At a recent category 1 workshop in Hong Kong that I was facilitating, it became immediately obvious that a number of teachers (and schools) deliver the internally assessed component of the mathematics program in very different ways. These differences arose largely from common misconceptions about how IA should be administered in schools. Much of the confusion rested in how much help teachers were allowed to give to students and how much time should be given to complete a particular task. I would like to try and shed some light on these issues here.
Myth 1: Students can have as much time as they need to complete a task.
The Teacher support manual (TSM), published in 2005, for IA states that students should be given anywhere between 3 and 10 days to complete a task. The more time you give students to complete a task, the more you invite issues of collaboration and plagiarism.
Myth 2: As a teacher, I am not allowed to give students any help with a portfolio task.
This is not so much a myth but rather very poor teaching practice! I am astonished to hear teachers tell me that they do not help their students and wonder if they have ever read any IB publications relating to delivering the course. The TSM is quite clear on this and even gives an indication of to what extent a teacher can give help to students.
I won’t directly quote the TSM here but would rather refer readers to page 13 of the 2005 TSM publication that is to be used in conjunction with the current guide and any updates/new publications of portfolio tasks. I would prefer to offer some thoughts on how you can help students productively and prevent plagiarism at the same time.
Take time to introduce a task. Whether you are using an IB created task or your own, you need to be sure that your students are clear on how to get started. Show students how the questions in a task will help them achieve the upper levels of the criteria. Discuss the criteria. Outline your technology expectations. Give students some ideas of how they can use technology resourcefully. Discuss some notations that might cause them difficulties. Explain to them how to properly communicate their work – you may even refer them to some popular mathematics journals.
Have students try and complete the task during class time. Assign portions or elements of a task during class and then get them to summarize and/or write up those portions for homework. Do the next portion in the next class and continue in this manner until the task is completed. You are required to give students up to 10 in class hours for portfolio work.
Arrange students initially in groups to facilitate discussion. Students will arrange themselves outside of class anyways and I would prefer to have control over the discussions in class. There is no reason for students not to share ideas to help them get started. What they should not do is receive any written advice from outside sources or other students.
The key is to try and gain control over the learning experiences. Giving students a task and asking them to bring is back to completed in ten days is asking them to find their own help from outside sources and is considered extremely poor teaching practice. Would you do this with a similar task if you were not running an IB program?
Myth 3: IA is simply an IB requirement that should be completed over a holiday or at the end of a course.
Again, bad teaching practice. Tasks should be designed/used to support the syllabus content, consolidate understanding of a unit, or to introduce a unit.
Myth 4: I have to use the tasks that the IB produces.
The IB spends a great deal of time developing new tasks and putting together some samples for teachers to use. Teachers are not required to use these tasks. In fact as model solutions become rapidly available at various online locations, I would discourage you from doing so. Use the tasks as templates to design you own but be sure to allow plenty of scope in your task for students to meet the upper bands of the criteria. Be totally transparent with students. If you want them to find the scope and limitations of a general statement, ask the question. If you want them to validate a general statement using two further examples, say so!
In all my years working with IB, I can assure you that 100% of the time, they will support and encourage good teaching practice. If you are unclear, ask yourself how you would administer a task with no IB obligations. It will usually become very clear.