Starting up the school year one more time…and once again I am struck by the trade-off issues arising in putting together the ‘optimal’ first-year syllabus plan for IB economics students.

Ceteris paribus, it boils down to a choice between:

I) Following the syllabus in a fairly straightforward manner. This has a ‘return’ of rational progression through the syllabus plus enabling the mobility between countries/schools that is the forte of the IB.

II) Building a syllabus plan where the basics – yes, this gets definitional and thus tricky! – from all four syllabus sections are covered during the first year. The advantage here is that one gives students a bit of an advantage in dealing with both Internal Assessment (IA) and the extended essay (EE) in economics.

Alternative I would look something like this:

Section 1; micro (August – February)

  • Basic micro for HL/SL (Section 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3)
  • HL concepts from above sections (linear functions)
  • Theory of the firm (ToF) where SL attends the sections on marginal cost (Section 1.5)
  • Market failure for HL/SL (Section 1.4)

Section 2; macro (March – June, August – September)

  • Basic macro for HL/SL (2.1 – 2.6)
  • HL content (Keynesian multiplier, calculating GDP, GNI, CPI…etc)

My reasoning for not following the syllabus in linear fashion here is simply that many students find the concept of ‘marginal’ something of a challenge – especially the link between firms’ costs and the marginal private/social costs (MPC/MSC) so central to the concept of market failure. Thus, I make sure that SL students do at least an initial week of ToF together with HL students in order to understand the basic issue of diminishing returns and the MC curve for the individual firm. It makes it easier for students to understand why any given market supply curve can be ‘split’ into private and social costs.

I also take pains to do as much of the HL calculation content in one big pile (several weeks) rather than lots of little piles (say, one HL hour per week over a few months). My reasoning is that it is simply a lot to ask that HL students should remember details from material covered a week earlier – I would spend half of every lesson revising! Also, I think it’s only fair to SL students that they are subjected to a standard level syllabus in terms of time management. They six weeks I take for ToF during Dec/Jan give SL students  ample free periods for IA/revision in other subjects. My contribution to holism basically.

Alternative II, which was my choice for many years, would look something like this:

Section 1; micro (August – November)

  • Basic micro for HL/SL (Section 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3)

Section 2; macro (November – February)

  • Basic macro for HL/SL (Section 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3)

Section 3; international trade (February – April)

  • Basic trade theory for HL/SL (Section 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3)

Section 4; micro (May – June)

  • Basic development for HL/SL (Section 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3)

The advantage 0f breaking the syllabus up in this manner is simply that by the end of the first year, students have a broad understanding of economics rather than in-depth knowledge of microeconomics. By the time students are choosing EE topics during the latter part of the first IB year, they are equipped with a greater array of economic concepts and are therefore given a broader range of EE topics to chose from.

The disadvantage is of course that, in the words of my economics colleague, students might find the ‘atomistic’ approach confusing. My main concern is that since many of our rather geographically mobile students move schools between IB1 and IB2, they would not be in line with the more standard-issue progression outlined in Alternative I above.

One is thus presented with the trade-off between the benefits of standardisation (Alternative I) and the benefits of a broader range of choice for economics EE students (Alternative II).

It would be interesting if you, my colleagues, have a good  solution!