Category Archives: Differentiation

Wayfinders: Curriculum as a Compass

If you love knowing stuff, learning stuff, inquiry, imagery and Moana as much as I do, then you might like the latest post on my ideas blog: “Curriculum as a Compass?“.


The apprentice becomes a wayfinder in her own right. [gif source]

Go for the big ideas, stay for the Moana gifs.

Webb’s DOK4 as a Filter for “Transfer”

As any teacher knows, “transfer” is notoriously difficult to truly teach, yet it is a part of the IB’s ATL skills framework as it is really important in empowering self-directed learning. Here’s a post on Webb’s DOK4 and how it might be used as a tool for teaching transfer of knowledge, skills and concepts. Also, DOK is a not  wheel.

Webb's DOK4 as a -Transfer Filter-

DOK Filter: DOK4 can be accessed from any other level, using the question “how ELSE can this be used?”. Tools for DOK4 Transfer might include #EdTech, inquiry, challenges, experiential learning, service learning and much more. Diagram by @sjtylr

Harvard Stem Cells Breakthrough: Diabetes

This recent news from Harvard is a perfect fit for the IBBio course, connecting lots of what we have learned in the course. Watch this short TED Talk from Prof. Doug Melton on how they are using stem cells to create new insulin-producing beta cells. Then read this article from the Harvard Gazette on the most recent developments in their work.


Goal: Produce a poster, blog post or short presentation to communicate Melton’s team’s breakthrough, including connections to the IBBio course.

Role: You are science communicators.

Audience: Your peers – high school students and teachers.

Scenario: Stem cells and diabetes are both headline-grabbing stories. As we develop more treatments for diseases using stem cells, the public need to be well informed of the reality of what is happening – and inspired by the future.

Product: Large visual poster, blog (500 words with media) or short presentation (4-5 mins).


Required information

  1. Explain that Type 1 diabetes is “an autoimmune metabolic condition in which the body kills off all the pancreatic beta cells that produce the insulin needed for glucose regulation in the body.” [article, paragraph 14]
  2. Outline the usual treatment needed for type 1 diabetes.
  3. Outline the properties of stem cells.
  4. Explain how stem cells differentiate to become differentiated cells.
  5. Describe the work of Melton’s team to create beta-cell lines derived from stem-cell lines.
  6. Outline the proposed treatment for type 1 diabetes through implanting the newly-produced beta-cells.
  7. Discuss any caveats or limitations to the method.
  8. Discuss any ethical implications for the use of stem cells in this manner.
  9. Define any new or technical terms used (or discovered in your research) for the audience.

Going Further

  • Distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Evaluate whether this method would be as effective for type 2 diabetes as for type 1, with reasons.


Teacher Notes

  • This could be used to teach part of the homeostasis topic once students know about stem cells, or as a review tool for later in the course.
  • Students should refer to the subject guide to check their use of terminology and to regulate the depth of explanation.


Connecting Type II Diabetes

Here is Doug Melton talking about how we might use hormones to treat Type II diabetes:

First Unit Reflections: Is It Working?

This is posted over from my personal reflections blog, but it is about my current IB Biology class. I love these students – they are can-do, and give really useful feedback.

Wayfinder Learning Lab

Today we took the opportunity in the IBBio class to reflect on the unit we have just completed, including the tasks and assessment. As always with CA students, the results were constructive, positive and useful, with a general affirmation of the value of what we are doing as a class. The feedback included our personal GoogleSites project, with most students keen on continuing and feeling it helped them learn and with some interesting alternatives for those that it is not.

This kind of feedback is really useful once the class has settled in. They are open enough to be able to be honest, but it is early enough to change practices where needed. We will make some adjustments, though we are generally on the right track with this group. I’m really looking forward to seeing the process and products of the students who have elected to become science writers…

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Think Global, Act Local: Give One World a Chance.

The One World criterion in MYP Sciences can get a bad rap and I think it is because it has been misinterpreted as being unscientific or too ‘soft’ for a science class. Sure, you don’t want to spend the whole semester doing One World essays, but we can make much better use of its potential. It can be a good showcase of student writing and ethical discussion, as well as an authentic connection between research and real world.

Here are a few pieces of recent work from students that give some idea of how engaging it can be. All are from the same class, with the prompt “Think Global, Act Local“.



I think for One World to be successful it needs to have the following elements:

  • An audience. I hate that students write for me alone, so the more that we can blog, the better: especially when it is community-related. The blogs allow us to include images, videos, links and mirror more closely the work of real science writers. I do need to get better at getting students and others to comment on their work.
  • An authentic purpose. In the examples above, part of the purpose was to highlight that our own actions as a school have consequences, but also to give some inspiration for CAS projects. Connecting One World to other subjects or global issues might help students see the purpose of their research and writing.
  • Differentiation. Of course it’s boring when 20 students write the same response to the same question. A good unit question might be all the stimulus it takes to get many different ideas, all connected to the significant concepts. We should help students pick questions of personal interest.
  • Enough guidance to help those in need, but not enough to stifle the students’ voice. The criterion is complex, and it is easy to break it into a checklist or paragraph-by-paragraph pro-forma. For students that need this level of support, that is fine, but for some it is like a straitjacket. I like to give students the guidance, but encourage them to take their own path, if they can.
  • Time. It is very easy to set these kinds of tasks as homework and be done with it, but that doesn’t do the students or the task justice. If it is a summative assessment task, it should be mostly completed in school; if it is valuable to count in the report, it is valuable to… value with time.
  • Feedback and self-assessment. Drafting in GoogleDocs makes for easy, timely and directed feedback to students during the process.

What other suggestions do you have for successful One World work?Do you have examples of great student One World work you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comments.

Here’s a little presentation that might be useful for a formative or introductory task:


Exploring Environments: Student-Designed Units & Hapara

Click here for a summary of our recent student-designed Grade 10 (MYP5) Environmental Sciences unit that we planned for students to design and implement. I used this project as my trial for Hapara, a GoogleDocs dashboard system. 

Hapara Dashboard: screenshot well after the project has finished, but you get the idea. Green = Bio, Orange = Chem.

Hapara Dashboard: screenshot well after the project has finished, but you get the idea. Green = Bio, Orange = Chem. Click on the image for the post about the project, including some sample documents. 

In summary, using this as a management tool allowed for a smooth and highly differentiated, student-led inquiry unit in MYP 5 Environmental Science. Find out more.

Personal GoogleSites: A Learning Project in #IBBio

Personal GoogleSite: Click to view an example.

Personal GoogleSite: Click to view an example.

Although i-Biology hosts all my content resources, the main class resource students are working with is a personal GoogleSite to track their progress and reflection. Click here to find out more about how it works.

IB Biology: Sortable Syllabus

I made this document to help my students review for their mock and final exams. It is the syllabus presented as a sortable Google Spreadsheet. There are tabs at the top for Paper 1 & 2: Core content, Paper 1 & 2: Core & AHL content, and for each subtopic.

  • Go to “View –> List view”.
  • Use the sort feature to target individual command terms, topics, objectives or levels.
  • It also has the ability to sort by suggested TOK connections or aims.

It does not include any images from the subject guide, as these cannot be included in cells to sort, so you will need to use your own copy or the text(s).

This could be a powerful review tool if used in response to practice papers or as a formative/ self-assessment tool. If a student is identified as weak in a particular command term, they can sort their revision and set priorities. It should allow for quick and focused differentation of exam preparation.

SortableSyllabus: IB Biology. Click to open and go to List View

Manga Guides & Comics in Education

This tweet from the IB World Magazine links to an interesting article:

It also reminded me of these Manga Guides to Physics, Statistics, Biochemistry, Mathematics by NoStarch, which were shared recently by Frank Noschese and Dr Tae. They’re translated from Japanese, and written in the Manga style by artists and experts in their field.

You can see some sample pages on Scribd:

They are funny, with some clear explainers and a narrative context for the content. You could recreate some of the situations or experiments in class, and use pages as a discussion (in a similar way to concept cartoons).

I do have some concern that the common thread through the books is of a young girl who doesn’t ‘get it’ and so needs the help of an “explaining male*” (typically nerdy, with glasses) to be able to understand – and the motivation seems to be to save grades or achieve romance. Does this reinforce gender stereotypes, or would high school students see through it as part of the narrative gimmick? Being in Japan, I often see my students and other young adults on trains reading comic books with similar artwork and, I assume, storylines. The style is commonplace here, but I do wonder how girls in other countries would react to the imagery.

I can see it being recommended as a supplement to differentiate the presentation of content for students who are into the comic book/ manga genres, rather than as a class text.

SampleQ from Manga Guide to Physics – similar to Concept Cartoons.


* Mother Jones article: the problem with men explaining things

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