The latest subject report for the IB examination from May 2014 was eagerly awaited by colleagues as this was the first time the new syllabus was examined. Another reason for interest was to check and compare our understanding and practice in developing the newly introduced type of internal assessment for HL and SL – the mathematical exploration.

Almost at the same time with the appearance of the May 2014 Subject reports on the OCC two other important documents were published regarding the exploration – Additional Notes and Guidance on the Exploration (respectively for Higher and Standard levels).

This post will focus mainly on the part relevant to the IA, it necessarily presents only a personal reflection on the relevant part of the subject reports and certainly does not aim at a thorough discussion of all important elements in it. It would be great to have more comments on what colleagues found important and relevant for their future work.

The moderated results for the exploration for HL came as quite a surprise to many colleagues which is evidenced by a vibrant discussion on the OCC Forum (it already has some 30 comments and over 850 views). A number of colleagues seem to be disheartened and confused by the process and will certainly welcome the appearance of the additional notes. It is curious that the SL forum does not have a similar thread on the results of moderation (rather a rich thread on resources and ideas).

As far as I can see the main advice in the subject report regarding the exploration is focused around several points.

  • The need for proper referencing of sources – Unfortunately many explorations lacked citations. This requirement needs to be made clearly known to all teachers; otherwise students will risk a malpractice decision.”
  • Appropriate length and avoidance of repetition – Some of the explorations were too long, sometimes because the scope of the exploration was not focused enough. On the other hand a few explorations were too short and included very little mathematical content.”
  • Avoid “common textbook problems” – A number of explorations were based on common textbooks problems and demonstrated little or superficial understanding of the mathematical concepts being explored.”

I found quite useful the detailed paragraph on Reccomendations and Guidance for the exploration from the Subject reports, and more specifically on the level of mathematics used – Students should be discouraged from using difficult Mathematics beyond the HL syllabus if this cannot lead to some creativity or personalized problem…

… Using difficult mathematics that goes well beyond the HL syllabus often results in a lack of thorough understanding and this in turn makes it difficult for the student to demonstrate Personal Engagement or Reflection.”

These are somewhat further substantiated and detailed in the Additional Notes document.

So far no changes have been made to the TSM as indicated by the document “… the updated Teacher Support Material (TSM) … will include exemplar student work both unmarked and marked”.

The relevant passage from the SL subject reports sounds even more promising – The exemplar materials and the frequently asked questions in the TSM have been/will be updated after the first live session. Teachers should make sure that they read these documents carefully, along with the updated guidance on applying the criteria.”