Extending Wednesdays

The role of the Librarian in the IB DP

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If you are reading this you are probably in an IB school – which means you are very lucky because you almost certainly have a school librarian to support you. But what is the unique role that a librarian should have in your education, and how can you make the most of what your librarian is offering?

It’s not all about books!

School libraries around the world are under threat (BBC, 2017ABC news, 2017; Citylab, 2019) and, as school budgets are being squeezed, many regard a professional librarian (and often even a library) as a luxury they can’t afford rather than an educational necessity. The problem is largely one of definition, and of understanding (both among school leaders and librarians themselves) of what a school librarian does – and that is why the situation is often different in IB schools. The traditional definition of a librarian is “a person in charge of or assisting in a library” (1), where a library is “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution” (2).

In a world where so much information is freely available online, ebooks are on the rise and many print books are cheap to buy, some have even suggested that libraries should be replaced by a well-known online retail giant (Guardian, 2018). But regardless of the arguments about the importance of books in education (and I am convinced they are still very important), the real problem often lies in school librarians grounding their identity in books and reading, not in education. The central purpose of schools is education and that should be the central purpose of school librarians too. If “they aren’t buying what we’re selling” then maybe the problem is with us, not them!

Fortunately, the IB recognises this and has published a document entitled Ideal libraries (IBO, 2018) explaining (3) what you should be able to expect from your school library. It defines (school) libraries as “combinations of people, places, collections and services that aid and extend learning and teaching.” (p.2). Notice that books aren’t mentioned at all – not because they aren’t an important and valuable part of our job, but because they are a tool we use to achieve our purpose, not the reason we exist. This astonishing and inspiring document goes on to explain the key roles of the librarian, and I am going to use it to explain what you should be expecting from your school librarian, and why they are a fundamental part of your IB education.

So what does a school librarian do?

The IBO says in Ideal Libraries that:

Library/ians act as curators of information, caretakers of content and people, catalysts of people and services, and connectors to sources of information, multiliteracies, and reading. Librarians’ responsibilities are inspired by the learning environments they engage with, and in that capacity, they are co-creators of information with the school and the wider community. They challenge learners to seek appropriate information, to use sound methods of inquiry and research, and teach them to question the information they find and use. (p.5)

In short, your librarian is the person to know if you want to learn how to access and work with information to generate and/or answer an inquiry question. You might expect your librarian to have the skills to locate and access information on whatever obscure topic you may have chosen for your EE (or IA), but our role goes far beyond that. It’s our job to be able to teach you to understand how to journey from the vague stirrings of an interest in a topic all the way through to a carefully researched, tightly argued and appropriately sourced and referenced essay answering a thoughtfully worded inquiry question within the space of about nine months, reflecting as you go. In short, it is our job to turn you into an academic researcher (although we prefer the term inquirer).

Shaping the EE process

Your teachers and supervisors are subject specialists, but your librarian is the specialist in inquiry. “Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic or issue. It requires more of them than simply answering questions or getting a right answer.(Kuhlthau, 2007, p. 2). More broadly, “inquiry is a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world, [and] as such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created” (Galileo Educational Network).

The Extended Essay may be your first major step into the type of inquiry where you have real freedom to choose your own topic, so it makes sense that it should be guided by someone who really understands the process. At Oakham School, our journey with inquiry began with an examination of the EE process and how it could be reshaped to support our students more effectively. In 2010 Darryl Toerien, the Head of Library, had been developing his understanding of inquiry through the work of Carol Kuhlthau and Barbara Stripling. He realised that the EE process that he had inherited when he joined the school in 2008 was largely driven by an administrative need to make sure that students met certain deadlines rather than by a deep understanding of the inquiry process and what it would take for them to get there.

Oakham School’s first EE timetable (2001-3 cohort)

Most glaringly, students were expected to select their research question within four weeks of their first introduction to the EE, but were then only given dedicated off-timetable time to work on the EE six months later, a week before their first draft was due. While they were expected to start gathering research materials much earlier, there was no real expectation of any substantial reading until EE “research week”, when they needed to do their reading and writing together in a fairly short concentrated space of time.

From his understanding of Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process, Darryl realised that the inquiry question only emerges from a deep understanding of the topic, achieved by using resources to investigate the topic and build understanding. You go into your investigation with an idea and a direction, and emerge with an understanding of an appropriate question to answer. He also realised that the most challenging, transformative and important work of the EE is not what is often called the “research” – finding resources and reading them – or even writing the essay. It is what comes in between those two – constructing a new (to you) understanding of your topic based on what you have read. This is what changes you and equips you to write an original, evidence-based essay, rather than a disjointed patchwork of other people’s thoughts. But this takes time and support.

Our current timetable is based on a blend of Information Search Process and The FOSIL Cycle, developed by Darryl based on the Stripling Model of Inquiry within the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum.

The FOSIL Cycle

The FOSIL cycle is a clear description of all the stages of inquiry, resting on a foundation of decades of research and it would require a blog post of its own to explain how the cycle works and the impact it has on teaching and learning – if you are interested visit the The FOSIL Group website for more information about the cycle, free downloadable resources and a community of educators sharing their ideas in our forum.

By understanding how the inquiry process works, we can guide our students more effectively through it. In this particular case we realised that students had almost no time for Connect and Wonder (the background research and exploration required to understand a topic well enough to ask good questions) and often skipped Construct (building understanding) altogether as they jumped from Investigate (finding out) to Express (writing).

Adding Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process, which described what students might be thinking, doing and feeling at each stage, into the timetable was the final piece of the puzzle.

Oakham School’s current EE support structure (2019-21 cohort): Based on the FOSIL cycle and the Information Search Process

We began to understand how students might be feeling at different stages of the process and when the most appropriate times to offer support were. In terms of structured support (provided centrally to the whole cohort, as opposed to that provided by supervisors) we went from just one seminar at the start of the process to three, backed up by two dedicated IT workshops. We also split the Research Days into two chunks, giving students three Investigation Days off timetable to find resources and start working with them quite early in the process (February), with plenty of time to continue reading, follow up leads and acquire new resources, think through what they had read and discuss it with their supervisors in between that and the Writing Days (June). This Construct time is critical to helping students find their own voices. This is what the new timetable looks like in practice:

Hopefully you can see that this timetable is now informed by an understanding of the inquiry process and the student experience, rather than an administrative need for students to reach certain goals. The Library is also now integral to the EE process, not peripheral. This is the value of involving the Librarian in shaping the EE process.

Supporting the EE process

We now support the EE process through:

  • Offering three compulsory targeted seminars at appropriate intervention points.
  • Offering two compulsory targeted IT workshops at appropriate intervention points. As our provision has improved further down the school, we are finding more students arriving in the sixth form able to use the tools in Word to cite and reference and generate contents lists. This year we plan to offer parallel sessions for those who have never used these tools before and those who feel reasonably confident and just need a reminder.
  • Supporting students in small groups and individually during the Investigation and Writing Days. It’s amazing how often students who thought they were pretty good at searching come out of these seminars surprised at how much they have learnt – if your library offers similar seminars it would be worth attending.
  • Providing a web-based support resource (in our case a LibGuide) supporting students at every stage of the process. Our new EE LibGuide absolutely transformed our EE support last year, empowering students to access the support they need whenever they need it, moving through the process at their own pace. Having launched the resource in December 2019 with no idea of what was to come, the guide also enabled us to provide our strongest support ever, despite the coronavirus shutdown. We may continue to use some of the strategies we developed last year even after life returns to normal – for example using video tutorials for IT skills enables students to differentiate and self-pace and revisit in a way that live workshops do not, and allows them to choose PC or Mac based tutorials.
  • Offering individual support as requested. We welcome individual requests by email or (before lockdown!) in person, and students often contact us for help finding resources on obscure topics and on citing different types of resources.
  • Providing a broad and rich range of print and subscription resources, and purchasing new resources (or suggesting suitable alternatives) on request. Which leads us on to the third strand of the library service – and perhaps the one that springs to mind for most people when they think of the role of the library:

Resourcing the EE process

We have always emphasised using a wide variety of resources for in-depth research like the EE.

I. Books are perfect both for breadth – for reading around, becoming an expert in your topic and putting it into context. They are often (but not always) good academic sources, particularly when from well-known publishers, but you do still have to watch out for bias. Their biggest issue is the publishing time lag, which can mean it is harder to find a range of books about emerging issues, and the cost for niche academic texts.

II. Online journal articles often give very narrowly focussed depth (and can be very current) but have to be used carefully at this level because they can be too focused if you don’t have appropriate grounding in that area. Our most commonly used databases for the EE are EBSCO Advanced Placement source and JSTOR – and both have also proved invaluable last year for the range of ebooks they have during lockdown when the physical library was closed. We also saw increasing use of the Oxford Very Short Introductions ebooks, which offer the quality and depth of print books combined with the searchable convenience of online resources.

III. We have other subscription databases as well, and a third important category is targeted databases aimed directly at students at this level, which are increasingly starting to include video as well as print resources. We picked up the fantastic Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal resource quite late in the process last year, when many of our students were already quite far into the investigation and were moving towards writing. As we approach the start of our EE process this year, I am confident that this innovative and exciting resource will really come into its own during the Connect stage of the FOSIL Cycle.

The short clips and compilations (each of which comes with an accompanying 1-page PDF providing lots of helpful information related to each video, including citing instructions) and the longer, in-depth conversations with world-leading researchers are ideal for students with a vague idea of the subject and perhaps topics they are interested in, but no clear direction. They are perfect for browsing and stimulating interest – and students who discover a line of inquiry that inspires them are assured of a one-hour detailed conversation with an expert in the field (with an accompanying PDF e-book) underpinning each clip or compilation to kick off their investigation!

Shaping you

As you can see from the above, although my role as a librarian does involve the traditional “librarian” activities of acquiring and curating resources, and helping my students to navigate them, it is actually so much bigger than that. I see my role directly as an educator. Perhaps more than anyone else in the school, it is the librarian’s job to nurture, enable and empower life-long learners because our subject is inquiry. I am not constrained by the need to teach my students to pass a Chemistry or Latin or Sports Science exam as well as teaching them how to think and learn independently – how to find, access, interrogate, assimilate, evaluate information and transform it into knowledge for themselves.

Not for me, not for the IB, not for the EE, not for their parents or their teachers. For themselves.

My students think I am supporting them through the EE, but my goal is so much larger. Done properly an EE can be a life changing experience that transforms a young person’s relationship with information and knowledge. It may well be the first time in your life when you realise that you have the power to turn yourself into an expert – when you realise that you know more about an academic topic than anyone around you, including your teachers, and that your thoughts and ideas matter.

I want to empower young people to question the narratives the world offers them, and to have the tools to seek authentic answers to those questions. I believe that the skills and attitudes that you learn through a relationship with your Library/ians during your school career will be vital for your success, not just at university but through the rest of your life.

As Ideal Libraries puts it: 

“Libraries are where most forms of inquiry, not just academic ones, begin. The school may set the conditions for inquiry, encourage inquiry, and to some extent direct it, but learners must initiate inquiry for it to happen.” 

You may think librarians spend all day hiding away in the library waiting patiently for someone to come in and ask for a book, but actually we’re hard at work (often late into the night) on changing the world, student by student. As the author and film-maker Michael Moore said of librarians back in 2002:

 “They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”

1)  Oxford University Press. (2010) Librarian. In Oxford Dictionary of English, edited by Stevenson, Angus. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199571123.001.0001/m_en_gb0468920

2) Oxford University Press. (2010) Library. In Oxford Dictionary of English, edited by Stevenson, Angus. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199571123.001.0001/m_en_gb0468930

3) IBO (2018) Ideal libraries: a guide for schools. Cardiff: IBO. Retrieved 12 June, 2020, from: https://uaeschoollibrariansgroup.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/ideal-libraries-for-ib.pdf

Jennifer Toerien, IB librarian

Extending Wednesdays

ADHD medication on non-ADHD subjects

In today’s Extending Wednesday clip, UC Berkeley clinical psychologist Stephen Hinshaw discusses the psychological research on studies of the effects of ADHD medication on non-ADHD students, relating how, while the level of confidence of the students participating in the study typically drastically increased, their actual results told a rather different story. 

(Excerpt from Extending Ideas In Psychology)

This clip is an excerpt from Ideas Roadshow’s Extending Ideas Video in Psychology.  There are 7 different Extending Ideas Videos that are part of the extensive collection of authoritative expert resources for the extended essay that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal. Each video features five specific topics highlighted by Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources for a possible extended essay or internal assessment in that subject area.  Meanwhile, the comprehensive Ideas Roadshow Extended Essay Guide for Students highlights an additional 5 possible extended essay ideas for each of the 21 different DP subjects we cover.

Our IB-specific digital resource platform offers reliable expert resources in different formats – clips, compilation videos highlighting ideas from different perspectives, long-format videos plus accompanying, enhanced eBooks with lots of additional academic resources and more to construct an excellent essay from start to finish!

Extending Wednesdays

Mindsets and Cultural Factors

In today’s clip, Stanford University social psychologist Carol Dweck describes how our appreciation of the key distinction between a growth and fixed mindset, despite its universal relevance to a wide variety of different human societies, invariably needs to be presented in a way that specifically resonates with particular cultural values in order to be accepted and properly understood. 

This clip is an excerpt from Ideas Roadshow’s Extending Ideas in Psychology video.  There are 7 different Extending Ideas videos that are part of the extensive collection of authoritative expert resources for the extended essay on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal. Each of those videos features five specific topics highlighted by Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources for a possible extended essay or internal assessment in that subject area.  Meanwhile, the comprehensive Ideas Roadshow Extended Essay Guide for Students highlights an additional 5 possible extended essay ideas for each of the 21 different DP subjects we cover.

Extending Wednesdays

The Role of Reflection in the Extended Essay

Our first Extending Wednesday guest post is by Alethea Bleyberg. Alethea is an IB educator and examiner based in Hong Kong and is a member of the Extended Essay curriculum review team.

As a member of the curriculum review team for the Extended Essay, I was recently asked to feed back to the team leader my thoughts on the role of reflection in the EE process. Reflection received a new and substantial emphasis in the current EE guide (first assessment 2018) with the introduction of the Researcher’s Reflection Space (RSS), formal reflection sessions and the Reflections on planning and progress form, more commonly known as the RPPF. What follows here are my own thoughts on the role of the reflection in the EE process, in light of the input of the many thoughtful contributions from my fellow team members.

The EE guide, understandably, makes a number of assumptions about the importance of reflection in the Extended Essay process. Reflection, after all, is embedded in the philosophy of all IB programmes. It is one of the ten learner profile attributes. As a metacognitive skill, reflection is a complex process requiring a focus on multiple types of strategies, including cognitive, metacognitive and affective/motivation strategies. Moreover, it is assumed that reflective thinking strategies generally result in increased academic achievement. As a result, reflection is an integral component of virtually all IBDP courses whether it be the process portfolio in Visual Arts, the learner portfolio in Literature: A or the TOK journal in TOK. It was, therefore, no surprise that the last curriculum review resulted in reflection being added as an assessed component in the Extended Essay process. The EE guide sums up its assumptions around the importance of reflection succinctly as follows: 

“As a part of the extended essay, students will be expected to show evidence of intellectual growth, critical and personal development, intellectual initiative and creativity. The depth of reflection will demonstrate that the student has constructively engaged with the learning process. Such engagement provides evidence that the student has grown as a learner as a result of his or her experience. More importantly, it demonstrates skills [such as critical thinking, decision-making, research, planning, time management, citing and referencing] have been learned.” (EE guide p.41)

It seems to me, therefore, that placing emphasis on reflection, especially in a process as complex as the Extended Essay, can only be a good thing. But this by no means answers the following questions around how reflection should be structured, guided, evaluated and assessed in the EE:

I. Structure

  • How do students respond to formal reflection? Do they complete the RPPF reflections as intended? 
  • What is the relationship between the quality of the essay and the quality of the RPPF entries? 
  • Is the structure of the RPPF the best way to collect reflections?
  • Is the 500-word limit a useful tool to ensure concision or limiting to student’s ability to reflect deeply?
  • Are students really keeping a RSS? How are they being rewarded for doing so?

II. Guidance

  • To what extent should students be guided in how to write formal reflections?
  • How well do the materials in the TSM (Teacher Support Materials) reflect how the RPPF is assessed and guide teachers in supporting students?
  • Are some students being over-supported by their supervisor or coordinator in writing the reflections?
  • Should students be allowed to edit their reflections?

III. Evaluation of effectiveness as a teaching tool

  • Is mandatory reflection an authentic task? 
  • How do we know that students have developed key skills in time-management, organization, research, academic writing and academic honesty through the quality of their written reflections? Does the RPPF evaluate students’ ability to write well more than it does their ability to reflect well?
  • Are students that don’t encounter obstacles in the process due to good planning disadvantaged?
  • Is formal reflection effective in ensuring academic integrity?
  • How do we ensure that students avoid purely descriptive reflections but rather demonstrate higher order thinking skills?

IV. Assessment

  • Should reflection be assessed?
  • If so, is 18% (6/34) of the EE mark an appropriate weighting? 
  • If not, how should students be penalized for not providing reflections?
  • Are the current descriptors in Criterion E fit for purpose in evaluating the quality of student reflection?
  • Are examiners evaluating RPPFs on their own merit or in relation to the quality of the essay (as many EE coordinators report)? If the latter, is that appropriate?

I will try to summarise my thoughts on each of the categories above as best as I can:

I. Structure

In my own experience with students, the quality of the reflections often fails to live up to the quality of the EE. Occasionally this is because students don’t actually complete the reflections when they should in the process, but even when they do, I have found even some of my brightest students’ reflections rather superficial and focused on the less interesting parts of their project. The feedback I have received from my students is that they see reflection as an afterthought to an already daunting process, and something of an IB box-ticking exercise rather than a process designed to support their success. Certainly, it would be possible to integrate reflection within the structure of the EE, but the danger of this is that it could interrupt the writer’s flow and sound inauthentic. 

My own feeling is that the RPPF is largely fit for purpose, but that the 500-word limit discourages students from more meaningful, in-depth reflection. I would like to see the RSS and RPPF merged in some way so that reflection becomes an integral part of the EE process for students, although I acknowledge that student’s natural inclination is to do the bare minimum. Still, I feel that if students could choose three of a wider range of more detailed (hence longer) reflections, they would be more likely to choose reflections that better articulate the parts of the process that were most significant for them.

II. Guidance

I am a strong believer in scaffolding students’ learning experiences and providing explicit guidance on how to write strong reflections along with exemplars is the best way to raise expectations around written reflections. The poor quality of reflections seen by many EE coordinators and examiners suggests there is still a way to go to ensuring most IB Diploma students are confident and articulate reflective thinkers. To that end, the materials in the TSM could be improved to support EE supervisors and coordinators in clarifying expectations and standards to students, and supporting students in improving the quality of their own reflections.

III. Evaluation of effectiveness as a teaching tool

Most would agree that mandatory reflection is an authentic task as it is required not only in school settings, but increasingly by universities and in workplaces (think goal-setting, performance management, professional coaching, editing written work, the design thinking process etc.). 

The extent to which written reflections actually demonstrate mastery of key skills is more contested. Surely the quality of the essay itself is more important in assessing the extent to which self-management, research, communication and thinking skills have been shown in the process. The experience of many EE coordinators is that the marks awarded in Criteria A-D closely match those awarded for Criterion E, regardless of the quality of the reflections. It would be interesting to see a statistical analysis of the correlation between marks for Criteria A-D compared to Criterion E to see how closely aligned the marking of EEs and RPPFs is. If the correlation is strong, perhaps further investigation is needed into why this is the case. It would perhaps also be useful for the IB to make available some examples of EEs whose RPPF was much stronger than the essay itself, especially where the RPPF was the element that pushed the EE over a grade boundary, to highlight the importance of reflection in the EE process.

IV. Assessment

The current weighting, at nearly 20%, seems to place too heavy an emphasis on the RPPF compared to the rigours of the essay itself. The RPPF seems to disproportionately reward reflection over other skills fundamental in a successful EE process. 

Some students, seeing that in Criterion E it is suggested that students address how they overcame challenges, seem to exaggerate or make up problems they encountered. Alternatively, students who planned their process well sometimes feel disadvantaged in not having a dramatic obstacle to reflect on. Perhaps this could be clarified in the next guide so that students are reassured they don’t have to have overcome a major hurdle to be rewarded in Criterion E.

As a former IB Diploma graduate, IB Diploma and EE Coordinator, imagining the future of the Extended Essay and contributing to improvements to the process for students is a joy and a privilege.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

Extending Wednesdays

Money & Science

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Economics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, and features renowned scientist, polymath and author Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, reflecting on how underlying economic motivations often drive scientific inquiry. 

The fact that science, like any other human activity, is subjected to large-scale economic influences is hardly surprising when one stops to think about it, but often scientific activity is treated as somehow “beyond” standard economic frameworks with incentive structures considered to be based solely on internal scientific criteria or a more abstract, idealistic evaluation of “research interest”.

But Professor Dyson’s comments shed light on several important factors directly correlated with the economics of scientific research, ranging from a waste of human capital on a large-scale sociological level to an increased sense of personal and professional frustration on a personal one. 

This topic bridges Economics, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Systems and Societies.  Possible areas of investigation for an Extended Essay include analytical studies of the influence of economic factors on specific avenues of scientific research and the associated complexities of objectively quantifying innovation and productivity in the context of scientific research.

Related resources that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal include the clips Too Much String, and Suddenly Fashionable, as well as the hour-long videos and accompanying enhanced eBooks Pushing The Boundaries and The Problems of Physics which include a wealth of additional research materials.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

Extending Wednesdays

Linguistic Diversity

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Geography section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where UC San Diego linguist Carol Padden reflects on the impact our modern technological era is having on linguistic diversity around the world.

Prof. Padden points out two opposite trends: the difficulty of maintaining linguistic diversity in an increasingly globalized world and connected technology and the opportunities that precisely these technologies give to those who wish to study and learn new languages. 

The case of sign language is even more complex still, as it was only about 50 years ago, thanks largely to the pioneering work of Bill Stokoe, that what he designated as “American Sign Language” was even recognized to be a unique language at all. 

This topic bridges Geography, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Language & Literature and ITGS.  Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include analytical studies of the rate of change of linguistic diversity, the impact of technology on cultural norms, language learning through technology, and objective measures of evaluating language acquisition.

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clips Different Modalities, Humour in Sign Language, Losing the Sharp Edges, Signing As Language, The Roots of Sign Language, the compilation videos Language and Culture, Examining Community and The Science of Language and the two hour-long videos and accompanying enhanced eBook, Sign Language Linguistics.

Extending Wednesdays

Greening the Grid

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the ITGS section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where University of Michigan Business Professor Andy Hoffman describes a number of concrete measures needed to reinvent our current power grids so as to make them vastly more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Professor Hoffman’s unique expertise at combining business innovation with environmental awareness make him extremely well-positioned to weigh in on the vital infrastructural concerns we are facing, together with a host of corresponding technological, environmental, social and economic challenges.

By focusing on specific aspects of how to coherently improve the power grid, students are provided with a wealth of different, overlapping factors to examine in depth – smart grid technology, demand loads, storage, distributed energy, and many more – all within a very specific and well-focused context. 

This topic bridges ITGS, ESS, Business Management, Chemistry, Economics and aspects of Design Technology.  Related Ideas Roadshow IBDP resources include the clips Energy Renaissance, Behaviour and Values and the hour-long video and accompanying enhanced eBook, Saving the World at Business School.

Extending Wednesdays

Crystallographic Conundrums

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Chemistry section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where Paul Steinhardt, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, gives a detailed description of how a surprising result of his computer model of amorphous metals made him question the limits of the laws of crystallography for solids. 

Professor Steinhardt’s ruminations on whether or not the rules of cryptography could be extended to his computer simulations launched him on a remarkable voyage into the world of “quasicrystals”, a new state of matter which Dan Schechtman serendipitously simulated in a laboratory, a feat for which he was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 

Steinhardt’s path to quasicrystal discovery, meanwhile, went in a strikingly different direction, from the mathematics of symmetries, to theoretical predictions of a diffraction pattern that was unwittingly produced by Schechtman and his colleagues at almost exactly the same moment, to eventually stumbling upon a quasicrystal from a rock in Siberia that turned out to be, quite literally, out of this world.  

Possible areas of investigation for an Extended Essay include an analysis of the laws of crystallography for solids and the symmetries of materials, X-ray diffraction patterns and their use in material science, Penrose Tiles and their applications, and a history of quasicrystals.  This topic bridges chemistry, mathematics and physics. 

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clips Beyond The Textbooks, Natural Quasicrystals, Quasi-Serendipity, Scientific Stubbornness, Scouring Museums and the two hour-long videos Indiana Steinhardt & The Quest for Quasicrystals

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

Extending Wednesdays

Computational Complexity

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Computer Science section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where pioneering “quantum cryptographer” Artur Ekert, Professor of Quantum Physics at University of Oxford & National University of Singapore, describes the notion of computational complexity, a way of objectively distinguishing between “easy” and “hard” mathematical problems.

Well, you might be forgiven for thinking, that is all very interesting in an abstract sort of way, but does it have any real practical value?  The answer turns out to be a resounding “yes” – indeed, it is, quite frankly, hard to think of something that has greater practical value. The entire notion of complexity classes was originally formulated to solve the “key distribution problem” of cryptography and led directly to the development of security protocols that are used to encrypt every current financial transaction on the internet.  

And, as is usually the case for science, developing the idea of computational complexity also helped lead to a whole host of additional intriguing concepts, from quantum algorithms to the very nature of “information”.  

This topic bridges computer science, mathematics and physics.  Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include an examination of the history of computational complexity, cryptography’s key distribution problem, current public key cryptographic protocols, classical vs. quantum algorithms and quantum cryptography. 

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the two hour-long videos Cryptoreality Part I and Cryptoreality Part II, as well as the clips The Physics of Information and Applied Philosophy

Extending Wednesdays

The Anthropic Principle

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Physics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where Nobel Laureate Tony Leggett discusses the so-called Anthropic Principle, an idea that begins with the recognition that our current models of particle physics contain within them a number of “fundamental constants” that have no prior explanation – they simply have to be accepted ahead of time, or, as physicists like to say, “put in by hand”.  

Well, most theories have some sort of axioms involved, so that, in itself, is not so significant.  What makes this case potentially different, however, is that the particular values of these constants seem remarkably special (“fine-tuned”, a physicist would say), with only a very narrow range being suitable for not only human life, but even the existence of stars and galaxies. Why, then, do we happen to have the very values of these constants that we seem to “need”? It is this that “The Anthropic Principle” purports to explain? Check out the video called The Anthropic Principle featuring Prof. Tony Leggett.

The recent history of The Anthropic Principle is an intriguing one all by itself, as scientific opinion has oscillated, often very frequently, from utter disdain at its “inherent unscientificness” to a wholehearted embrace. In the 1980s the celebrated science and mathematics writer Martin Gardner wrote mockingly about the “Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle” with its vividly ironic acronym (“CRAP”), while many theoretical physicists unquestionably accept it today.

This topic bridges physics and philosophy.  Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include an examination of the history of the anthropic principle, current levels of acceptance in the scientific community, an analysis of the different types of anthropic principle (e.g. “weak”, “strong”) and a discussion on its compatibility with the scientific method.

Related Ideas Roadshow IBDP resources include the clip The Anthropic Principle, the compilation video Anthropic Reflections, and the eBooks and hour-long videos The Problems of Physics and Pushing the Barriers.

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