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Want to Know More About the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Coppell High School?

January 10, 2015

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program began at Coppell High School (CHS) in the fall of 2009.  The class of 2015 will be the 5th class of IB learners to graduate from CHS.

As stated on the organization’s website, IB encourages students to become “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

This is achieved not only with the required subject courses, but also through three core elements unique to IB, which are,  1) the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course, 2) the Extended Essay (EE), and 3) Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) hours.

The goal of the IB course of study is the IB diploma.  Earning the IB Diploma offers students the chance to receive college credits either through diploma status or by individual exam scores, depending on the university

The IB Diploma Program at CHS is currently undergoing a “Program Evaluation and Self-Report” as required by the IB organization every five years.  According to Michael Brock, the CHS IB Coordinator, this is an opportunity to “look back on what we have done in the last five years, identify successes and determine areas of need or growth, and to establish a plan of action for how to address the latter.”

Coppell Gifted Association asked Brock about the IB program and its first five years at CHS.

Q&A with Michael Brock, CHS IB Coordinator

How many students have completed the IB program at CHS?

To date, 348 candidates have completed the IB program (2011-2014). We currently have 109 candidates in the program in the Classes of 2015 and 2016.

What successes has the CHS IB program experienced?

The goal is for the kids to earn the IB Diploma, and we are certainly very proud of the rate of success at which our candidates have been able to do that. Our candidates have also been able to consistently earn acceptance to what they identify as their “top 3” universities, be they our local universities, first-tier elite universities, or schools as far afield as Europe and Japan. They have been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Speaking for the IB faculty, I think we are most proud of the collegiality and the friendships that the kids have developed with their peers and with us as they worked through the program, and of the intellectual, academic, and emotional growth that they experienced over those two years. Overwhelmingly our IB alumni tell us that they entered college very well prepared for the challenges they faced there as freshmen, and that they found the transition quite manageable. They take the friendships they made in IB into their college years, and are always very fond of the memories that are tied to those relationships.

What challenges has the program faced?

Developing a consistency in enrollment has been a constant challenge. IB requirements put big demands on what will fit into the junior/senior course schedule, and the kids’ perception of and interest in the program still seems to fluctuate. We are hoping that the new graduation requirements begun with the Class of 2018 will ease some of the conflicts. We are also extremely excited about the authorization of the Primary Years Program at Pinkerton Elementary, and hope that a wider exposure to the learning opportunities of the IB programs will stimulate growth in the Diploma Programme at CHS as those students matriculate.

How does IB approach learning?

The general description for learning opportunities in the IB program is that they are “inquiry based”. The kids have quite a few opportunities to pursue research or reading in their own areas of interest, and even IB’s prescribed topics of study are built around developing diverse solutions to questions or problems. Because of this, learning in the IB has to be less broad in terms of the scope of the concepts that are explored, but more flexible in terms of how that learning may take place and the degree to which we investigate them. IB courses are not survey courses like the typical high school or college introductory course. This is why you will frequently see or hear learning in IB to be described as “more depth, less breadth”.

How does IB provide in-depth analysis of topics?  How do the teachers collaborate in various courses to provide in-depth learning?

The kids like to joke that one knows they were in IB when they begin to qualify everything in their lives with the phrase, “to what extent”. The humor for them is in the fact that so often they see that verbiage as the lead to a question or problem in class or on an exam. In fact it really does get to the heart of how the IB compels that depth of analysis. In order to understand multiple interpretations and approaches to a solution—all of the shades of gray that surround what we think, what we know, how we learn it, and why we can or cannot be confident in it—there has to be a considerable level of analytical thinking.

The IB teachers make an effort to collaborate on interdisciplinary approaches to learning as much as we can. Last year, part of the IB faculty was relocated into one hall of the building, and short passing period conversations have helped to foster more of this. We have also made an effort to use current events as a focus for analysis through the lens of each subject area. We are always looking for better and more opportune ways to collaborate across the program.

How does the Theory of Knowledge course enhance a student’s thinking?

Theory of Knowledge (or “T.o.K.”) compels the IB candidate to come to conclusions for the questions, “What do I mean when I say ‘I know’, and how do I justify it?” It presses them to really explore the various ways in which they arrive at knowledge, and to recognize the strengths and fallibilities of those methods. It certainly should encourage them to be reflective about what they think, but it should also help them to recognize creative ways to approach learning and thinking. It is a critical element of how they become that well rounded thinker prescribed by the Learner Profile, and that we all want for our children to become. This should embolden them to continue to be very creative in their thinking as they go into their university studies.

Students are asked to write several essays and assessments in IB – how do the students benefit from the additional writing (as compared to other curriculum choices)?

The value of deep, critical thinking is always going to be diminished if it can’t be communicated effectively, and the writing tasks provide invaluable experiences for the candidates to become effective communicators of their knowledge and their thinking. Many students do seem daunted by the amount of writing initially, but I think that is primarily because coming into the program they view those tasks in terms of assignments or “work” rather than as opportunities. Yet, most high school students relish the chance to tell you what they think or what they know! It very quickly becomes a liberating thing for them that their assessments provide the opportunity to show what they know and to pursue multiple approaches to a response as opposed to marking the right or wrong bubble on a multiple choice question. The goal is to help them to enter into adult life understanding the importance of being able to communicate their thoughts cogently and convincingly—in so many circumstances they may only get one chance at it, or may get many more chances if they can do it well.

How are students equipped to complete the Extended Essay?

We have them define a research question in the junior year, and they seek a faculty mentor familiar with work in the chosen field of study to provide guidance through the research standards defined by the discipline. Our librarians have IB training, and that facility can provide the research tools they need to complete the task. The E.E. Coordinator provides the timeline for completion over the next 12-14 months and monitors progress, and our English and ToK teachers provide support in the writing process. Again, it is a really valuable opportunity for the candidates to pursue work in a field of deep interest—they choose the topic, define the research question, etc.—and they have quite a bit of support in completing it. For those that manage the time well, it is a very rewarding experience just before moving on to college.

How many CAS hours are required?  What types of activities qualify for hours?

A couple of years ago, the IB went away from defining a requisite number of hours for completion of Creativity, Activity, & Service (or “CAS”). Again, the desire is for the kids to pursue opportunities for personal growth and improvement rather than thinking in terms of hours to count. However, the IB does want to see that the activities are spread over the 18 months of the program, and are reasonably balanced between the three components. We are currently advising the kids to shoot for at least one activity per week over the 18 months of the program.

The beauty is that most any activity can count so long as the candidate can define a plan for their own growth, an objective to attain, and can show effectively that it required them to be creative, to engage in physical activity, or to serve their fellow man in some way. Depending on how they are approached, weekly basketball practice, cooking the family meal once a week, and mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor (free of charge) could count as CAS activities. There are a few things that can’t count—either for IB policy reasons or because they amount to little more than “putting in hours”. They have to define a plan for getting something meaningful from the activity, and must provide reflections on that progress.

How can a learner be successful in the IB program?

The program is rigorous, to be sure, but the formula for success is the same as most anything else. Put simply: be committed to your own growth as a learner, be willing to think, and be willing to work hard for 18 months. I know that seems flippant, but invariably our candidates who commit to working the program have substantial success and an experience upon which they reflect with great pride. Time management is very critical. When our candidates run into problems or feel that things get very difficult, time management is most often the issue. It is extremely rare that we have candidates who are just overmatched by the curriculum.

What percentage of CHS students earn the IB Diploma?

Over the last three years, between 78%-81% of our candidates have earned the IB Diploma. The Class of 2015 is a strong and committed group, so we are hopeful for another very high percentage of Diploma recipients.

How can people learn more about the IB program?

General information about the IB program at CHS can be found on the International Baccalaureate page of the CHS website at http://www.coppellisd.com/domain/392 (or under the “Academics” menu). There are also links there to the IBO’s website (http://www.ibo.org) and to the website of Texas IB Schools Association (TIBS). Interested students and parents may always feel free to contact me via e-mail at mbrock@coppellisd.com,

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