Common questions that students who enter the Diploma Programme ask are, “What is Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?”, “What should I do my Extended Essay (EE) in?” or “Is Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) graded?” Sometimes students ask, “Why do I need to do these core elements on top of all the subjects I am studying?”
To respond to these questions, and to highlight the significance of the components that make up the core, Trapti Tivedi, Aditya Sil and Ilina Shah from Overseas Family School (OFS), Singapore have attempted to make the purpose and connections in the DP core more explicit.
After surveying Diploma students and teachers from all over the globe in order to understand their takeaways and challenges regarding the Diploma core, the group analysed the connections between the elements of the core and the transferable skills that are evident.
Comparison of the core components
To begin, the group compared the three DP core components, focusing on the approaches to learning skills (ATL).
Some more key comparisons of the ATL skills were pointed out in the responses to their survey of DP students and teachers.
Time management skills
- There is a fixed time frame of roughly nine months for the EE process, within which the student must manage their time.
- Students must manage time effectively within the two separate deadlines of the exhibition and the essay necessary for TOK, applying the same principles as for fixed interval time management.
- CAS commitments extend throughout the two-year IB journey so students can be flexible in terms of time management and need only work around their personal/school schedule.
- Generally, both primary and secondary research are conducted when doing an EE. For example, students doing sciences EEs collect data by doing experiments in the lab as well as use secondary sources.
- Research in TOK is predominantly secondary research, for example reading articles and textbooks.
- Research in CAS is mainly concerned with exploring what opportunities are available for activities and projects and exploring the nature of those activities.
- In both the EE and in TOK, it is important not to plagiarise any content from research, also to credit all sources used, and develop original ideas and carry out analysis using creative and critical thinking.
- In EE students must be critical of their work and be able to derive counter arguments as well as evaluate the limitations of their research, and may also propose how these limitations could be reduced and how they could extend their research to provide a clearer answer to their research question.
- There is no data analysis or analysis/evaluation of research method in TOK, but students must write analytically rather than descriptively, integrating theories, making connections, evaluating the limitations of their sources.
- In TOK, evaluation is embedded throughout the essay, while, in the EE, the evaluation is done primarily towards the end.
- Thinking skills in CAS are mainly to do with overcoming challenges and solving problems, developing skills, managing time.
- Students need creative thinking when leading clubs or group activities, in order to come up with original ideas for interactive activities for members to participate in.
- During the EE, it is important to be clear and concise when writing the essay and reflections, working with a word limit, explaining concepts in detail.
- For student-supervisor communication, it is important to be proactive to update your supervisor on your progress, be responsive to them, ask questions and request feedback as needed.
- In TOK, communicating with your peers is highly useful as they may provide critiques on your arguments and provide different perspectives. It is less formal compared to student-expert or student-teacher communication
- Communication in CAS is predominantly peer-peer, especially when working in group projects, keeping each other updated and using leadership skills to allocate roles based on skills, overcoming challenges through open discussion.
Reflection and affective skills
- Students must consider their strengths and weaknesses in different parts of the EE process and should focus on trying and then learning from mistakes later on in the process.
- TOK reflections are less in depth than the EE reflections, and not assessed as part of the TOK essay grade but students need to try to learn from mistakes in past assignments, including TOK exhibition, especially in self-management skills.
- An important part of CAS is reflecting on the development of important skills, which are useful not only in school, but also in the real world. For instance, students can reflect on how they have learnt to take initiative, or become more global-minded individuals, and grow as a people.
- The nature of reflection may vary between CAS, TOK and the EE, but its essential principles are constant.
“We believe that a skills-based approach which increases IB students’ awareness of the necessary key skills that will help them make the most the IB core is central in promoting a balanced and healthy attitude towards learning.
From our research, which involved surveying a large number of IB students and teachers from all over the globe, we have identified the core ATL skills that are applicable to the IB core, more easily remembered as the acronym, CARROT.” Trapti, Aditya and Ilina.
CARROT is a synthesis of the essential skills required by IB students, on the basis of which more complex skills can be developed:
- Communication is not only central to essay-writing in the EE or TOK, but also forms the basis of collaboration skills which are useful in CAS.
- Affective skills provide students with the resilience to overcome hardship and are thus complementary to the development of all other ATL skills by enabling students to maintain their strength of character for long-term learning.
- Reflection allows students to become aware of the ATL skills they have developed through learning experiences which equips them to transfer these skills into other areas of the IB and in life.
- Research is crucial to forming comprehensive and balanced arguments in TOK and EE and it also allows students to practise the information literacy skills to become critical thinkers.
- Organisation branches further into self-management and time management which allows students to benefit from learning experiences through systematic approaches and self-discipline.
- Thinking skills also branch further into critical thinking, creative thinking and problem-solving which are required in different ways and proportions as students encounter different components of the IB core.
It is evident that the skills encompassed by CARROT are deeply intertwined and it is for this reason that these essential skills are key to future growth as an IB learner.
To conclude, the core is essentially the heart of the IB Diploma Programme. ATL skills that students develop and apply in the core overlap in the three components, CAS, TOK and EE, and transfer to learning experiences in DP subjects and life beyond school. It is important that schools take the time to highlight core connections in terms of skills, as this will help to reduce work pressure and enhance a sense of wellbeing for their IB Diploma students.
Ms. Trapti Trivedi is the Extended Essay (EE) coordinator and science teacher at Overseas Family School (OFS), Singapore. She holds a Master’s degree in secondary education and has over 20 years of international teaching experience. She is a workshop leader, IA team leader, field representative and BQC reviewer for the International Baccalaureate.
Aditya Sil completed his IB diploma at Overseas Family School (OFS), Singapore and graduated in May 2022. He is proud to be one of five students in his cohort to have achieved a perfect score of 45 points in his IB examinations and is now studying BSc Medical Biosciences at Imperial College London.
Ilina Shah is a May 2022 IB Diploma graduate, having attended Overseas Family School (OFS), Singapore. She will now study BASc Arts and Science at University College London.
The authors would like to express gratitude to all the IB students, IB teachers and IB alumni who took out time to respond to the survey. Their responses helped the authors immensely to understand core connections and challenges.
Trapti: “As a member of IB Extended Essay Curriculum Review, I shared some of these ideas with Robin Julian, Curriculum Manager for IB EE. We want to acknowledge Robin’s support and encouragement which gave us much needed impetus and motivation to conduct this extensive research project.”