The International Baccalaureate have suggested 10 attributes that will enable Diploma students to fulfill its mission statement.
Inquirers They develop their natural curiosity. They acquire the skills necessary to conduct inquiry and research and show independence in learning. They actively enjoy learning and this love of learning will be sustained throughout their lives.
Knowledgeable They explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global significance.In so doing, they acquire in-depth knowledge and develop understanding across a broad and balanced range of disciplines.
Thinkers They exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems, and make reasoned, ethical decisions.
Communicators They understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication. They work effectively and willingly in collaboration with others.
Principled They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.
Open-minded They understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience.
Caring They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others. They have a personal commitment to service, and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.
Risk-takers They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.
Balanced They understand the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional balance to achieve personal well-being for themselves and others.
Reflective They give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations in order to support their learning and personal development.
All good qualities that most schools will strive to foster within their student body. Many schools already have something very similar to the IB mission statement so if you look through the learner profile and it reflects what you do at the moment then you just carry on as normal, however if it doesn't then maybe you need to think how you can adapt the course so that it fits in with the overal ethos of a good IB school.
The Learner Profile in the Physics lab
In workshops I often do an exercise where participants write down the qualities of a good physics student and then place them under the headings of the learner profile, I can't think of a way to do that online so here I have made some notes as to how each quality might be encouraged in the physics lab.
An inquirer is someone who asks questions so we should encourage students to ask question in our class. In UK and even more so in Scandinavia students are always encouraged to ask questions of their teacher but this is not the case for all cultures. Chinese students tell me that asking questions in a Chinese school is not a good thing because it is showing the teacher that they don't know something. Cultural differences like this can cause problems in an international setting, the western students will seem to be brighter since they ask more questions so we need to make it clear to all the students that asking questions is a good thing.
There are many ways to run a practical programme, we could give out worksheets with instructions or allow students to develop their own research questions and design their own methods. The second of these clearly promotes inquiry. The IB programme is of course planned with the learner profile very much in mind and one of the reasons for design experiments is to encourage the students to be inquirers. We want students to be able to see interesting questions in a lump of plasticine or a bucket of water, some are very good at this but others struggle.
A student with an inquiring mind will want to know the answer to lots of questions and there are many ways they can find those answers, asking the teacher is one but they might also use the internet, read a book, do a calculation or try a simple experiment. We want students to develop these skills so we should set tasks so that they need to use different ways of finding answers.
From that most trusted source Dictionary.com knowledgeable means "Possessing or exhibiting knowledge, insight, or understanding; intelligent; well-informed; discerning; perceptive." So knowledgeable means more than just knowing something, a student who simply learnt laws and definitions and practised problems would not be knowledgeable, they would have to understand those laws and be able to apply them, they should know the limitations.
It would be difficult to succeed in any physics course without thinking and the IB encourages students to consider the different ways that we think in the TOK course.
Probably many teachers who have never been in a physics lab think that out students sit on their own solving problems on scraps of paper with blunt pencils this is not the case we encourage discussion and group and often do labs in small groups (I'm defining a pair as a small group here) particularly during the group 4 project. Another form of communication is written communication, I find lab reports one of the most valuable means of communicating to students, if the student communicates well then I will know whether they have understood the concepts or not. if they make mistakes I can communicate back to them by writing comments on their report. I like to try to keep up with modern trends in ICT and use skype and chat to communicate with students, this is not instead of face to face contact (I still turn up to class) but is used to help student who want to ask a question about a lab report or their EE in the evening. Using the virtual desktop on skype I find particularly useful.
To be principled in a scientific context means that results are presented honestly with no attempt at manipulating them to prove ones hypothesis, the worst case would be to completely fabricate results that fit the expected model. The IB assessment does not encourage this approach since no marks are awarded for how close the result is to the accepted value, what is more important is that the student understands why the results deviate from expected, a good explanation of bad results will be awarde top marks. It is of course possible to fabricate bad results, a student who managed that may not be principled but would have to understand the physics very well. I beleive that to encourage students to be principled they must be given the possibility to not be, allow them to work independently but be on the look out for faked or manipulated results. Unfortunately many of out best students go on to work in areas where to be principled is not an advantage.
Is it important to be open minded in physics or not? In some ways we want the students to accept certain facts and apply them without question.
Me: A helium balloon is floating in a car travelling along a straight road. If the car brakes what happens to the balloon?
Student: The balloon will move to the front of the car.
Me: How do you know?
Student: It's the same as what happens to the driver.
Me: What makes you think that?
Student: They must be the same.
Me: Who says they must be the same?
Student: I do.
Me: I don't want to know what you think happens I want to know what Newton or Einstein thinks will happen.
This sort of banter is repeated many times in my class and eventually students get the idea that I want to know what the laws of physics tell us not their own opinions. But that's not being open minded its more like the reverse.
In our classes we will come across many students who simply can not believe certain physical models because their religion tells them that they can not be true. The big bang for example can not be true for fundamental Christians. I used to find this difficult to accept until it was explained to me by one my Muslim students.
"I understand the theory and I can follow the argument, even solve problems but I don't believe it to be true"
I think that is a good example of being open minded, willing to listen and understand even when you don't believe.
When I do the exercise in f2f workshops (that's face to face by the way) where we write down qualities of a good physics student and post them under the learner profile headings caring never gets any posts. Its not a quality that we often think about in the context of what makes a good physics student however we do expect students to help each other in practical work, a good partner would care about the results of the student they were helping. Many students struggle with physics and ask fellow students for help, a caring student will provide help in a way that will aid the learning process, a student who didn't care might simply hand over the answers or refuse to help. It is the teacher who more often than not determines the way students interact in the lab so in the words of Pink Floyd "no dark sarcasm in the classroom".
if you ask anyone to list the learner profile than they probably won't get them all but they will remember risk takers. As someone who regularly takes students rock climbing and surfing I have see this in a certain way. Rock climbing is risky sport, people can easily get injured and even die. When I take students rock climbing they are often scared, they feel like they are taking a risk BUT THEY ARE NOT. It is totally safe and I would never do anything "risky" with a student (what I do in my free time is my own business). What they are experiencing is perceived risk not real risk, they are high up hanging from a rope and it feels scary but they are perfectly safe, they have a safety net.
When I talk about students taking risks in the physics course I don't mean putting fingers in plug sockets and sniffing gases but its when they embark on investigations that they are not sure will work or not. Its safer to opt for a simple topic like "what is the relationship between the extension and force applied to a helical spring" but it is risky to consider " what is the relationship between distance moved sideways and the number of coils on a spring as it rolls down a slope". he risk that the student is taking is that the whole thing won't work and they won't end up with any data that can be processes and eventually assessed. For this reason they need a safety net, which can be provided by giving the student lots different occasions when they can devise research questions.
Risk taking also applies to the IB programme as a whole, many students who have opted to take the I instead of their national programme are taking a risk, students selecting physics as a group 4 subject are taking a risk (it's not the easiest) and anyone choosing to write an EE in physics is certainly taking a risk (hopefully reduced by following the advice on this site).
There is not so much we can do in the physics course to make sure that students have a balanced curriculum but diploma itself by its nature will encourage a student to be balanced. What we shouldn't do is overload our students with so much homework that we unbalace the hexagon.'
The most important part of a practical report is the conclusion and evaluation, this is where the student reflects on what they did and tries to make sense of the results.