Group 4 – Experimental Sciences
Difference between SL and HL
Group 4 students at standard level (SL) and higher level
(HL) undertake a common core syllabus, a common internal assessment (IA)
scheme and have some overlapping elements in the options studied. They are
presented with a syllabus that encourages the development of certain skills,
attributes and attitude- While the skills and activities of group 4 science
subjects are common to students at both SL and HL, students at HL are
required to study some topics in greater depth, to study additional topics
and to study extension material of a more demanding nature in the common
options. The distinction between SL and HL is one of breadth and depth.
Group 4 subjects and prior learning
Past experience shows that students will be able to
study a group 4 science subject at SL successfully with no background in, or
previous knowledge of, science. Their approach to study, characterized by the
specific IB learner profile attributes—inquirers, thinkers and
communicators—will be significant here. However, for most students
considering the study of a group 4 subject at HL, while there is no intention
to restrict access to group 4 subjects, some previous exposure to the
specific group 4 subject would be necessary. Specific topic details are not
specified but students who have undertaken the IB Middle Years Programme
(MYP) or studied an international GCSE science subject would be well
prepared. Other national science qualifications or a school-based science
course would also be suitable preparation for study of agroup 4 subject at
Through studying any of the group 4 subjects, students
should become aware of how scientists work and communicate with each other.
While the “scientific method” may take on a wide variety of forms, it is the
emphasis on a practical approach through experimental work that distinguishes
the group 4 subjects from other disciplines and characterizes each of the subjects
within group 4.
It is in this context that all the Diploma Programme
experimental science courses should aim to:
- provide opportunities for scientific study and creativity
within a global context that will stimulate and challenge students
- provide a body of knowledge, methods and techniques that
characterize science and technology
- enable students to apply and use a body of knowledge, methods
and techniques that characterize science and technology
- develop an ability to analyse, evaluate and synthesize
- engender an awareness of the need for, and the value of,
effective collaboration and communication during scientific activities
- develop experimental and investigative scientific skills
- develop and apply the students’ information and communication
technology skills in the study of science
- raise awareness of the moral, ethical, social, economic and
environmental implications of using science and technology
- develop an appreciation of the possibilities and limitations
associated with science and scientists
- encourage an understanding of the relationships between
scientific disciplines and the overarching nature of the scientific method.
The Assessment Model
This is the same for all subjects in group 4 of the IB
Group 4 Subjects SL HL
Paper 1 20% 20%
Paper 2 32% 36%
Paper 3 24% 20%
IA Labs and 24% 24%
Biology HL and SL
Biologists have accumulated huge amounts of information
about living organisms, and it would be easy to confuse students by teaching
large numbers of seemingly unrelated facts. In the Diploma Programme biology
course, it is hoped that students will acquire a limited body of facts and,
at the same time, develop a broad, general understanding of the principles of
Although the Diploma Programme biology course at
standard level (SL) and higher level (HL) has been written as a series of
discrete statements (for assessment purposes), there are four basic
biological concepts that run throughout.
Structure and function
This relationship is probably one of the most important
in a study of biology and operates at all levels of complexity. Students
should appreciate that structures permit some functions while, at the same
time, limiting others.
Universality versus diversity
At the factual level, it soon becomes obvious to
students that some molecules (for example, enzymes, amino acids, nucleic
acids and ATP) are ubiquitous, and so are processes and structures. However,
these universal features exist in a biological world of enormous diversity.
Species exist in a range of habitats and show adaptations that relate
structure to function. At another level, students can grasp the idea of a
living world in which universality means that a diverse range of organisms
(including ourselves) are connected and interdependent.
Equilibrium within systems
Checks and balances exist both within living organisms
and within ecosystems. The state of dynamic equilibrium is essential for the
continuity of life.
The concept of evolution draws together the other
themes. It can be regarded as change leading to diversity within constraints,
and this leads to adaptations of structure and function.
These four concepts serve as themes that unify the
various topics that make up the three sections of the course: the core, the
additional higher level (AHL) material and the options.
The order in which the syllabus is arranged is not the
order in which it should be taught, and it is up to individual teachers to
decide on an arrangement that suits their circumstances.
Option material may be taught within the core or the AHL
material, if desired.
Chemistry HL and SL
Chemistry is an experimental science that combines
academic study with the acquisition of practical and investigational skills.
It is called the central science, as chemical principles underpin both the
physical environment in which we live and all biological systems. Apart from
being a subject worthy of study in its own right, chemistry is a prerequisite
for many other courses in higher education, such as medicine, biological
science and environmental science, and serves as useful preparation for
employment. The Diploma Programme chemistry course includes the essential
principles of the subject but also, through selection of options, allows
teachers some flexibility to tailor the course to meet the needs of their
students. The course is available at both standard level (SL) and higher
level (HL), and therefore accommodates students who wish to study science in
higher education and those who do not.
Physics HL and SL
Physics is the most fundamental of the experimental
sciences, as it seeks to explain the universe itself, from the very smallest
particles—quarks (perhaps 10–17 m in size), which may be truly fundamental—to
the vast distances between galaxies (1024 m).
Classical physics, built upon the great pillars of
Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics, went a long way in
deepening our understanding of the universe. From Newtonian mechanics came
the idea of predictability in which the universe is deterministic and
knowable. This led to Laplace’s boast that by knowing the initial
conditions—the position and velocity of every particle in the universe—he
could, in principle, predict the future with absolute certainty. Maxwell’s
theory of electromagnetism described the behaviour of electric charge and
unified light and electricity, while thermodynamics described the relation
between heat and work and described how all natural processes increase
disorder in the universe.
However, experimental discoveries dating from the end of
the 19th century eventually led to the demise of the classical picture of the
universe as being knowable and predictable. Newtonian mechanics failed when
applied to the atom and has been superseded by quantum mechanics and general
relativity. Maxwell’s theory could not explain the interaction of radiation
with matter and was replaced by quantum electrodynamics (QED). More recently,
developments in chaos theory, in which it is now realized that small changes
in the initial conditions of a system can lead to completely unpredictable
outcomes, have led to a fundamental rethinking in thermodynamics.
While chaos theory shows that Laplace’s boast is hollow,
quantum mechanics and QED show that the initial conditions that Laplace
required are impossible to establish. Nothing is certain and everything is
decided by probability. But there is still much that is unknown and there
will undoubtedly be further paradigm shifts as our understanding deepens.
Despite the exciting and extraordinary development of
ideas throughout the history of physics, certain things have remained
unchanged. Observations remain essential at the very core of physics, and
this sometimes requires a leap of imagination to decide what to look for. Models
are developed to try to understand the observations, and these themselves can
become theories that attempt to explain the observations. Theories are not
directly derived from the observations but need to be created. These acts of
creation can sometimes compare to those in great art, literature and music,
but differ in one aspect that is unique to science: the predictions of these
theories or ideas must be tested by careful experimentation. Without these
tests, a theory is useless. A general or concise statement about how nature
behaves, if found to be experimentally valid over a wide range of observed
phenomena, is called a law or a principle.
The scientific processes carried out by the most eminent
scientists in the past are the same ones followed by working physicists today
and, crucially, are also accessible to students in schools. Early in the
development of science, physicists were both theoreticians and experimenters
(natural philosophers). The body of scientific knowledge has grown in size
and complexity, and the tools and skills of theoretical and experimental
physicists have become so specialized, that it is difficult (if not impossible)
to be highly proficient in both areas. While students should be aware of
this, they should also know that the free and rapid interplay of theoretical
ideas and experimental results in the public scientific literature maintains
the crucial links between these fields.
At the school level both theory and experiments should
be undertaken by all students. They should complement one another naturally,
as they do in the wider scientific community. The Diploma Programme physics
course allows students to develop traditional practical skills and techniques
and to increase facility in the use of mathematics, which is the language of
physics. It also allows students to develop interpersonal skills, and
information and communication technology skills, which are essential in
modern scientific endeavour and are important life-enhancing, transferable
skills in their own right.
Alongside the growth in our understanding of the natural
world, perhaps the more obvious and relevant result of physics to most of our
students is our ability to change the world. This is the technological side
of physics, in which physical principles have been applied to construct and
alter the material world to suit our needs, and have had a profound influence
on the daily lives of all human beings—for good or bad. This raises the issue
of the impact of physics on society, the moral and ethical dilemmas, and the
social, economic and environmental implications of the work of physicists.
These concerns have become more prominent as our power over the environment
has grown, particularly among young people, for whom the importance of the
responsibility of physicists for their own actions is self-evident.
Physics is therefore, above all, a human activity, and
students need to be aware of the context in which physicists work.
Illuminating its historical development places the knowledge and the process
of physics in a context of dynamic change, in contrast to the static context
in which physics has sometimes been presented. This can give students insights
into the human side of physics: the individuals; their personalities, times
and social milieux; and their challenges, disappointments and triumphs.
(IB Subject Guides 2009)