Practical scheme of work & IA
Practical work is an important component of IB chemistry. Approximately 25% of the total teaching time should be devoted to the practical scheme of work (40 hours at SL and 60 hours at HL). This includes the ten hours devoted to the Individual Scientific Investigation which makes up 20% of the final assessment mark under the heading 'Internal Assessment' with the external examinations providing the remaining 80%. Practical skills are also examined to a small extent in Section A of the externally assessed Paper 3. The 40 or 60 hours devoted to the practical scheme of work also includes ten hours spent on the Group 4 Project, although this is not assessed.
Much of the practical work will likely involve experiments in a school laboratory. However practical activities can be interpreted quite liberally. For example, a well-planned visit (as opposed to a 'tourist visit') to a university research laboratory or industrial site such as a power station or sewage works, virtual labs or molecular modelling can also be included. Similarly data obtained from secondary sources or simulation experiments rather than hands-on practical work is also acceptable.
One of the great strengths of the IB practical programme is that there are no 'set' experiments or investigations that your students must undertake. However there are some mandatory areas listed under the 'Applications and Skills' sections for some sub-topics in the Guide. For example, all students must perform a titration and also determine the molar mass of an unknown gas etc. but the precise ways in which these are done is left to the teacher or student. You are completely free to design your own practical programme. This can be quite daunting for a teacher new to the programme but what I have tried to do in this section is cover everything that you will need with many suggestions and examples. The great strength of being able to design your own programme, most of which does not have to be assessed, is that practical work can be fully integrated into good chemistry teaching.
Why do practical work?
It is worth getting students to consider why practical work is so important. Ultimately, of course, chemistry is an experimental science and the whole of chemistry is based on observations. Some of the reasons are:
- to re-enforce the theory
- to develop theory from practical observations
- to learn specific techniques
- to gain confidence in manipulative skills
- to develop an appreciation of the benefits and limitations of scientific methodology
- to address the IB assessment criteria (only for the Individual Scientific Investigation)
- to have fun
When devising your own programme you should bear all these aims in mind. Just the ten hour Individual Scientific Investigation will be assessed according to certain criteria and samples from some students will be sent to the IB for moderation.
Links on the left provide examples of practical schemes of work and details (including the background and teacher's notes) of many specific experiments that could be used for both Standard Level and/or Higher Level. These are separated into examples of practicals that cover the mandatory areas and other good practicals that can also be performed. Full information and details on how the Individual Scientific Investigation is assessed and moderated with useful tips on how students can achieve high grades is provided, together with genuine examples of IA reports that have been marked and moderated. Information and examples of the requirements for using ICT in practical work are also given as well as how to go about doing the Group 4 Project. For teachers setting up a new IB chemistry laboratory there is a suggested list of equipment and chemicals.