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The New IBDP ESS Course: An Overview for Prospective Students

It's time for a new syllabus for ESS and if you teach both ESS and Biology like I do it can feel like a lot all at once. But there's good news, there's a lot of overlap from the old course to the new and we are finally getting an HL course option! This is an exciting course with some really interesting new components that I am excited to share about and teach next year.


What is IBDP Environmental Systems & Societies (ESS)?


IBDP Environmental Systems & Societies is a unique course in the IB Diploma in that it can be considered part of Group 3: Individuals & Societies or Group 4: Sciences. This means that students who are more science-inclined can take up to 3 sciences if they choose ESS as their Group 3 course and those who are not so "sciencey" can avoid a more formal laboratory science is they choose ESS as their Group 4 course.


While ESS is NOT a laboratory science course it is still very challenging, like all IBDP courses. In my opinion, what makes it so challenging is that students need to think as both a scientist and a social scientist... but not just one branch of science or social science either... ESS includes some Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and even some Physics as well as Economics, Sociology, Psychology, Law, International Relations and History. This is a uniquely interesting and challenging course due to these diverse ways of knowing and types of knowledge which must all be considered concurrently in the course following a systems approach.


Topics Covered:

The IBDP ESS course is organized by different topics, each of which is discussed from a scientific and societal perspective, in this new course most topics have HL extensions for HL students, the only exception being Topic 1 Foundation which discusses environmental and societal perspectives, systems and sustainability.


The full list of topics includes:

  • Topic 1 Foundation (16 hours)

  • Topic 2 Ecology (22 hours SL/35 hours HL)

  • Topic 3 Biodiversity & conservation (13 hours SL/25 hours HL)

  • Topic 4 Water (12 hours SL/25 hours HL)

  • Topic 5 Land (8 hours SL/15 hours HL)

  • Topic 6 Atmosphere & Climate Change (10 hours SL/23 hours HL)

  • Topic 7 Natural Resources (10 hours SL/18 hours HL)

  • Topic 8 Human Populations & Urban systems (9 hours SL/15 hours HL)


Higher Level students will also apply three HL Lenses to the content, they are:

  • Environmental Law (5 hours)

  • Environmental Economics (7 hours)

  • Environmental Justice (5 hours)


Total course hours: 150 hours for SL students & 240 hours for HL students


I will write a full blog post about the HL lenses later, once I learn more about them as they are a very new part of the course.


Experimental Program:

Since ESS is listed as a Group 4 course (Sciences) it includes 50 hours of practical work, although this work should include a mix of social science and laboratory science techniques. It includes:

  • 30 hours of practical work chosen by the teacher

    • This will most likely include:

      • field work for transect sampling, water testing and soil analysis studies

      • laboratory investigations in class of different concepts such as: ecosystem productivity, ocean currents & natural selection

      • questionnaires and surveys completed about things like environmental value systems, food preferences and energy use

      • analysis of secondary data from databases about resource consumption, air quality and climate data

  • 10 hours for the Collaborative Sciences project

  • 10 hours for the Individual Investigation (worth 20 or 25% of students final grade)


IBDP ESS Assessment:

Most IB schools will provide students with transcripts and grades based on their performance during the course as part of their high school diploma requirements, these are unique to each school. However, the IBDP grade in ESS is the same for students all over the world and it includes:


For Standard-level (SL students):

  • Exam Paper 1 (25% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • 1 hour in length

    • 35 marks total

    • Includes analysis and evaluation of provided data in a case study

  • Exam Paper 2 (50% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • 2 hours in length

    • 60 marks total

    • Section A (40 marks) includes short answer and data-based questions

    • Section B (20 marks) requires students to answer one structured essay question from a choice of two

  • Internal Assessment (25% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • This is an individual investigation which can be undertaken from a social sciences, laboratory sciences or mixed methods approach

    • It will be assessed by the teacher, but moderated by the IBO

    • 30 marks total

    • 10 hours of class time to complete


For Higher-level (HL students): 

  • Exam Paper 1 (30% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • 2 hours in length

    • 70 marks total

    • Includes analysis and evaluation of provided data in a case study

  • Exam Paper 2 (50% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • 2.5 hours in length

    • 80 marks total

    • Section A (40 marks) includes short answer and data-based questions

    • Section B (40 marks) requires students to answer two structured essay questions from a choice of three, each question is worth 20 marks

  • Internal Assessment (20% of IBDP ESS grade)

    • This is an individual investigation which can be undertaken from a social sciences, laboratory sciences or mixed methods approach

    • It will be assessed by the teacher, but moderated by the IBO

    • 30 marks total

    • 10 hours of class time to complete


My school here in Morocco recently hosted an IB Pathways student & parent night to help our Grade 10 students make a choice about their IBDP courses next year and I made an infographic to help inform students and parents about the new IBDP ESS course (you can see screenshots above). It is free for download below, I hope it helps your students to understand the new course. If you would like a similar document for the new IBDP Biology course, you can find it in another blog post here.


IB DP ESS Course Info New Syllabus
.pdf
Download PDF • 2.10MB

I hope you find this post helpful and that your journey with the new IBDP ESS course is smooth sailing.



As always, thanks for reading teachers, travelers and curious souls of all kinds.


The Roaming Scientist





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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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