Group 4 project

During their normal science classes, students work alone or in pairs. The purpose of the Group 4 project is to introduce students to the idea that science is a group activity performed by teams. Instead of distinct physicist or chemist scientific groups, scientists work as a mixture from different disciplines with mathematicians, editors, managers and financial experts.

The key requirement in IB speak is Aim 10 - to “encourage an understanding of the relationships between scientific disciplines and the overarching nature of the scientific method”.

The project should also be in line with aims 7 and 8 of the Group 4 subjects:

Aim 7 - “develop and apply the students’ information and communication technology skills in the study of science”.

Aim 8 - “raise awareness of the moral, ethical, social, economic and environmental implications of using science and technology”.

This means that when thinking of possible project themes you need to try to make it possible to incorporate some use of ICT and there should be some way of making connections to bigger issues. Apart from that, you are fairly free to do what you want as long as it is a group activity related to science or technology.

When the syllabus changed a couple of years ago, the Group 4 project changed too but a lot of schools didn't realise how much freer it had become. The old model was that students in different science disciplines would look at a common theme from different angles. for example if the theme was a river the physicist could measure the rate of flow, the biologists the micro-organisms and the chemists the PH (that's what they always do). The idea would be that these studies would be in some way connected but it rarely worked that way. The new model stipulates that students should work in mixed groups but they do not have to do anything to do with their own science discipline - your physics students do not have to do any physics! The Group 4 project isn't assessed but students will have to write a short reflective statement.

The activity

Measuring the acceleration due to gravity is not a team activity since it can be done by one person, using this as an exercise to encourage team skills for a group of 5 students would be a disaster since there aren't enough jobs to go round, the team would be doomed to failure. Football is a team activity but it's not one that everyone is equally good at, using football to encourage teamwork would not be fair on those of us who can't play. It's very important that the chosen task requires as many people as are in the team and that it doesn't favour a certain group.

A study of starfish maybe very interesting to the biology students but the physics students can be at a loss. Building a paper umbrella is something everyone can take part in.

Remember the project doesn't have to be anything to do with physics, biology or chemistry, just science/technology.

The team

The size of a team should be matched to the number of people needed to do the task. Since the idea of the project is to put together biologists, chemists and physicists, the minimum group size is 3. The smaller the group the easier it is for the students to take an active role so making small groups enables them to succeed more easily, that's providing the task is manageable with so few students.

Building a paper airplane does not need 4 people but building a paper bridge might.

Another important aspect is that the team should not select itself. Students can choose what theme they want to work with but they shouldn't choose their team members. It's much easier to work with your friends than people you don't know. It will also prevent those horrible situations when someone gets left out (like when I played football at school!).


The whole project should last 10 hours but if you take off 1 hour for the introduction and 1 hour for the presentations, that only leaves 8 hours for the actual project work. Therefore the task should be possible to complete in 8 hours, but not possible in 30 minutes. Assessing how long a task will take is very difficult since it depends on the students. However you can build this in to the whole assessment, giving the students responsibility to make sure they use all the time. If they do not make the task fit the time then they have failed the exercise.

You can build a 2cm high tower using 30 sheets of paper in about 5 seconds but it takes much longer to build one 1m high.

The best time of year for the project depends on your school calendar. It isn't important that they use knowledge from their individual subjects, so it can be quite early in the course. However, if you are going to do anything outside then the weather needs to be considered.

The goal

Having a goal is an important part of any team activity, if you don't have a goal it is difficult to pull together. The goal could simply be to produce a poster, powerpoint or website, but you might also consider a competitive goal like building the highest tower or longest bridge. These sort of "science day challenges" are great fun and encourage teamwork. If you go for the more general "reducing energy use on campus" sort of theme then the student group should set itself goals at the start of the day. The goal could be to produce a poster, video or webpage, it gives them something to aim for and can be used to assess the success of the day.

Working with another school

I have never tried this but the IB encourages schools to work together on common projects. There are ways that you can set up internet links so that students can work in groups that have participants from different schools however I think this would make it very difficult to assess the team skills, there are also problems with time zones if you are going to do a live link. The best way of doing this might be for two schools to choose a common theme then post the results on a common website or blog. Students could communicate between schools but would not be working in the same groups.

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