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December/January 2010

Insights into an IB Education
Preparing Students for the Future
by Carrie Whitney

The Ron Clark Academy students travel extensively as part of their studies.

Keeping up with the latest trends in education can be challenging, but when parents want their children to grow up to be global citizens capable of succeeding in tomorrow’s world, they need look no further than an International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme.

Rather than being a trend in education, the IB system has been changing the world for more than 30 years. “IB students are motivated, taught, guided and facilitated to really think,” says Atlanta International School Headmaster Kevin Glass. By applying conceptual thinking, IB students grow into adults who can deftly apply skills and knowledge to new and unique situations, making them ideal citizens for the global future.

According to the International Baccalaureate Organization, the IB began in Geneva, Switzerland in the late 1960s with the purpose of creating a diploma that was recognized by universities throughout the world. Today, the IB program is available for students of all ages, with more than 50 IB schools in Georgia offering IB programs at elementary, middle school and/or high school levels.

The IB program can be considered in its two aspects: baccalaureate, which provides rigorous standards and conceptual learning; and international, which means that students become part of an international community and are prepared to participate in the world as global citizens.

“IB education is a global education that prepares students with the skills and concepts they will need to face the challenges of a multi-polar world,” Glass says. “[IB education develops] the global citizens of tomorrow’s society.”

IB is broad, balanced education that addresses science, humanities, languages, mathematics, technology and the arts, according to Debra Woolard, IB Coordinator for the Diploma and Middle Years Programmes at Marietta High School. “[IB] teaches students to think critically, draw connections between subject disciplines, and use problem-solving techniques from across disciplines.”

Some IB schools, such as Atlanta International School, are bilingual, but they do not have to be; however, all IB schools must teach one language in addition to the home country language by the age of seven. In Atlanta schools, Spanish, French, German and Mandarin Chinese are some of the language options.

In contrast to other types of schools, IB schools also tend to be challenging and contain rigorous curriculum and assessments. Since IB comprises an international network of schools and educators and is held to international standards, the curriculum and assessments are not limited by the local environment.

IB education is divided into three programmes—Primary Years (PYP), Middle Years (MYP) and IB Diploma—that span ages three to 19 and share a common philosophy and characteristics. Atlanta International School is the only school in Georgia that offers all three programmes; in fact, it’s one of only 10 schools in the U.S. that includes the continuum.
  Students of all ages at the Atlanta International School benefit from the IB curriculum.
“In the PYP, the goal is to teach conceptually,” says Jason Johnston, IB/PYP Coordinator at Sarah Rawson Smith Elementary School in Buckhead. In PYP, students learn to make connections in multiple subject areas and extract key concepts, which can be applied to a variety of situations and problems. For example, instead of just studying the U.S. Civil War, students might look at civil wars across the world to understand what war means more generally. In the future when students recognize aspects like “conflict,” they can continue to understand them in a variety of contexts.

Each grade level in the PYP, which extends through fifth grade, completes six units of inquiry over the course of a year, according to Kate McElvaney, IB Coordinator at High Meadows School in Roswell. Each unit falls under one of the six transdisciplinary themes: How the World Works, Where We Are in Place and Time, Sharing the Planet, How We Express Ourselves, Who We Are and How We Organize Ourselves. Because each theme incorporates all subject areas, students are able to make connections between concentration areas.

The MYP, grades six to 10, expands on the PYP concept of inquiry and focuses on development of the whole person by adding the CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) component during these years. Designed specifically for young adolescents, the MYP is the newest of the IB programmes and has a tremendous amount of current research behind it.

In grades 11 and 12, students enter the IB Diploma Programme during which they take six subjects. At Atlanta International School, students are required to take math, science, the home country language (English) and a second language. They also can choose from additional courses in the arts and humanities. Additionally, students participate in a twoyear philosophy course for which they write essays that are sent away and graded externally. Diploma students create an original extended essay—a “mini-thesis”—and take final exams. The result is what Glass calls, “the best preparation in the world today.” He adds that an IB Diploma is a passport to colleges and universities all over the world.

Throughout the levels, students at IB schools are taught to be active participants in their learning rather than passive vessels to be filled with a teacher’s knowledge. “An IB education brings the outside world into the classroom,” McElvaney says. “When students study concepts and issues beginning at the local level, then take these same concepts and issues and look at them with a global perspective, their thinking is more complete and more in depth.”

Like all IB students, Atlanta International School students are taught to be active participants in their learning.
The IB program is designed for any average or better self-motivated student who is engaged in his or her own life and learning. The PYP and MYP can help build this kind of student. In fact, a disengaged student could benefit from IB education, which would re-center the child and generate interest in learning. “IB is grounded in very current research on how people and students learn,” Johnston says.

Because the IB program is focused on the three practices of inquiry, collaboration and reflection, the program will become unique to each school. Even though the schools must uphold the IB standards, each IB program develops distinctively as it centers around the student body.

" The IB presents a solution to the problem of how to educate a child for the 21st century when information is available at our fingertips,” McElvaney says. “Today’s student needs to be able to solve problems; locate, analyze and evaluate information; and communicate clearly and work with others.” IB education creates students who have these skills and will become the global citizens of tomorrow.

To learn more, visit The International Baccalaureate Web site at where you can find additional information on IB World Schools.

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