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Diploma Programme Chemistry updates: “a never-ending exploration for students and teachers”

From August 2023, Diploma Programme (DP) teachers will need to ensure they are using the recently published chemistry subject guide (first assessment 2025).  

To mark the launch of the new subject guide, we asked an educator who was involved in the development of the curriculum to speak about the course and how the key updates will benefit both students and teachers.  

Elisa Jimenez Grant has taught secondary science since 2005, specialising in DP Chemistry. She was involved in the review and development of the new curriculum, associated teacher support materials, as well as training workshop leaders in the curriculum changes. Her IB curriculum and assessment roles include principal examiner, senior moderator, site visitor, workshop leader and workshop developer. In schools she has served as head of department, MYP coordinator and extended essay coordinator. She has worked in several IB schools in Mexico and Switzerland. Elisa graduated magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr College and holds an MSc (Imperial College London, awarded with distinction) and an MEd (Open University). She speaks English, Spanish and French. 

How were you involved in reviewing the course guide? What did it involve? 

I first got involved in 2016, as I was interested in learning more about the IB curriculum review process. In the beginning I just responded to a call for interest where I shared some of my experience. I’ve worked in in several IB schools where I’ve taught DP chemistry, but I’ve also taught other curricula and in the middle years, so I was interested in sharing a bit of my perspective.  

It began with responding to a series of forum posts on an online discussion area and eventually I was very lucky to be invited to a symposium in The Hague, where I met lots of other teachers and educators and people involved with DP chemistry and the other DP sciences. I continued being involved in visits to the IB’s Hague office and via e-mail about once or twice a year. And then when the pandemic hit, we went fully online.  

I have met educators with a really diverse set of experiences because the DP programmes are taught in all kinds of different contexts. So that was one of the things that was very interesting for me throughout the process. After the big symposium back in 2016 we had many meetings over the following years talking about what goes into the curriculum or how the assessment model was going to look and then we got into the process of writing the guide. I was very pleased to be able to co-author some of the sections in the new guide and the new teacher support materials. I also worked on the development of the workshops and the training of the new curriculum for new workshop leaders. 

Can you list some of the key changes to the guide? 

Obviously, chemistry is chemistry, but the way we conceptualize it is different. The main changes in this guide are an emphasis on conceptual understanding and an emphasis on skills in the study of chemistry. 

  • Emphasis on conceptual understanding – In the new curriculum we’re really looking for a more integrated understanding of the subject and where the links between different concepts become more apparent to students and also to teachers. I think it’s going to be very exciting to teach this new curriculum because the idea is that the understanding of chemistry isn’t linear and it’s more sort of networked. 
  • Skills in the study of chemistry – There is also a greater emphasis on approaches to teaching and approaches to learning. The IB’s approaches to learning are made up of transferable skills, like thinking skills and self-management skills, but they also help students to develop what we’ve called skills in the study of chemistry. These are skills that teachers teach anyway, but that weren’t necessarily all articulated in the guide before. Skills like experimental techniques and a good grasp of mathematical skills and skills relating to technology, like use of spreadsheets and molecular modelling, for example. With the old curriculum we had a set of prescribed practicals and now the idea is that we don’t reduce those skills to those prescribed practicals, but rather we look at developing students’ skills that will then allow them to carry out their own inquiries.  

How will these changes benefit both educators and students? 

I think that one of the first things people will notice is that the options have disappeared. Some of the option material has been removed and some of the option material has been subsumed into the core. So now all students will follow the same course content and there’s no room for selecting one option over another. While I think that’s going to be one of the things that’s going to be a challenge for people to adjust to it’s one of the things that I think allows for flexibility. Now educators can bring in the context that they think is most relevant to their students. 

I think that flexibility will allow students and teachers to explore new routes through the curriculum. I think the power of this curriculum comes from the ability to look for connections and look at how chemistry isn’t a series of isolated understandings, but rather that they’re all interconnected. And I think that’s very beautiful and will allow a never-ending exploration both for the students but also the teachers. 

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