Introducing the Extended Essay
ESS isn't always a popular subject for extended essays because students may be advised to write an essay in their HL subjects or in a specific course that they are applying to study at university. However I have had some really interesting research projects from students who have gone on to study a variety of subjects at university. As they chose a research topic which interested them, they all managed to maintain (more or less) the momentum in their essays and produced good essays.
The IB's Extended Essay website is an excellent source of information about every aspect of the Extended Essay. It provides pedagogical advice as well as student focused information.
I will concentrate on giving advice that is pertinent to ESS and World Studies.
What is an Extended Essay?
An extended essay is a 4000 word essay focusing on academic research in a specific discipline. If a student wants to take a more interdisciplinary approach or tackle a world issue then they can choose a World Studies Extended Essay which uses the lens of two academic disciplines to investigate a question.
What is my role as a Supervisor?
I like to think of the supervisor as a guide and mentor through the process. For me, the start of the process is where the supervisor is most crucial. Once the student has a topic, it is your conversations during the "check-ins" which will help them shape their thinking develop a research question. Getting the research question right is essential for a successful essay. I also believe that the research question can be developed right up the last drafting round.
Why write an ESS Essay?
An ESS essay is an opportunity for a student to investigate an environmental problem in a unique way. ESS essays are very diverse with some rooted in scientific practice and others exploring ideas using a more geographical approach. I encourage students to study a local problem and this is often what stimulates their interest in the first instance. Perhaps they have heard me talk about the pollution from sewage overflow, eutrophication in the local lake, water quality in Zurich or the carbon footprint of the school. ESS essays give the opportunity for data collection using a variety of methods with comparisons to secondary data if possible.
Some of my students have taken a case study in a distant location and used lab experiments to model the problems. This can also be a successful strategy.
Why write a World Studies Essay combining ESS with another subject?
A world studies essay gives a student an opportunity to look at a global problem from a local perspective using the lens of two different subjects. This year a student of mine wanted to investigate energy politics in the US. We decided this would be a perfect opportunity for him to combine his interests in Global Politics with ESS. Global Politics was the avenue for the policy lobbying and ESS the avenue for the impacts of this policy on the environment.
ESS often encourages a modelling or systems approach to a problem and provides an interesting lens for research.