New IB Maths curriculum, changes and impact

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“These are not tweaks to the old syllabus but instead two completely new courses with far-reaching implications for IB Maths students”

Approaching half of our tuition requests are Maths, so we know that it is one of the hardest subjects for IB students. This makes any changes to the IB Maths programme essential reading for students and parents alike.

Demystify the new curriculum

Students taking exams in 2021 are in the thick of it right now and IB schools and IB Maths teachers are already on top of the changes, however, the next generations of IB students and their parents are still understanding the key changes and their implications. As we have trained all our IB Maths tutors and talk to parents daily, we can explain the new curriculum and break it down into the key differences and the potential impact for future IB students.

Evolution or revolution, what are the changes?

There are two entirely new IB Maths courses: Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches and Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation. These are not tweaks to the old syllabus but instead two completely new courses replacing the old Maths Standard Level, Maths Higher Level and Maths Studies.

Controversial change, removing IB Maths Studies course

Before diving into what the new courses offer, let’s tackle the key change that is most controversial. The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organisation who create the syllabi for all IB courses) have put the proverbial cat among the pigeons with their move away from offering the Maths Studies course. Historically, this has been taken by students with less of a love for Maths (to put it mildly). The IBO recommends these students take the new Standard Level Applications and Interpretation course, but many teachers are concerned that this will be a real stretch and could lead to disappointing results, with potentially more students failing the course.

Why do we need these new courses?

After a 7-year review, the IBO created the courses to increase the critical thinking in IB Maths, to give students the skills that are becoming increasingly important in the 21st century to:

  1. Reflect the changing needs of universities and the world of work
  2. Offer a greater choice for students
  3. Increase the emphasis on the use of technology
  4. Respond to the low uptake of Maths Higher Level within the IB Maths Diploma

How to choose what to study?

Look to the school’s Maths department and IB Coordinator for advice, check which courses/levels key universities are requiring and finally, but no less important, think about the kind of Maths the student thinks they will do best at.

Not all schools offer both courses at both levels, so it is important to understand the possibilities available. Some smaller schools are starting by offering combined HL and SL classes for both courses. This can be a positive as it has the potential to make HL accessible to more students, however, I know in staff rooms in many IB schools this is not a popular approach as it risks SL students feeling left behind and potentially out of their depth.

Each topic begins with SL content that is common to courses so some schools are looking to start teaching both AA and AI together to cover a common core until Autumn then splitting off into separate AA and AI classes. However, this is a real challenge for teachers, particularly in the areas of trigonometry and calculus. The SL is a subset of the HL for both courses and this is referred to as common content.

We witness students and Maths departments struggling to navigate the choice, with some already adding new Analysis and Approaches Standard Level classes as students find the pace tough and move down.

A deep dive into the new course content.

Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation

This course is developed for students who wish to “develop their mathematics for describing our world, modelling and solving practical problems.” It will also use more technology because of the focus on statistics. Both SL and HL courses contain statistics and probability. The IBO state that it suits students “who enjoy mathematics best when seen in a practical context.” What is clear is that Applications and Interpretation will not be as impressive as Analysis and Approached for those students wanting to follow a Maths related course at University.

Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches

This course is designed for students who “enjoy developing their mathematics” and want to study the “construction of mathematical arguments and develop strong skills in mathematical thinking”. This has a focus on algebra, geometry and calculus at HL, with a relatively even spread across the 5 topics at SL. It will be the clear choice for students wanting to study Maths related courses at university.

For further advice or to find an experienced Maths tutor who can help.

By Sara Lloyd

Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for over 10 years and is an expert on international education in Switzerland. She is also a parent of two lively children.

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