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Thoughts on IB Program?

  1. Jun 8, 2009 #1
    So my school is offering the IB (International Baccalaureate) program starting next year, and I'm wondering if anyone here has any experience with it, particularly the math. I can't ask anyone too closely affiliated with the program because they make outrageous claims (like how at their school most of the students entering the high level math program as juniors have already taken BC Calculus) and I never seem to meet anyone who has a clue about math anyway. I'll tell you my current thoughts and maybe someone here can set me straight if I'm wrong.

    At the lower end, Math Studies, I'm extremely disappointed. I've browsed through a book written by experienced IB educators and can't believe how bad it is. First of all, it's a math book written by high school teachers and, self-deprecating as it may seem, that's a huge red flag for me. Almost nothing is proved, explanations are lacking, calculator use is emphasized to the extreme, and the not so subtle message to the student is that math is not for you. I'd give examples, but they're too numerous- assume that absolutely nothing is proved and you'll have a pretty accurate understanding of the book. Sometimes it directs you to a site for further information, and the site has links to wikipedia:rolleyes:. Wikipedia is usually pretty good when it comes to math, but it's just unprofessional.

    Of course this could just be a bad book, but from what I gather it's typical of the Math Studies program. It seems significantly less advanced than a typical high school progression of Algebra, Geometry, and Trig, and calculators are used mindlessly and often.

    At the other extreme, HL math, I must say I'm pretty impressed. I think it places too much emphasis on Statistics and not enough on Linear Algebra, but overall it's good. It's harder than the typical high school math experience, covers a little more calculus than AB Calc, and has plenty of proofs. I can also teach the basics of group theory (the very basics, up to maybe Lagrange's theorem). I'm actually worried that this course is too hard. Of course there will be people who can do it at any school, but there will be ten times more who are forced into the course by their parents who think their kid is a math genius. I'm also not sure I'm the right person to teach group theory. I'd rather they learn it from a better mathematician haha.

    Am I right about these two extremes? I'd very much appreciate any comments from an experienced IB teacher.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 8, 2009 #2
    I have just graduated from the IB program. I currently go (or went, I suppose) to one of the best IB schools in British Columbia. I took math SL, but that's because I didn't get into my "academic rhythm", or however you want to call it, back in grade 11 when we were choosing courses. I suspect I can do fairly well in math HL.

    Unless you are not planning to take science or engineering in university, do not take math studies. It's pathetic. It's for people who plan on having nothing to do with math beyond counting change once they graduate high school.

    Math SL is (supposedly quite a bit) more difficult than the standard BC provincial math course, and if you get a 6 or 7 on it then you should be able to handle the math required for any science or engineering course.

    As far as I can tell, you're generally right about math HL. I do not know the specifics, such as whether it focuses on statistics too much.

    Reading your penultimate paragraph again, and actually looking at which forum this thread is in, are you a teacher? If so, then I suspect the information in this post isn't useful to you at all, and I apologize.
  4. Jun 8, 2009 #3
    Actually it was very useful. I should have said teachers or students, since they'll have differing views.

    Well, I'm glad that I seem to have a rough overview of the levels since I'll be teaching them this year. I'm sad to hear that I'm right about math studies. It's terrible that just because a 15 or 16 year old isn't interested in math they're effectively cut off from it forever. A graduate of math studies will be severely disadvantaged if she (IB would be absolutely giddy that I'm mixing up my pronouns) decides to get into math later on.

    But I'm teaching the course, so maybe I can do something about that *evil laugh*
  5. Jun 8, 2009 #4
    Math studies is supposed to teach the students math that should theoretically be very useful in every day life. They're taught some statistics that math SL and math HL people don't learn, but from what I've heard mostly on a *press these buttons on a calculator* level. However, that may be because the math studies students that I've asked about this are....unmotivated and apathetic, to say the least. It is possible for a student to switch between different levels of math, but at my school I think people have only moved down (many math HL people dropped down to SL).

    My TOK teacher once said that the goal of math studies and what they actually teach are a bit out of sync. The students should be taught things like how to split the bill. http://www.theonion.com/content/node/52324
  6. Jun 13, 2009 #5
    I do not think Math SL or HL is at the same standard as the AP exams. Correct me if I'm wrong though. Maybe getting a 5 on the AP exams is easier, but a lot of people who take IB don't cover what people who take APs cover. Even then, it depends on the school. Like my school offers its own diploma, unlike other schools which offer an ib diploma. I always thought the IB system was more for people who want to go into majors like political sciences in the future. Even my Physics Olympiad Trainer, who actually teaches at one of the best IB schools in the world, ACS Independent in Singapore, agrees that the AP system is a bit more "math and science oriented" than the IB system.

    Again, I am not very sure about this. Just what I think, so correct me if i'm wrong.
  7. Jun 13, 2009 #6
    Well you can pick and choose more with AP classes, so in that sense they may be better. But I think HL math is better than AP Calculus. Look at the AP free response questions (the harder part of the test) for the past 6 or 7 years. They're all pretty much the same routine problems recycled.

    IB representatives would have you believe that the kids are ready for a phd when they graduate, but if you ignore them and look at what the program offers, at least HL, then it still does look better than AP to me. And if it isn't, then I'll make it better :smile:.

    Oh well, I guess I find out all the details next year. Thanks for the feedback.
  8. Jun 13, 2009 #7
    I'm not very familiar with the AP system, but like Tobias said, that may be due to how students can pick more science and math related classes in the AP system. In a few years though, another math course shall be available in the IB program (I think it's called Further Math?). This means that a student can take both math HL and the new math course, so it's essentially for very math oriented people.

    Anyway, I think the AP system is more US oriented, and the US focuses on different things than the IB and Canadian systems. For example, Canadian schools (at least, most of them) and IB don't cover conics at all.
  9. Jun 15, 2009 #8
    I think it depends on the school. Some schools would cover the content very rigorously even before the AP exam, and AP exam is not actually the determinant factor. The determinant factor is the exam mark they have in their school, like mine. After we learn stuff like Calculus and Statistics, or calculus based physics in school, the AP exams become a joke, and everyone gets a 5 for Calculus, Statistics, Physics B, Physics C and Chemistry except about 2 or 3 people each year out of a cohort of over a 100.

    I just mean that schools where APs are done can be taught more rigorously while in IB, you have to follow a certain sequence in the 2 years and there is little room for a deeper study of the subject, and furthermore, you can take the APs whenever you want.

    But not to argue, I just think that for people who want to go into math and science in the future, APs are a tad bit better than IB. I heard IB english is really hard, but after looking at a few of the IB books for Math and Science, I was really disappointed.
  10. Jun 15, 2009 #9


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    I graduated with an IB diploma, including a good score in Math HL, back in 1997. (I can't remember the scoring system anymore, but it translated into a 4 on the AP Calc BC exam.) I don't know how the program has changed in the last ten years, but I had plenty of mathematics available to me, albeit only from a single teacher. My entire program had about 500 students, about 50 in the senior year, about half of whom obtained IB diplomas. Of those, only five or ten took took Math HL.

    So, probably 10-20% of the graduating students had an emphasis on math, which seems good to me -- there are many excellent careers which use only basic math, after all. I don't know how representative my school was, though.

    I was definitely well-prepared for college math, able to jump right into a Calc II class at Virginia Tech with no problems. I was probably a semester or two ahead of most of my peers in college in terms of my math classes, which came in very handy for my engineering degree. I suspect that mathematics majors are pretty similar to engineering majors for the first couple of years, so I think I would have been well-prepared for a math major, too.

    edit: And for those of you who say it's more focused on humanities than math and science, you might be right -- I scored about evenly on math and verbal standardized tests (SAT, GRE). As long as humanities are not taught at the expense of math and science, though, I really do think that high-schoolers benefit from a broad curriculum that highlights critical thought and social understanding, rather than just directly-marketable skills. The students who will do best in college are those who are already familiar with its wide horizons and cosmopolitan nature.

    - Warren
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2009
  11. Jun 16, 2009 #10


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    I just want to chime in with my agreement to this statement. I have no experience with IB, so can't comment on it at all. My school, a long time ago, offered AP courses, and you could pick and choose among them, which was good in that you could focus on your strongest subjects with AP courses, and not take AP in subjects in which you were weaker and needed the slower pace. Though, most seniors bound for top universities tried to fill their schedule with AP courses.

    Regardless of the classes offered, I think the best thing any high school can do is recognize that their students have a wide variety of abilities, interests, goals and ambitions, and to offer a variety of courses that suit the needs associated with those. Offer challenging courses for the advanced students who are bound for top universities, intermediate subjects for those who are bound for lower tier colleges and universities and can't quite handle the very advanced material yet, and easier courses for those who are not going to get further education and plan to immediately enter the workforce after high school. If you offer a few different tiers of education, regardless of what they are formally called, you'll best serve the needs of your student population.
  12. Aug 1, 2009 #11
    I am entering my second year of IB. I would like to say that while I do like it I found it limiting. It tries so hard to make you well rounded and it is somewhat annoying. However, I think its a good program.

    My school doesn't offer IB Math as an HL course (only SL), but it was worth it to take it. The pace of my class was through the roof and we caught up to the same level as the Advanced Math kids.

    On the History and English front. I wish I was able to take AP courses.

    IB Music is a joke... its basically musicology for dummies. The more theory you put into the exam the worse you do, because you spend less time on the basics... (eg this compositions contains a text. If i didn't say that I would fail.)
  13. Aug 1, 2009 #12
    Once upon a time I was HL: Math, Chemistry, English; SL: Physics, Economics, French. (Now ironically I'm a physics grad student). Unfortunately the uni I went to didn't take IB transfer credits for my HL's but I have to say I was laughing through my first year and a half of uni. Even SL courses give you a leg up over the standard so I'd recommend it.
  14. Aug 1, 2009 #13
    Not to mention the Extended Essay... Which is my current torturer. If i can get most of it done before school starts I can teach my self AP physics YAY.
  15. Aug 2, 2009 #14


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    I literally have no idea about the IB program. Can anyone here give me the basics of it?
  16. Aug 6, 2009 #15
  17. Aug 6, 2009 #16
    i recently graduated from ib program and i took hl math, physics, and chemistry. all got 7. honestly i find those HLs easy and not challenging enough. if you are thinking of taking up science or engineering later on then ib is NOT for you. yes i am not kidding, ib science subjects are that bad. the focus is way too much on humanities subjects. i am seriously regretting my decision of doing ib instead of a level right now as i realize that the science subjects taught in a level are more in depth and challenging. a friend of mine who didnt do too well in math during his secondary school days even managed to get 7 for math HL. so i dont think you should be worried about the difficulty of the subjects at all. the thing that you should be worried instead is the workload. ib has lots of projects that take hell lots of time. and you should NEVER procrastinate until the last minute or you would end up regretting it like i did. i spent straight 3 days without sleeping trying to desperately wrap up my Extended Essay just before the deadline.
  18. Aug 10, 2009 #17
    From what I've hear from my old high school math teacher (my old high school recently adopted IB as well) I understand that, for math at least, you cover a wider range of mathematical topics, but never in as much depth as the AP program goes. Once again this is coming from a teacher who has taught 5-6 years of AP statistics and calculus bc and a year of IB math.
  19. Aug 11, 2009 #18


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    One of my friends who is enrolled in an IB program says that he's taking Math HL 2 this year, and it covers multi-dimensional calculus and linear algebra.
  20. Aug 11, 2009 #19
    That sounds right from what I've seen. Unfortunately, in the lower level math classes, "covering" a topic often consists of teaching them the right buttons to push on a calculator.

    Is HL 2 a continuation of HL or do you mean the second year of HL? I know that there's a little linear algebra involved, going up to determinants and linear transformations, but I've never seen multivariable calculus on a syllabus for HL. The closest I've seen is describing lines and planes in R^3.
  21. Aug 11, 2009 #20


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    Here's a quick description of the course he's taking this year:

    Mathematics - IB HL 2
    Prerequisite: AP Calculus BC

    This is a second year calculus course. Concepts covered include derivatives and partial
    derivatives with their application in two and three dimensions, vectors in two and three
    dimensions, multivariable integration, and differential equations of first and second order.
    The second semester will include topics from linear algebra.

    I am totally clueless about the HL curriculum, so I have no idea about the overall scope of the course. My friend just said that they're doing "multivariable calculus" and linear algebra this year. The above is the official course description from their course catalog.
  22. Aug 11, 2009 #21
    Partial derivatives and multivariable integration is a sure sign that they are doing multivariable calculus.
  23. Aug 13, 2009 #22
    Calculus beyond the level of AP Calculus BC is not in the HL Math curriculum.
  24. Aug 13, 2009 #23
    I believe they said "HL 2"...

    However, I have never heard of Math HL 2. There is a Further Math SL (that is often taken with the Math HL), but from what I have read, it does not contain multi-var Calculus.

  25. Mar 22, 2010 #24
  26. Apr 26, 2010 #25
    I graduated from a full I.B. school in Michigan in 2008, and I have to say it was one of the best experiences I have had. I took Math, Physics and Chemistry HL and got 6's. Everything else... doesn't matter :)

    In my view, the IB philosophy is much more admirable than AP. Essentially, it tries to make its students global citizens. This is why a foreign language, history, TOK, are all required. Also, there is no such thing as an "AP Program" - AP are just classes, while for an IB certificate, you need many components, including Extended Essay and TOK.

    For everyone that says that the IB is not as advanced as AP, I would staunchly disagree. All my friends at "normal" high schools always looked at our stuff, and complained how hard it was. For example, for Chemistry, we covered SN1, SN2, biochem, friedal crafts, nitration. Mathwise, HL covers most of Calc II, there is 1 or 2 topics that we do not cover.

    I really think what sums of the IB program is depth over AP's breadth. In the AP program, students are expected to know a lot of material, but not the rationale behind them. IB students can answer short-answer questions exactly the same way a teacher would.
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