The 2014/15 academic year is going to be really quite tough on IB teachers for Group 4, especially if you are the only teacher for the IB physics course in your school.  If you are the IB teacher, then you will need to teach both the last year of the old course and the first year of the new course together.

This produces two main problems:


1.  The syllabus.  The new syllabus is VERY different to the old.  To present both at the same time will be a real challenge.  The differences are large:

– The new course has only one Optional Topic (from a possible four).

– The old course was too large and the new course is even larger.

Although the number of teaching hours obviously adds up to the same number, the problems with the timing happens when you consider what has happened to the material that was in the optional topics that no longer exist.  The new syllabus has been supplemented with the material from these Options.  This means that when you look at the syllabus, it does not flow in the way most teachers would like.  Many of the topics have had parts added to them that simply do not flow together well.

In addition to the above, the format of the syllabus documentation is not the normal format used by the IB in the past.  The format has a real lack of information on the actual level required when teaching the course.  The material is supplemented with material that considers Theory of Knowledge, the Nature of Science and international mindedness – all good ideas, but not really what is needed by teachers.  What we really need is the detail– the meat – what depth is needed of the material.

As an example, atomic and nuclear physics has turned into atomic, nuclear and particle physics.  This is essentially the same as the old syllabus but has had additions such as:

– Feynman diagrams.

– Confinement.

– The Higgs Boson.

The above ideas are fine and could be argued as exciting in physics.  However, as one teacher recently asked me … what does confinement mean?  So after a discussion of the importance of confinement in physics and the link to the quantum kinetic energy equation for a free particle (i.e., one with no potential energies), we were left with … and is that it?  To which my answer was … I have no idea?  The details are simply not there.

Another clean example – which Feynman diagrams are needed?  Which aspects of the diagrams is needed?  How complex will they get?  Should we be teaching about the rotation of them?

2.  The IA.  As with the syllabus, this is a big issue.  The IA is completely different on the new course.  We now have a single piece of work to do – which seems better.  But the students will be assessed on their ability to show good experimental technique.  Also, students will be assessed in the final exams, on their ability to understand and develop experimental technique.  So what does this means and what will be assessed- don’t know – not enough detail to be sure of anything at the moment.  For those that think this is not such a problem because the IA is probable 2-3 terms away and the exams are 2 years away, think again.  We need to start training our students from September – we need to know now (or actually, 6 months ago).

The IA changes are really quite significant and more than I have time for now – a future post will cover them.  But be assured  that the marking of the work will be important and this means you MUST train your students well – to ensure they hit the marking criteria.

This all adds up to a big change and a big challenge for us all.  My advice is to get copies of the new subject guide – it is on the web, and try to attend a workshop as soon as possible.  IBSCA are running one at Warwick in October and IBICUS is running one on IA in October at Wellington College (I am running that one – so obviously, I think it will be … excellent!).

Also, for those who do not have the time for such workshops, Triple-A are running online workshops also in October  – they are turning out to be very well liked.

And if you are unsure, email me – let me know what you think of the new course and we can share ideas about how to get through this.