March 04, 2013

IB Math SL and UbD

Could your students solve (with understanding) the following problem in 6 minutes with only 2-3 hours of class time and no prior exposure to binomial expansions or pascal's triangle?

Sure, my kids can write down the correct answer - they might even understand what they're doing - but it took a whole lot more than 2-3 hours to get them there.

I came to my current school a believer that the IBDP program was a good, even great, program for many students. I will be leaving with some serious doubts... In physics there are 6 hours set aside for kinematics but 18 for climate change and energy sources. Seriously? In Math SL I have 9 hours total for arithmetic/geometric sequences and series, binomial expansion plus rules of exponents and logarithms. Where's the time to develop either the need for these tools or any real understanding?

If you say it's supposed to happen in a prior class, then why isn't it in the presumed knowledge?

Today is a PD day. My job was to write enduring understandings (a la UbD) for my Math SL classes. So what is the "enduring understanding" of 2-3 hours spent on binomial expansion? Or for Math SL in general?

If I'm honest?
Students will understand that a big scary test that determines their college options is coming their way so regardless of personal interest they will pretend that they want to be engineers and "learn" math.
Or when thinking about arithmetic and geometric series: 
Students will understand that these questions are easy points on the IB test and should not be missed and that missing these questions will be followed by a long frustrated rant from the teacher or appropriate administrator.
For the sake of transparency maybe I should put this on my wall?

Please tell me I'm wrong. I know people live, breath and bleed the IBDP. It's just that I'm losing my faith. 


  1. So far I have the same observations of the IB diploma level mathematics courses. The problem is somewhat less severe in the Math Studies course, and in the Math HL course, if the student really is very strong, it's not too bad an issue, but of course, so many students take Math HL who are strong in instrumental understanding, and not in relational understanding, and so they just spend the entire two years memorizing their way through all of the content.

    I tried bringing this issue up with the IB Director of Continuum, explaining that the IB Math SL curriculum (especially) discourages the type of critical thinking that the IB DP is supposed to encourage, but I was met with resistance. I've been trying to teach the IB Math SL curriculum myself for the last two years, and finding that in the interest of time, I cannot do as much actual inquiry with the students as I would like. Many of my students will learn the two statements you have described above without really learning much mathematics.

    It's pretty depressing.

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