Timelines and the Nature of Science

Last week I saw tweets from @biogogy and @vB_ibbio about timelines for key developments in biological thinking and major developments in cell theory, respectively. Since it’s  been a while since I have posted here, I thought this would be a good way back into writing about the Nature of Science!


Following their lead, I have constructed timelines for all the scientists and their experiments that are explicitly mentioned in the Nature of Science notes.  Because of the number of experiments that took place in the 20th-century, I had to split it up into two separate timelines.

This links us to a classic TOK idea about the changing nature of knowledge, and in fact is referenced in the Nature of Science itself for topics 3.1 and B.4: “Developments in scientific research follow improvements in technology…” We can see this of course from the number of key experiments carried out in the 20th-century – these naturally followed on from developments in technology.  From a TOK perspective we might consider the role of technology in the production of scientific knowledge.  We might also look to the future and consider – what knowledge that we hold to be certain today, could be overturned in the future due to developments in technology?  It is an interesting discussion to have with your students and allows us to consider how scientific knowledge changes and is accepted.


Nature of Science – the First Two Years

WordPress alerted me recently that I have had this blog now for two years! It started as a way to help me try to get my head around the new Nature of Science components of the syllabus and its readership grew very slowly – I think it was mostly my own students who used it for the first six months or so. But it has grown steadily since the first examination period last May and I hope it will continue to be useful to IB Biology students.
I thought it might be interesting to see some of the blog statistics (I teach science, after all!)  from the first two years and see what it tells us. I would love to hear back from students or teachers who use the blog to find out what works and what doesn’t and what I should add or do more of.


Readership grew slowly over 2015 (988 views), which makes sense as that was the last exam period for the old syllabus.  However things picked up in 2016, which recorded just under 7000 views for the year.  Already, 2017 has nearly surpassed the whole of 2015.


Excluding the home page/archives, which tops the list at over 4000 views, here is the top ten most visited pages at the blog:


There is a clear difference between the top 4 (average of 551 views) and the remainder of the top ten.  No doubt this is due to cyclins, Harvey, Davson-Danielli model and Florey and Chaim appearing on either the specimen, May or November exam papers. Students should be aware, though, that what was on a previous paper is no guarantee of what will be on the next one – there is a lot of content in the biology syllabus and students should make an effort to review across all topics, rather than just a handful. I would imagine that there might be some new NOS questions and topics on the next exam paper.

Most Views

No surprises here!  The most views in a day was set on May 3, 2016 – the day before the biology exams!

I wonder what happened on May 4?

I imagine that Sunday 30 April 2017 might surpass this!

Interestingly, there was not a similar spike in the November exams – perhaps because there are fewer students?  For the entire month of November, according to the country data, the only November session country in the top ten was Singapore.

Who Visits?

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This is still amazing to me – that something I publish can be read and used by students from 109 countries on every inhabited continent! The top ten countries in order are: USA, Cambodia, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, UAE, Germany, Australia and Switzerland.  Not surprising, as according to the May 2016 Statistical Bulletin, the USA (1), Canada (2), UK (3) and Hong Kong (10) are all in the top ten countries for IB candidates. It would be great to hit every country with an IBDP program!

How do they get here?

Besides search engines (the biggest source of visitors- 2676 in 2016) most people hear about the blog via twitter (168 views over 2016).  I know a lot of high school students don’t necessarily use twitter so I need to think of some other ways to engage with them – any ideas would be welcome!

So there it is – two years of data on the Nature of Science blog.  It would be remiss of me as a science teacher not to review the numbers and use them to help guide the site forwards.

Thanks to all who have followed, commented, liked or retweeted the blog – what began as a way to help my own students has developed into something much larger and I hope I can continue to make this a valuable resource for students and teachers worldwide.

As always, please let me know what you think!

A New Year Starts

The second-year of our first cohort has just begun.  The lessons learnt over the previous year will be helpful for the new Grade 11 students as we continue to modify and develop the teaching of the new syllabus. For Grade 12s, we have three units to explore this first semester:

  1. The Global Carbon Cycle
    • 2.8 Respiration
    • 2.9 Photosynthesis
    • 4.3 The Carbon Cycle
    • 4.4 Climate Change
    • 8.2 Respiration (HL)
    • 8.3 Photosynthesis (HL)
  2. Eat or be Eater
    • 4.1 Species, communities and ecosystems
    • 4.2 Energy Flow
    • 9.1 Transport in the xylem of plants
    • 9.2 Transport in the phloem of plants
    • 9.3 Growth in plants
  3. The Human Body
    • 6.1 Digestion and absorption
    • 6.2 The blood system
    • 6.3 Defence against infectious disease
    • 6.4 Gas exchange
    • 6.5 Neurons and synapses
    • 6.6 Hormones, homeostasis and reproduction
    • 11.1 Antibody production and vaccination (HL)
    • 11.2 Movement (HL)
    • 11.3 The kidney and osmoregulation (HL)

We will also be formally introducing the IA and building on the formative work done last year.  Our current unit provides a great introduction to the experiments that might be possible (and logistically feasible) and hopefully over this first semester students will identify their topic and research questions and begin to develop the outline of their experiment.

For Grade 11, I will be keeping the same outline of units and topics but perhaps make a more consistent effort in referring to the NOS and to incorporating them more in class.  I still haven’t found a happy medium with this yet and hope to develop this further this year.

I look forward to continuing the conversation with other DP Biology teachers as we enter the second year of the cycle. Have a great school year!

Thoughts at the end of Year 1

Year 1 of the new syllabus in IB Biology is now done.  It’s been an interesting year and I’ve often felt that I was feeling my way through the course, but I think it was a successful year overall and I do like the direction that the course is moving in. This is my second syllabus change and I know the first cohort of a new course is the most challenging.

Units Covered

I teach the course based on conceptual units (thanks to @iBiologyStephen for an inspirational blog post on this; also his thoughts on curriculum planning in general).  I managed to get through the following units this year:

  • Unit 1: What is Biology? – 5.1 Evidence for evolution; 5.2 Natural selection; 5.3 Classification
  • Unit 2: The Chemistry of Life – 2.1  Molecules to metabolism; 8.1 Metabolism; 2.2  Water; 2.3  Carbohydrates and lipids; 2.4  Proteins; 2.5  Enzymes
  • Unit 3: The Double Helix – 2.6  Structure of DNA and RNA; 7.1 DNA structure and replication;  2.7  DNA replication, transcription and translation; 7.2 Transcription 7.3 Translation.
  • Unit 4: Cells – 1.1  Introduction to cells; 1.2  Ultrastructure of cells; 1.3  Membrane structure; 1.4  Membrane transport; 1.5  The origin of cells
  • Unit 5: Making New Life – 1.6  Cell division; 3.3 Meiosis; 10.1 Meiosis; 6.6 Hormones, homeostasis and reproduction; 11.4 Sexual reproduction; 9.4 Reproduction in plants
  • Unit 6: Inheritance – 3.1 Genes; 3.2 Chromosomes; 5.4 Cladistics; 3.4 Inheritance; 10.2 Inheritance; 3.5 Genetic modification and biotechnology; 10.3 Gene pools and speciation

This is a similar position to where I was a year ago with the last cohort of the old syllabus, so I think I am moving through the course at a good pace.


Three of the new criteria – Exploration, Analysis, Evaluation – are essentially improved forms of the old Design, DCP and CE. I have had my students complete three practice labs assessing Analysis and Evaluation, much as I would have under the old syllabus. I hope to get a practice exploration in early next year.  With only one option to complete at the end, our science department is thinking of devoting a 3-4 week block of class time in between finishing the Core/AHL and starting the Option, around Jan-Feb 2016.  I am going to have the students start brainstorming ideas on our class Google+ page to get the creative juices flowing and encourage as much creativity as possible.  I am  excited by the option of allowing students to choose databases as their mode of data collection and also by the idea of just one IA for them to focus on.

Nature of Science

This has been the most challenging part of the new course, I think. For the first few months I didn’t even really touch upon it, beyond mentioning it at the start of our units. The tension is in trying to understand how much students have to know, content-wise, and how much is based more on “big-picture” ideas.  The specimen papers on the OCC offer some guidance but I feel we won’t know for sure until after the first exams.  I have started to put together some practice exam questions of my own and would be happy to collaborate with other teachers on a bank of these. I have found using this blog to be a powerful way to get the students engaged and have them thinking about these ideas, though it is a process that is continually evolving.

There have been some good conversations on twitter about these changes, although somewhat limited by the 140 character limit. I would love to hear from other teachers in more detail about how they have found the first year of the course and their plans for Year 2.