Having just spent the past three weeks ploughing through 66 IA scripts perhaps now is as good a time as any to put out a few “tendrils” to see if colleagues are encountering the same issues as I. Thus, while some of the content within the following four blog posts will be phrased as “advice” or “tips”, I am more keen to get feedback and open-house comments than pass myself off as an “expert” in any way shape or form. In short, I am passing on what *I* and close colleagues have found to be efficient together with some personal comments. None of this came out of a burning bush.

I shall write an initial four posts dealing with IA: the first, here, on the usefulness of having students write about economics and how I attempt to help them and myself organise the process. Yes, a tad tedious and for many of you experienced teachers rather superfluous – yet, again, my intention here is not to “explain how things should be done” but rather toss a piece of kindling on a debate-fire already burning. Secondly I will, somewhat vaingloriously, put forward some advice and tips for new/inexperienced IB economics teachers on basic issues such as how to help students find articles and the difference between “analysis” and “evaluation” – something both I and many colleagues frequently discuss! The third post will be centred on the many pitfalls we teachers encounter along the way, such as dealing with feedback, creating a situation where students are not prone to miss deadlines, student collusion/plagiarism and so forth. The final piece brings up an increasingly common form of cheating that I honestly think will ultimately have to be dealt with in sledge-hammer style; the bane of tutors as co-authors. Hold your breath, for in that final piece I shall put forward that IA is quickly approaching the point where it either needs to be rescinded or done during final exam conditions – and I say the same about the extended essay.

The IA can be a most useful teaching tool! Yes, I remember clearly the subtle protestations some 16 years ago when the IA was first implemented in economics. With the shriek of a troglodyte cornered by a sabre-toothed tiger, many of use saw only burden and very little in the way of educational payback. Methinks we were quite wrong: the IA provides us with a lever to coerce students to THINK and convey these thoughts to an educated reader. The main strength of the IA as I see it is that simple textbook regurgitate simply will not cut the mustard – instead students must spend time pondering over real-life issues and how to “break-down and build-up” these scenarios in economic terms. This is the penultimate higher-order skills set in fact since the next step is doing the same for…ABB or the IMF. The IA clearly gleans the wheat from the chafe since students prone to rote-memorise tend to be outdone by students willing and able to think along imaginative and even “artistic” lines. Such is the world today that it is those pushing the envelope outside the box that become the Next Movement. (There is actually a degree of correlation between entrepreneurial success and dropping out of school – but let’s not tell our students this.)

I dare say that most teachers try to arm their students with as many weapons as possible before sending them to battle – in other words, we hold off on IA submission until the last moment in order that students have as much economics knowledge as possible before setting pen to paper. We also live on the opportunity cost knife edge of wanting to do as much practice as possible…within the confines of doable or humane levels of correctives and feedback.

Time line for the IA over IB1 and IB2

Assuming (rather North-centric says Lady Bell, my feisty 152.6 cm Aussie wife!) a school year from August to June, here is what *my* time line has looked like for the past years.

1. August Year 1: The IA is introduced during class for IB1 within the first week as “…an obligatory component comprising 20% of your total grade…where you get to put in almost as much time as you wish…” I make sure that all IB criteria and recent boundaries are on the home page for them, get Bell to paste my wall with a nice big blank section of poster paper – and then fill in the basic criteria with the help of the students. I make sure that silly drawings are included in that such are excellent “memory hooks” and, well, even teachers get to have fun.

WB - bell writes

Lady Bell often sneaks in to my room to leave coffee and cookies – and to add to my whiteboard.

I outline the time-line (with their acceptance of course) and this goes on the homepage for all to see. Never will I accept “…oh, I didn’t know the deadline…”

2. August – October Year 1: IA is referred to consistently during in-class economics scenarios where I use my daily BBC droplets to point out how/where one could use economic concepts and theory. I take pains to point out the grading criteria used. Students are issues with the “IA kit” and exemplar portfolios on line. At some point before IA hand-in number one we have a grading session on a few portfolios in class so they can get a “feel” for what the demands are. This replaces the “dry-run” I used to do…long ago…in the days of Yore and Ivied Castles all around…before I was swamped with students. There is simply no time.

3. October Year 1: IA number (usually micro) one deadline for first draft. Sent via school email addresses. I save as “IA nr 1 – Julia’s – feedback” and as soon as I am done with all of the IA scripts I send these back to the students via email. They then have one week to submit the final version in paper. This is the FINAL version.

4. April Year 1: IA number two, same procedure as above. By now we are well into macro and thus most write within this syllabus section.

5. November Year 2: IA number three, as above. I want both IA and EE finished before the Christmas holidays. This IA usually deals with either trade or development.

6. February Year 2: Final deadline set. This includes “replacement IA” (for any of the three the student wishes to replace – no feedback!) and a completed coversheet following a very strict template. More on this “replacement IA” in the next blog entry.

Unsurprisingly enough, you might say. Indeed, this is not rocket surgery. The students are in the most rigorous high school system in the world and are quite aware of the workload and demands. They simply want to know the rules of engagement. What…when…how…to do things to get the job done.

Next post: how to get students to put in effort, meet deadlines and generally get decent grades.