The Year of the (Mathematical) Exploration

This will be my first post aimed at colleagues teaching Mathematics for the IBDP  and I feel humbled and privileged by the task.

I have no difficulties in identifying one of the most burning area of concern for us. In our school we are in the beginning  of  the process of developing the mathematical explorations for the first students (HL and SL), my students (most of them at least 😛 ) have just submitted their outlines. We expect them to submit a full draft by late November, and a final version for the end of January 2014. I would love to hear from as many colleagues as possible how have you scheduled your work in your department. I promise to update you here on our experience…


The image above is from the excellent interactive site of Ian Russell and he explains his slider model here. You might think it is not relevant to our type of exploration (at least the word appears) but I think there is some connection in the intended aims (note that it appears in the “Hearts-on” menu).

When I (have the time to) share with other colleagues it seems there is a common impression – it feels like being in the midst of a revolution (do you feel it is too big a word  :-)).  Paraphrasing Trotsky’s aphorism one might think “You may not be interested in the exploration, but the exploration is interested in you!” (at least in us, IBDP teachers and students of Mathematics). It might help to try to see the reasons for such a radical change. (so that it is easier to accept it :-)). I do not pretend to know them but here are some reflections.

I have come to think that this has a lot to do with two major reasons

  • the quick changes in how learning happens nowadays; and
  • how the IBO can react to them.

There is no need to elaborate a lot on the first one (it again feels like a revolution) but here is an attempt by students to capture some elements of it.


This is a newer version of a very popular video by the same author, Michael Wesch. Here is another book (and site) worth checking. I am sure that you could come with many, many more.

How is the IBO reacting to these changes? Seems the main tool it is developing is contained in the “Approaches to teaching and learning”, recently included in the new programme models and in the subject guides (especially in Mathematics). It is exactly in this section of the new subject guide that the following words about the exploration appear:

“Teachers are encouraged to relate the mathematics being studied to other subjects and to the real world, especially topics that have particular relevance or are of interest to their students. Everyday problems and questions should be drawn into the lessons to motivate students and keep the material relevant; suggestions are provided in the “Links” column of the syllabus. The mathematical exploration offers an opportunity to investigate the usefulness, relevance and occurrence of mathematics in the real world and will add an extra dimension to the course. The emphasis is on communication by means of mathematical forms (for example, formulae, diagrams, graphs and so on) with accompanying commentary. Modelling, investigation, reflection, personal engagement and mathematical communication should therefore feature prominently in the DP mathematics classroom.

I shall finish this (unacceptably long now) post with a short quote from the latest document from the OCC (worth checking it 🙂 to see what awaits us)

Why ATL? Through Approaches to learning in IB programmes, students develop skills that have relevance across all areas of learning that help them “learn how to learn”. Approaches to learning can be learned and taught, improved with practice and developed incrementally. They provide a solid foundation for learning independently and with others. Approaches to learning help students prepare for, and demonstrate learning through, meaningful assessment. They provide a common language for students to reflect on, and articulate how, they are learning. They prepare students for success in their studies and life beyond school.”

In my next post I plan to address the specific challenges that lie in front of us. I would very much like to know what other colleagues think.



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