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This is student abuse. - helen-louise
This is student abuse.
I have a new student, who is taking the International Baccalaureate Higher Level in Chemistry. Now, I'm dubious about the IB Higher Level at the best of times: firstly because it is so very much harder than any of the A-levels in chemistry, and secondly because in IB students take six subjects plus "theory of knowledge" instead of the usual three to four. It seems like a very hard course for a student to tackle in only two years. (The IB Standard Level Chemistry is ok - somewhere between AS and A2-level in difficulty, as it should be under the circumstances). But, oh my $deity - her particular school has managed to turn a difficult course into a complete disaster.

The normal six subjects in IB are: home language, a second language, maths, an experimental science, a social science and a creative arts subject. You need to take three subjects at Standard Level and three at Higher Level. It is possible to take a second experimental or social science instead of the arts subject, so I often have students come to me who are taking Biology HL and Chemistry SL, or very rarely the other way round.

My student wanted to take a normal IB type mix of subjects: English, French, maths, biology, psychology and history. But her college first of all insisted that anyone who wanted to take Biology had to also take Chemistry. That would be a bit of a stretch even for A-level - while chemistry is certainly rather useful for understanding biology, it wasn't essential to take it even back when I was doing A-levels. And it's entirely inappropriate for IB because the IB Diploma subjects stand independently - the only programme necessity is that you take, at the very least, math studies along with your science (and that's because you have to take mathematics of some sort).

Then, the college insisted that the science subjects were only going to be offered at Higher Level! Note what I said earlier: "I often have students come to me who are taking Biology HL and Chemistry SL". I've taught students from three different IB Diploma schools, and always the expectation has been that if you take double experimental science you do one at HL and one at SL. I think in the old syllabus (2001-2006) it was even essential for you to take one at Standard Level - I believe that special permission was needed from the IBO to take two at Higher Level. If a student was to take two sciences at Higher Level, they would be the sort of student who was expected to go to one of the best scientific universities in the world - Imperial, Cambridge, MIT, etc. It wouldn't be something you'd inflict on all your students!

Then, the college attempted to teach IB Chemistry alongside A-level Chemistry - using the same teachers and textbooks. So teachers who were not specialised in the IB style of doing things were expected to adapt to the syllabus for some of their classes, while doing standard A-level teaching in the others. Ummm... (Yes, I know I'm not specially trained to teach IB either - but I'm a tutor and the expectation is that I can teach anything. Give me a syllabus and I'll teach it. My work really is rather different from classroom teaching. I can adapt to whatever because I'm only dealing with one or two students at a time - but I'd find it very difficult to teach both A-level and IB together, as the whole philosophy of the exam system is different.)

Finally, the textbook the college decided to use was... the Salters textbooks, "Chemical Ideas" and "Chemical Storylines". WTF?

My WTF? won't make much sense to most of you because you're not chemistry teachers or students in the UK. The Salters A-level course is actually rather good, but completely unlike any other chemistry course. It's based around medicine and industry and focuses on the use of chemistry in everyday life - chemicals that we see, touch and eat. It's great for students who want to go on to do medicine, chemical engineering or pharmacology, and not so good for students who want to do straight chemistry at university. I've got to like it over the years because its exams are so much easier than any other syllabus (it is perhaps the only chemistry A-level that is properly differentiated across the ability range. An A-grade student or an E-grade student can both take and enjoy the course and get the marks they deserve - rather than the situation with, say, AQA where the exams are so difficult that even a C-grade student struggles horrendously to get any marks).

But as a general textbook for teaching chemistry to the IB syllabus? COMPLETELY inappropriate. The best analogy I can think of is that it's like teaching the programming language C using a C++ textbook - kind of the same thing, but not really. Or possibly, using ancient Greek to teach modern Greek, or using Shakespearian English to teach speakers of English as an additional language.

And then, of course, a thing that will surprise you not at all: her college is so behind with teaching the IB syllabus that they have covered only around half of the core topics, and none at all of the option topics. And the exam is in May.

And who gets to clean up the mess? Me. Hopefully with the able assistance of the student herself, or else we'll all be screwed.

Current Mood: pissed off pissed off

2 comments or Leave a comment
barakta From: barakta Date: 15th December 2008 21:52 (UTC) (Link)

I was a Salters chemistry student and it is HOPELESS for actual chemistry - doesn't go into enough theory in anything like enough depth. Fine for applied. Useless for theoretical.

As I understand it the IB is much more theoretical than even the A-level *shudder*.

Idiots. Is there any way you could encourage the student to complain about her college? That's insane.
36 From: 36 Date: 15th December 2008 22:22 (UTC) (Link)
Sounds dreadful and extremely badly planned :/

As an analogy I'd say it's more like using a Java textbook to teach C - trust me, Java is high level and practical and can be taught intuitively but leaves you completely unable to do anything low level like memory pointers and garbage collection, or write an efficient algorithm, all of which are basic to C.
2 comments or Leave a comment