Category Archives: MYP

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.

What are we really learning from practical work?

As we study science, a lot of our time and resources are devoted to implementing an engaging practical scheme of work. Are we really making the most educational use of this time, these resources and the opportunities that we have? 

Teachers all over the world use experiments and demonstrations to engage students in the concept being taught. But does this actually improve student learning? Two recent videos have got me thinking about this issue, and before you read on you should watch them both.

The first is from UK science teacher & communicator Alom Shaha (@alomshaha), half the brains behind the website. The video was produced for the Nuffield Foundation’s new Practical Work for Learning resource. He refers to a number of research papers in the video, and is also one of the leaders of the #SciTeachJC (science teachers journal club) twitter discussion group.

Do you recognise those labs and how do you use them? Do the labs we do really help us teach the concepts we intend them to, and how can we rethink (or at least evaluate) our use of labs.

The second video is from US Chemistry teacher Tom Stelling (@ChemistTom), on his “vRant” about students asking to “blow something up” and the dangers of ‘wow’ demos as distraction rather than education.

Note: this post rambles a bit from here on. If you want to know more, please read on. Otherwise, all the good bits were in Alom & Tom’s videos. 

Read the rest of this entry

Student Science Writers: Environmental Issues

As we finish our Exploring Environments student-designed units, students have published blog posts for the science communication assessed task. In this task, assessed for Communication in Science, they had to pick a case study or current news item of interest and direct connection to their group’s unit. Using guidance, models of good science writing, GoogleDocs drafting (and for some, pointers from professional science writer Andy Revkin), they wrote short articles on their case study.

There’s no point writing for an audience of one, so… they are!

If you do visit and feel like posting a comment, remember that these are school students, and that your comments must be appropriate, constructive and positive.

“Changing Crops for a Changing Climate” Mark Lynas & a Nature Special on GMOs

Here is Mark Lynas at Cornell University, with his speech “Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory.” It runs almost half an hour, though he does have a transcript of the speech on his blog. The connections to IB Biology Genetics & Genetic Engineering here are obvious.

What should be noted for background is Lynas’ own story. In the 1990’s he was a prominent anti-GMO activist, but has recently apologised and is now on a mission to right the wrongs he feels he has done. It has not been easy, and has generated lots of controversy.

“Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.”

Powerful and provocative stuff – and a great stimulus for discussion and debate. Lynas refers to a lot of studies, claims and organisations in this speech. Students could follow this up with finding out more about each of them.

We might never be able to get students to the absolute truth on GMOs – we may find it difficult ourselves – but it is useful to give some insight into just how delicate the balancing act can be and how cloudy the discussions of ethics in science can get. The issues around GMOs are complex: scientific, political, ethical, economical, environmental. They are far more complex than a couple of short assessment statements in a Biology syllabus can really do justice.


Rise of the Superweeds. Click-through to the Nature Special.

Also recently, a very useful Nature special edition on GM Crops: the Promise & Reality. Look in for some in-depth articles and case-studies, including the true, the false and the still unknown on GM crops.

Nature articles often have presentations of data that can be used for data-based question practice (such as the one to the right – click through to see). Follow the patterns of the DBQ’s and make up your own questions based on different articles:

  • Identify
  • Describe the trend in…
  • Calculate the difference in…
  • Compare
  • Suggest reasons for…
  • Evaluate

Crash Course: How to Speak “Chemistrian”

In our Grade 9 Chemistry class we think of the subject as a great puzzle, leveling-up as we add new concepts. The key to the puzzle is the periodic table: learning your way around – and how describe what you know and interpret the descriptions of others.

In this video, from the Crash Course Chemistry series, Hank goes over:

  • Determining Formulas and Names of Monatomic Ions 2:06
  • Finding Cation-and Anion Forming Elements on the Periodic Table3:29
  • Writing Formulas and Naming Transition Metals 4:02
  • Naming Acids and their Anions 5:35

Hanging Out with Andy Revkin

“How do we head through nine billion people by around 2050 without really screwing up too much?”

Andy Revkin writes the DotEarth blog for the New York Times, and has been writing about the environment for almost thirty years. His topics are diverse (and his Twitter stream rich with links) and connected to much of what our students have chosen to explore in our current Environmental Sciences unit in Grade 10 (MYP5).*

He very kindly agreed to G+ Hangout with some students before school, to discuss science writing in general and how he masters his craft on the environment beat. We learned a lot from Andy, and loved his assertion that he is not a ‘doom and gloom’ writer, but that the environment is different, and more complex than we first thought.


Here are links to some of the ideas & issues he mentioned in the chat:


Andy chatting with the early arrivals on G+ Hangouts.

*As part of our current Grade 10 Environmental Science unit, students have broken into groups depending on their interests and IBDP Sciences choices. They have designed their own unit content, though assessment types are common – a lab they design, a test we’ll write based on their chosen assessment statements and a piece of science writing. I’ll dedicate a whole post to how the unit worked once we’re done.

For the science writing task, students are asked to find real-life articles, case-studies or stimulus materials that will provide a context for some of their content. We showed them some models, of great science writing, but I realised my Twitter lists were light on environment writers.

A quick tweet (and some follow-up emails) fixed all that:

Thanks again to Andy for chatting to us – it was a great opportunity to talk to a real pro.

It is also evidence, once again, that Twitter can be an amazing tool for classes and professional development.

Forces & Motion

As our G10 class get working on the Forces and Change in Motion unit, I thought it was time to update the resources to take advantage of the Stratos jump and try out GoogleDocs* and presentations embedded into WordPress.

This task was designed based on student feedback from the last unit test. Some students wanted more (!) test-like situations and practice with the criterion, so I put this together. Prior to this lesson we had some short discussion on prior knowledge on forces (based on sports day situations) and free body diagrams. The rest they were learning as they went along. It was more engaging than I expected – lots of reaching for whiteboards, cooperative arguments and research.

The presentation for the unit is first, with the stimulus video next and the task below.

Note: interestingly the GPresentation embedded fine, but the embedded GDoc lost its formatting. 

Birds of Paradise Project [Cornell Ornithology Lab]

Thanks to Celia, our librarian (@CeliaSchatzky) for sending me this!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (@CornellBirds) and National Geographic have been working on this documentary on the Birds of Paradise. A great connection to E6 Further Studies of Behaviour and the importance of protecting habitats.

Check it out (and then spend the rest of your day on their YouTube channel)

While we’re at it, here are the Lyre birds again, from BBC Worldwide.

Red Bull Stratos – Jumping from the Edge of Space

Felix Baumgartner is ready to jump! Follow the live feed below, or on the Red Bull Stratos website. His aim is to jump from the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier in freefall. Whoo!

Here’s a CGI simulation of what’s expected:

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