and which builds confidence in students through appropriate challenge will promote the right sort of risk taking. (Think Pair Share - thinking routine will get even the shyest students to participate)

Of course during laboratory work risk-taking is minimised for the safety of everyone in the lab and the learner profile attribute of risk taking is not concerned with physical danger and hazardous experiments, it is really focusing on taking emotional risks where a fear of failure may prevent a student from participating.

Reflective

Taking time to consider the student's own learning experiences is an essential component of the learning cycle.

Students can learn about their strengths and weaknesses through reflection. Learning how to learn is excellent preparation for university study and also saves time if students can make their learning more effective through a little reflection.

Some students keep a diary of their learning, a blog of student reflections would work. As a biology teacher making time for students to reflect on how there learning is going at key points in the course would encourage students to become reflective. One simple way to do this would be to require students to complete corrections a after an end of topic test and also review their strengths and weaknesses as a learner during the topic.

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