Curriculum Review and 2019

Changes are coming!

Many of you will know that the IB diploma program has a review policy that means it reviews its curriculum every 7 years. The goal is to make sure that the curriculum evolves with demands and it is, for the most part, a huge strength of the IBDP program. The current cycle is nearing completion and the first teaching of the new syllabus is scheduled for September 2019. This change is quite a significant shift and schools will have a lot to think about in terms of management here. This page is designed to keep you informed about those changes and how they will be managed here.

What we know so far

This  New Curriculum(2019): Applications page gives you a good overview of what we can understand from the information published on MyIB. The New syllabus will be broken down in to 5 units, each of which is designed by mathematical concepts and the link above leads you to a number of useful diagrams that set that out. We will update here as and when we can!

What can you expect from this Webiste?

In 2019 there will be 2 mathematics courses for students to chose from and both of these will be available at HL and SL. There are a number of significant changes but for the purpose of understanding this is how they look roughly compared to what is on offer now.

The above is a bit crude and full details are yet to be made public but it is a good guide for now. So in terms of subscribing to sites the following is the planned model

This MATHSTUDIES site will become the site for the Mathematics Applications and Interpretations and cater for both courses during the transition.

The HL/SL site will become the site for Mathematics Analysis and Approaches and cater for both courses during the transition.

So, stay tuned for news of how the restructuring will take place!

Issues for schools

At this stage there are a couple of key issues that schools will need to consider.

Provision  for the new courses - How many classes

It is already a challenge for some schools to manage the three courses that are on offer currently. Many schools simply choose to offer two of the three. In September 2019, there are effectively 4 choices for students. In theory, the response will be that since both SL courses are complete subsets of their respective HL courses then teachers could have SL and HL students together in one class as happens in many other subjects. As such, technically only two teachers are required.

Analysis and Approaches SL and HL - It is common practice for teachers to keep these classes together but those who have had the possibility to do this separately know that it makes a huge difference to do so. The demands of the HL course are such that a different level of tuition is required and often these students will work at a very different pace to the SL students. Equally, the SL students will benefit from a more personalised approach that can be offered when the teacher is not catering for the HL students as well. Conclusion - possible to have them together but far from ideal.

Applications and Interpetations SL and HL - This is new territory and not enough is yet known about the HL element here. What is known is that there is every intention that this HL is valued as equivalent to the other one. Although it will focus on some different skills, the implications are that this will be a demanding HL course. This in itself is great news. However, when we consider that those who take the applications SL level will likely be the same cohort that currently take Mathematical Studies then it is very difficult to imagine having these two groups of students in the same class. At an extreme, you might consider teaching an enthusiastic and able mathematician aiming for higher level achievement and further study in the same class as a student who has always struggled with the minimum mathematical requirements and is just doing their best to get the maths needed for a diploma. Conclusion - teaching SL and HL students together is not a viable option.

Provision - Following on from the above, it is my conjecture that for schools to make all 4 levels available to students then they will need a minimum of 3 teachers but ideally 4. Given that not everyone will be able to do that and that it may be preferable to teach the analysis SL and HL groups separately then there are some tough choices about which provision to make.

Option 1 - 3 teachers, Leave out either the analysis SL or the applications HL. This could be a shame on both counts but more so to leave out the new option as this promises to offer more avenues for our mathematicians. In this case, schools will have to weigh up the benefit of offering the analysis SL against managing the split class.

Option 2 - 2 teachers. For small schools then it could be a case of just offering one of the 2 course at SL and HL. The alternatives seem quite messy. If you have never offered Maths Studies then this seems viable. If you have, then Applications SL and a choice of HL seems viable too. Offering 1 or 2 split classes is of course technically possible but I have expressed my concerns above.

Perhaps I have simply stated the obvious above, but my main goal is to provoke a discussion. We will have the same one where I work. My ideal would be to have a fourth teacher and offer all four and I will pitch for this. It would be unwise not to prepare for the likely rejection of that proposal! 

New Syllabus items

It seems likely that many of us will have to prepare for the teaching of bits of mathematics we have never taught before. I know I will. Perhaps they come from the current option topics that we might not have taught before, perhaps they come from other fields. It is exciting either way on that score, but we musn't underestimate the associated work!

What follows is an older update about the new courses....

Some thoughts on 2019

Cat amongst the pigeons!

One of the unquestionable strengths of the IBDP is the commitment to curriculum review. Each course offered is reviewed in seven year cycles to ensure that the curricula are current, coherent and relevant. In many cases, changes are small, fine tuning, but occasionally some more significant changes are required. For the DP mathematical Studies course, the last review was fine tuning, but the next one is going to be a bit bigger! There are now two documents on the OCC from last June and December respectively that outline the current state of the proposed changes for the next change which is due for first teaching in 2019. This post is a discussion of what we have seen so far!


The only information published about this is in the two review reports on the OCC. I am not the IB and everything I write here is based on having read and thought about those two documents. As such, the facts are the same as the facts given in the reports, the rest is just discussion of the significance and speculation! Its early days, there is much yet to be decided.


The following is a summary of the key changes being proposed

  • Choice of two courses in group 5 for mathematics - as yet without names
  • Both courses can be done at HL and SL.
  • 1st course, much like exisiting SL/HL course only with reduced content to allow for more time developing mathematical thinking skills.
  • 2nd course based more on wider 'applications' of mathematics. Possibly like the current mathematical studies course but with a new HL element.
  • A common element to all courses (60hrs)
  • Both SL parts will be subsets of the respective HL courses
  • There will be some intersection between the elements.
  • A combined 'Mathematical Skills and Concepts' element that will encompass the IA.

The Distinction

This is the key point and we await further clarity on the key difference between the courses. That said, there is plenty of evidence within the reports that points to the following. Again, I must stress that following is speculation based on the reports.

One of the courses will be a development of the current HL/SL arrangement. One imagines that this is still the route we would advise for those with ambitions in the field of mathematics, engineering and other areas that require a significant degree of mathematical competency. This will be more like mathematics as we know it.

The other course will be a development of the principles behind the current mathematical studies course. This is based on the idea that understanding of mathematical concepts and knowledge is still a fundamental part of any knowledge base AND that there are a broad range of 'applications of mathematics' that apply across a wider range of career paths. 

The big change here is the introduction of an HL element. This is accredited to recognition that fluency in the application and the significance of a wide range of mathematical ideas is increasingly relevant and desirable. The focus here will be less on the mathematical structure and more on the mathematical significance. 

The Rationale

If anyone has been following Conrad Wolfram's computer based mathematics movement, then you will have already have considered his key contention that there is now less need for 'calculation' and more need for 'application' and that this a natural result of significant technological developments (see Wolfram Alpha as an example). Watch the talk to get a fuller idea, but the main thrust is that mainstream compulsory mathematics education should move towards teaching the significance and application of techniques and let computers do the calculation. See the example below..

Consider the Pearson's product moment correlation coefficient. The mathematical structure behind that calculation is a wonderful bit of mathematics, but I would suggest that few truly understand the structure, whilst many understand the principle of the test and significance of the result.

The contention is that, for most, only the latter is necessary, BUT that being an expert in the latter is something we should value highly (hence the HL extension)

It is important to note that no one in the field is arguing that mathematics as we know it, no longer has a place, but simply that what we consider what is best for compulsory mathematics education to age 18.

Of course, the key knowledge question here (sorry, couldn't resist the ToK reference) is the one about the age/stage at which we might start diversifying. If we still need mathematicians then we mustn't close that route to too many too soon. In the case of the IBDP, this is easily handled. At 16 it is fine to ask students to make this choice.

Avoiding Confusion

Some conversations I have had already with teachers suggests that there will be work to do to avoid confusion. It is currently possible to read the documents and conclude that there will be two new equivalent courses called (for now) 'Pure maths' and 'Applied maths'. I think this is potentially confusing since there is no obvious differentiation in the level of mathematics to be seen there. Clearly, closer reading will help, but there will be work to do to help people understand.

Let us not beat around the bush, just as everyone knows that the current Studies course is easier (mathematically) than the SL course despite their equal weighting, surely the 'Applications' course will be easier than the 'Pure' course. As with the current structure, the courses serve different purposes. The 'Pure' course will be for mathematicians as we know them whilst the 'applied course' will be for a new kind of mathematician.

It is my belief that the net result will be more 'Mathematicians', and more engagement and understanding of mathematical ideas, concepts and applications and that can only be a good thing.

And finally

At presentations and as part of our philosophy for teaching and learning mathematics where I work, we often describe the following three facets of mathematics. (not always using the same words I might add!)

A unique area of knowledge that is built on logical foundations. Its beauty and elegance is to be appreciated and explored both for pleasure and to develop critical thinking skills.

A functional tool for survival. These skills are to be thoughtfully explored, acquired and applied.

A crucially  important way to understand the world that we live in. Mathematical literacy is essential to understanding, inquiring and pursuing the truth about the world around us.

As we try our best to make mathematics education about all of those things, it is possible to conceive that we can have two IBDP maths courses (HL and SL) that are different blends of those ingredients suited to different students for different purposes. I think so!

We will watch with interest!


All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.