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Curriculum Review—Part II

In the first part of this series of blogs on curriculum review, we explained how the seven-year process is a collaborative consultation involving teachers, examiners, advice from consultants and universities and of course, IB subject matter experts. This blog looks at some aspects of the changes discussed by educators at the recent Diploma Programme (DP) mathematics subject specific seminar (SSSs) where the new subjects are presented to teachers in preparation for first teaching.

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How do we decide if a specific topic should be or not be included in the curriculum?

Our goal is to produce curricula which are relevant, evidence informed and in line with international expectations. We inevitably add and remove content as we conduct reviews. It can be tough to decide—for learners in over 150 countries—what gets added and what gets removed.

A hot topic at the mathematics subject specific seminars (SSSs) was why vectors do not appear in either of the new mathematics Standard Level (SL) courses. We conducted worldwide syllabus comparisons of courses at this level, analysed in-depth assessment data on students’ exam performance, and consulted universities and expert opinion. While some people will be sad to see them go, all this evidence leads us to conclude that vectors are not an essential element of a modern international SL mathematics course. On the other hand Voronoi diagrams are being increasingly recognized as an important application of mathematics so we made this an element of the Applications course. Peter Lynch, emeritus professor at the school of mathematics and statistics, University College Dublin comments “Voronoi diagrams provide a simple and eminently practical way of communicating complex information effectively and in a visually attractive form. It is amazing how the simple concept of partitioning a region in terms of distance to a set of points can be so powerful and illuminating.” If you would like to know more about Voronoi diagrams Peter’s blog is a nice starting point.

How are the new subjects different from each other?

Questions often came up at the SSSs as to which subject is better/more useful/harder or easier as we reflected upon the new subjects in the light of the current subjects. Part of the excitement of designing two new curriculum areas is ensuring that the content is fit for purpose, and that it is tailored to the modern student, their career aspirations and their university needs. Different learners will find different topics more useful than others, more exciting than others or even easier or harder than others, so this is not a question with a simple answer.

While the new subjects represent two major branches of mathematics they are also designed to appeal to different kinds of students. Mathematics: analysis and approaches will appeal to those students who enjoy the more algebraic side of mathematics and enjoy constructing, communicating and justifying mathematical arguments. Mathematics: applications and interpretation on the other hand will appeal to students who enjoy dealing with mathematics in a context and using technology.

How do I advise my students about which course to take?

The new courses put the student front and centre. First, ask your students to think about the type of mathematics that they enjoy, and which they have been successful in. Do they like an algebraic approach, or do they enjoy more statistical or modelling activities and using technology? If you don’t know the student, there are diagnostic activities that you could do with them, for instance give them an algebraic investigation or a modelling task. Most students will have a preference, but some won’t, so guidance from the mathematics teacher will really help. There is some useful information and resources here.

Once that is established, think about what level is appropriate for the student to achieve their potential and the combination of other subjects they are taking.

Finally, look at the university requirements—which brings us to the next question…

So, what are the universities saying?

The new courses are being very well received and many universities and government organizations are taking a fresh approach to how they recognize the subjects. Our Recognition Managers have been working hard and you can view all the latest recognition information for your country here. University counsellors should also be consulting the universities own recognition pages, and until universities have made their announcements, not assume recognition decisions will duplicate those for the current courses.

Universities and government organizations are beginning to publish their requirements. Many are recognizing the both of the new Higher Level (HL) courses for anything currently requiring Mathematics HL—the only exception to this is for students planning to study mathematics itself, where Mathematics: analysis and approaches HL seems to be the preferred requirement. School college counsellors should check individual university requirements, for instance this is what University College London is saying and here (in the Germany tab) is the statement from the German KMK organisation recognising both SLs for non-mathematical/scientific/technical subjects and both HLs.

In summary, we make changes to our curricula only when they are supported by research, our community of educators and global best practice. As the recent example of the mathematics courses shows, this is a challenging and rewarding process but one that is well-honed to keep our curricula on mission, future facing and insight based.

If you would like to contribute to the IB’s curriculum reviews, please contact dpdevelopment@ibo.org.