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The IB Diploma Sciences & NGSS Standards... can they even be Vertically Aligned?

I am currently in my 3rd year teaching the IB Diploma Biology course at Rabat American School (RAS) here in Morocco after teaching the IB DP Biology for one year at Colegio Internacional de Caracas (CIC) in Venezuela. The two schools use very different standards and follow very different programs in the pre-IB years. At CIC they follow the IB Middle Years Program from grades 6 - 10 which gives flexibility in the standards being chosen and allows for clear vertical alignment to the various IB Diploma Sciences... usually Biology, Chemistry and Physics at the very least. While at RAS we use American Common Core standards, namely the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which are much less flexible. To say that vertically aligning the Grades 6-10 program to the IB Diploma using these standards is challenging would be an understatement.

With hard work and careful planning it is possible to align the NGSS to the IB Diploma, but compromises must be made. It is my hope that this post will help any other teachers, administrators or curriculum coordinators working with the unlikely pair of NGSS & IBDP Sciences. I would like to outline some tips and tricks that have helped me develop a Grade 9 & 10 science program that both uses with the NGSS standards & prepares students for the IB Diploma.

Tip #1 Collaboration is Key

Whenever you are working on developing a new program, using new standards or changing up key resources it is vital that you check in with key collaborators. In the case of preparing students for the IB Diploma using NGSS standards in Grades 6-10 that means working closely with teachers on both ends of the program...middle school Science teachers and IB Diploma Science teachers. The NGSS High School standards are designed to be taught over a four year program, but when you are switching to the IB Diploma after only two years you have to cut about half of the standards.

Twin day for the High School Science team!

The key to making these decisions is to find a chunk of time for real collaboration in the department. At RAS we went through the list of NGSS standards for high school as a team, IB teachers selected which standards were must-dos to prepare students for the IB Diploma, middle school teachers helped us know which standards were taught in which sequence in the middle school and which would be brand new to our students. After a few science team meetings we were able to organize the NGSS High school standards into 14 units, 7 for Grade 9 Integrated Science and 7 for Grade 10 Integrated Science. While we are still tweaking the program this first step was absolutely critical to getting started the right way.

Tip #2 Focus on Skills

Inquiry skills are a key part of the NGSS and the IB Diploma, this is one area in which the overlap is significant and vertical alignment is much easier. That being said I have started to incorporate a few specific labs and skills into my courses to help my students be better prepared for the IB Sciences. One thing that you can do is to ask the IB Diploma teachers about the required practicals and then try to do labs in Grade 9 & 10 which will support developing those specific skills.

For example in Grade 9 we teach the classification of matter as part of our first Chemistry unit, I wanted to do a lab which demonstrates the physical separation of a mixture. In the past I have used a mixture of salt, sand and iron which students separate with magnets, filtration and boiling off water, and while this is a great lab for teaching a variety of skills and techniques I decided to change it up. As part of the IB DP Biology program students have to analyze photosynthetic pigments with chromatography, this is a physical separation technique which relies on the solubility of the pigments in the solvent. To help students prepare for this lab in Grade 9 we do a chromatography of inks lab, using markers... a much simpler version that still teaches lab skills and this choice means that should any of my Grade 9 students choose to take IB Biology they will already have experience with chromatography, albeit a much simpler version.

One of the most important components of the IB Sciences is the Internal Assessment (IA) worth 20% of a students final grade set by the IBO. This is a completely independent investigation that students design, conduct and analyze over 10 class hours resulting in a lab report about 12 pages long. Teachers are allowed to answer questions like "yes, we have a spectrophotometer" and provided feedback one time only in this entire process. For this reason students will need to be given greater responsibility and greater freedom in the lab throughout Grades 9 - 11 and be exposed to a variety of laboratory tools. By gradually increasing student responsibility and independence students will be able to develop these investigation skills under less pressure and with more teacher support before they tackle the IA.

The final lab in my Grade 10 Science course is an open lab about reaction rates, I provide students with a variety of chemical reactions they can choose to analyze and they are responsible for writing their procedures and materials list as well as requesting all the required materials. This has resulted in one of the messiest labs I have ever done, but the learning was exponential. I also choose to use things like a hot water bath or Vernier probeware throughout my labs in Grade 9 & Grade 10 so that students are aware of the possible tools they could use to help them when it is time for their IAs.

Tip #3 Integrate the Sciences!

Many schools following the NGSS standards over a full four year schedule tend to teach a year of Biology, a year of Chemistry, a year of Earth Science and a year of Physics in various sequences. At RAS we have chosen to integrate the Sciences as we only have two years to teach key knowledge and skills for all the IB Sciences. We have worked our year long courses into seven units per course, each with two units of Biology, two of Chemistry, two of Physics and one of Earth Science. By integrating the Sciences we are able to better prepare our students for all of the possible IB Science options and we are in a better position to support any students transferring into our school in Grades 9 or 10. Integrating the sciences also helps us to develop lab skills across the curriculum and help students make informed choices about which of the IB DP Science(s) they should take.

A final reason to integrate the Sciences is that it is our responsibility to not only prepare our students for the IB Diploma program, but to be well educated citizens of the world. When determining our units in Grade 9 & Grade 10 Science we were sure to include things like Genetics and Physiology as well as Climate Change so that students are prepared to make informed decisions about their own lives as well as those of their family members. While we do not offer Environmental Science at my school we felt that it was absolutely key to still include some Earth Science units both to prepare students to the IB Diploma connections and to make sure they are informed about issues with such global significance.

Thanks for reading teachers, travelers & curious souls of all kinds.

The Roaming Scientist



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying something new, new labs, new Apps, new scaffolds and even new countries to live and teach in. I'm looking forward to share what I learn with you all through my weekly blog posts. 

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