With the new syllabus I do like the concept of having extensions to the core approaches: this is a well thought-out practical solution to deal with the many different SL/HL scheduling issues that IB teachers face. It gives us more flexibility in planning how we differentiate between SL and HL courses in the many ways we all approach the course

But the trade-off is a very unfortunate 30% reduction in hours for the options. Coupled with the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any fewer topics in the new options, this poses quite a challenge.

The IB exam team in Cardiff have made life a little easier by having one question from each of the three “topics” for each option; this means that students could completely ignore one or even two of the topics and just focus all their efforts on one. For example, in human relationships they might not study personal relationships and could instead focus on group dynamics and/or social responsibility. This does make revision somewhat more manageable.

And we can go one further to reduce surface level content and increase time for developing deep understanding by combining the topics within the options. For example, in the personal relationships topic (which we cover in our “Love and Marriage” themantic unit) there are two topics that can be addressed with the same research. Those topics are “the role of communication” and “explanations for why relationships may change or end.” Dr. John Gottman has spent decades researching the communication styles of satisfied and dissatisfied married couples and has devised his “four horsemen” theory of communication styles as a result. The role of communication in maintaining relationships (i.e. how communication styles can help maintain satisfaction in marriage, or not as the case may be) can be explained using Gottman’s research. The counter-point can also be made, that negative communication styles (the “four horsemen”) can be the explanation for why relationships change (marital satisfaction decreases) or end (divorce). The same, or at the very least conceptually very similar, research can be used to address two potential topics in one: communication can affect relationships and can also explain why they change and/or end.

Another example from the same option topic and one that we cover in IB Psychology A Student’s Guide has to do with combining conflict, competition, cooperation and conflict resolution. Realistic group conflict theory and the Robber’s Cave experiment can be used to explain the effects of competition, and those effects are that it leads to conflict. But on the other hand, the theory also stipulates (along with the contact hypothesis) that cooperation can be a conflict reduction strategy. By cutting down on the building blocks (e.g. studies) you are allowing students more time to make stronger connections and develop deeper understanding of significant relationships between variables and behaviour.

Again, while it might seem like I’m just trying to be “sneaky” and to take short-cuts, there are twelve topics to teach in the human relationships unit in twenty hours. That is a lot, to say the least. Moreover, with each of those concepts students must understand at least two separate types of relevant variables: biological, cognitive and/or sociocultural. So to take “formation of relationships,” for instance, one needs to teach:

  • a biological variable
  • a cognitive and/or sociocultural variable
  • the supporting research
  • the methods used
  • the relevant ethical considerations in the research.

All this in approximately two hours. So I hope you’ll understand why I am trying to find conceptual links within the topics in the options in order to reduce building blocks and increase understanding of relationship chains.

Frankly, it’s the only way we’ll enable students to be able to write answers that go beyond description.