The transition from one curriculum to the next happens every seven years, and despite all preparation, it is always a challenging year: there are two sets of syllabi and two sets of assessments.

The most dramatic content-based changes come in the Prescribed Subjects.  Although this can cause anxiety, it is also the area where there is less focus on content and more focus on skills.  You may need to adjust the content you focus on, but the skill set is largely the same so this is the place where it is easiest to make a leap to less familiar territory.  The cost of purchasing new materials may be a deterrent for trying something new but the availability of valid source material on the Internet increases every day, and a bit of ingenuity and research could yield more than you may ever use.

A novice teacher may ask: What are Prescribed Subjects?  For first year IB students there are five Prescribed Subjects that any school can choose to cover.  These are content areas that correspond to a source-based test and the acquisition of source-based skills.  The IB recommends you spend 40 hours on this part of the curriculum – that generally translates into 6 to 8 weeks on these subjects, both in teaching appropriate skills and providing  enough content that your students will have a good understanding of the material you will be asked to evaluate.

The Prescribed Subjects for first examinations in 2017 are:

  • Military leaders
  • Conquest and its impact
  • The move to global war
  • Rights and protest
  • Conflict and intervention
  • With each of these subjects, there are two case studies, each from a different region. For example, with military leaders, the two case studies are Richard I and Genghis Khan. To fulfill the curricular requirements students must have knowledge of both of them.  Both case studies have material for detail study that is divided into three categories.  So, for Conquest and its impact, the material is divided into: Context and motives;  Key events and actors; and impact.  Then, for each case study there are further details.  In the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru, the material in Key events includes Hernán Cortés and the campaign against the Aztec Empire; alliances with indigenous populations;  and Francisco Pizarro and the campaign against the Incas; alliances with indigenous populations; and the Key  actors are Diego de Almagro, Malinche, Atahualpa, Moctezuma II; and Las Casas against Sepúlveda.

Students need to know all of the material in all of the bullet points so that you will be prepared with any content area that may appear on the exam.  While there is no comparison of the two case studies in the material, it is assumed that teachers will make connections and draw comparisons across the two.  In most IB classes the students will do this naturally; the material for detailed study makes this highly accessible if not inevitable.

If you recall, there are three main components in History: skills, concepts and content.  The Prescribed Subject is the most skills-heavy part of the curriculum.  It is expected that you will teach historical skills through this the content.  If you choose to focus on the Global move to war, you should provide students with a variety of sources relevant to the case studies.  These sources may include official documents such as the Lytton Report to the League of Nations regarding the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, along with a historian’s account of the events.  Not only should students understand the content and be able to explain it in their own words, but they also need to understand the importance of the provenance of sources, including the motivation for their generation, and students should be able to both evaluate them and use the information in them to respond to bigger picture questions.  The skills for the Prescribed Subjects may be introduced and reinforced in other units, but the extent of the sources you expose students to in this subject will help them in source-based exam.