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Unit Planning in IBDP Environmental Systems & Societies (ESS)

We are now officially into my second unit of teaching Year One of IBDP ESS at my school here in Morocco and I am pretty happy with how our Topic 1 Unit went. I love how Topic 1 (Introduction to Environmental Systems & Societies) is such a great mix of the different types of knowledges and skills which are such a unique feature of the ESS course. The subtopics included are:

Subtopic 1.1 Environmental Value Systems

Subtopic 1.2 Systems & Models

Subtopic 1.3 Energy & Equilibria

Subtopic 1.4 Sustainability

Subtopic 1.5 Humans & Pollution

One of my favourite things about starting with Topic 1 is that it helps students who are uncertain if ESS is the right course for them to get a much better understanding of what the course is about. In Topic 1 we talk about philosophy, physics, models, music and do at least one lab...I very purposefully make sure to integrate the various different components of ESS to give students a real taste of the course. This was especially important this year as it is the first year ESS is being offered at my school, so those students who chose it didn't have the opportunity to talk to upper year students to get insights into the course. We had a lot of students switching into and out of ESS this year, which is to be expected; especially once they realize it's not the "easy science".

When planning out my unit sequence for this year I carefully thought about it and decided to work my way through the Topics in order (which is very different from how I teach IBDP Biology) and cover Topics 1 - 5 and start the IA in Year One and then finish up the IA and Topics 6 - 8 as well as exam review in Year Two. Here is the slide I shared with my students on the first day of class this year to give them an idea of the plan.

As you can see from the screenshot of the IBDP ESS Subject Guide below, each topic has a recommended number of hours used to teach it. I use this as a tool to help me plan out the number of classes I will spend on each topic, instead of counting hours (our class blocks vary from 85 minutes to 65 minutes depending on the day of the week) I convert the number of hours for each topic into a percentage then use the number of classes I have in a school year to figure out how many classes I should be spending on each topic.

For example:

  • Topic 1 is 16/120 hours, or about 11% of the course

  • In Year 1 at my school I have about 75 classes and in Year 2 I will have about 37 classes before we should begin exam review

  • So 11% of 112 classes is about 12 days, the unit plan you will find below was designed to be completed in 12 classes

  • An important note is that the 20 hours of practical activities are not included in this calculation, so keep them separate if you plan to do a few big lab days

Once I decided on the sequence of units and about how many I could probably cover in my first year it was time to get into the details of planning my first unit. I have shared my unit plan from this unit below in case you might find it helpful. You will notice that I allowed for two days on each of the five subtopics, and a review day before the test, I also always do a quiz in the middle of the unit, this is an important feedback opportunity for students and myself, so we can clear up any misunderstandings before the unit test. As part of this unit I had to create a couple of assignments, the first was the Music, Culture & the Environment Assignment for Subtopic 1.1 Environmental Value Systems, and the other was a Ground Pollution lab I used for Subtopic 1.5 and to practice lab skills, both of which worked out really well and can now be found in my TPT shop.

11DP ESS Topic 1 Unit Plan SY23_24
Download DOCX • 22KB

I hope you found this post helpful and that your experience teaching ESS is as enjoyable as mine has been so far!

Thanks for reading teachers, travelers and 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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