by Moshan G '17

The IB Science Dilemma

During each year at BSGE, high school students are overwhelmed with school work and exams, leaving them almost no time to socialize with friends and family. On top of this, eleventh and twelfth graders enter the IB Diploma program, a rigorous educational program that trains students to succeed in college and beyond. Near the end of the year, tenth grade students are asked to choose their science course for the IB program out of two choices: IB Biology or IB Chemistry. Students who are confident about which subject they like have a really easy time figuring out which one to pick, but for the ones who are undecided, the decision may turn out to be very hard. The subject they pick may impact them not only at school, but also at the college they attend. Below are explanations of what students study once they enter IB Chemistry or IB Biology, which may help you to decide which course to pick when entering the IB program.

Ms. Mihalache explains: IB Chemistry and IB Biology are both part of the IB science component (Group 4) needed to receive the IB Diploma. BSGE offers a choice of Biology Standard Level (SL) and Chemistry SL. Students get to express their choice late in June and the ultimate decision is made by the science teacher in consultation with other subject teachers. Both courses require the same number of laboratory hours and this will include individual hands-on investigations. The same rubric is used for the labs. The courses also share a similar teaching schedule, meeting one period each day during 11th grade, in order to complete the course before senior year, during which students will take no science. The IB external assessments are similar: 3 exam papers administered over 2 days in May.

Biology (by Dr. Helfenbein)

The IB Biology course focuses on both students’ skills and their understanding of biological ideas. When it comes to skills, the students need to be able to show that they understand the scientific method by demonstrating their ability to design a lab and in doing so, show that they know what variables and pro-variables are, how to choose the right equipment when doing an experiment, and how to collect data. These skills are later used for the students to design and undergo their own experiments.

Students also need to be able to demonstrate that they understand concepts in each of the 6 units: chemistry of life (biochemistry), cells, genetics, evolution, ecology and human physiology. Students who are able to do well in all of these parts will succeed in the course. Biology requires not only memorization, but also to understand the concepts in order to memorize what we learn. Although it is a hard subject, over the years at BSGE, more and more students are improving, which makes me very happy.

– Dr. Helfenbein                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Chemistry (by Ms. Mihalache)

 IB Chemistry is a subject that relies heavily on math skills learned throughout high school. While concepts are as important as they are in Biology, we focus less on memorization and prepare students to connect and apply these concepts in new contexts. The mark of a successful chemistry student is one who can break down complex problems he/she might have never seen before into smaller steps by connecting conceptual knowledge with mathematical techniques. Although chemistry is seen by many as a very difficult subject, the key to success is applying all the ATL (Approaches to Learning) skills learned in all other subjects. Really! Some more concrete advice to succeed in the class for future as well as current students would be:

– Repeating the information over a longer interval — say a few days or a week later, rather than in rapid succession.

– For the test, study for two study periods at least one to two days apart. For a Friday test, study on Monday and review on Thursday.

– Review before going to bed and then sleep in to let the brain process the information.

– Talk about it. Play “teacher” based on the information you have studied.

– Self-test and write down information on flashcards.

– Ms. Mihalache                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Interview With 4 IB Senior Students (Class of 2015):


Andrea Soto

1) What was your experience taking Chemistry?

At first, the class was really hard because it took a while to adjust to it, since Ms. Mihalache gave us the material and had us figure it out on our own. We started to ask each other for help instead of asking her, which made us more independent and interactive with the subject itself. At the end of the unit, Ms. Mihalache went over the materials and answered our questions. As the semester progressed, it got easier to handle.

2) Do you regret taking it?

There were times when I did, but after I look back as a senior, I find myself appreciative for taking the course, because I liked it and also did good on the IB Chemistry exam.

3) Would you suggest that students in the lower grades take Chemistry in the future?

If they’re up for the challenge, definitely. They should keep in mind that the subject is hard and requires them to push themselves. A great indicator for them to know if they will do good in the class is if they like the material in 10th grade chemistry.

4) What is something you would do differently if you took Chemistry again?

I would study a lot more and ask more questions.

Nahin Ferdousi

1) What was your experience taking Chemistry?

Chemistry was challenging, and it required me to go back to the textbook numerous times because I couldn’t understand everything at once. Eventually, though, everything became easier. The class really prepared me for the IB Exam.

2) Do you regret taking it?

Definitely not. I loved the topic and the challenges provided for me. The subject is really engaging and requires me to apply not only memorization, but also logic.

3) Would you suggest that students in the lower grades take Chemistry in the future?

Only if they’re willing to work extremely hard. It’s not a class where one could get by without doing any work. It takes a lot of time and effort.

4) What is something you would do differently if you took Chemistry again?

Take more time to study and actually do the homework.


Maisha Chowdhury

1) What was your experience taking Biology?

Biology was the subject I enjoyed the most because I was able to touch various topics in it and connect myself to it. In Biology, we learned about health and took bio-chemistry and other topics that involved elements of the environment.

2) Do you regret taking it?

No. Because of this class, I am inspired to make Biology my minor or major in college, so it was very influential for me.

3) Would you suggest that students in the lower grades take Biology in the future?

Yes, because it is such a great course.

4) What is something you would do differently if you took Biology again?

I would ask the teacher to give quizzes every two weeks.

Max Musashi Fischman

1) What was your experience taking Biology?

My experience in IB Biology was a very great one due to the great teaching of Dr. Helfenbein. I felt that I learned a lot about the topics and I also enjoyed the manner of teaching.

2) Do you regret taking it?

No, I do not regret it at all because I received great grades in the class thanks to Dr. Helfenbein.

3) Would you suggest that students in the lower grades take Biology in the future?

Yes, I would.

4) What is something you would do differently if you took Biology again?

I would study more for tests and spend more time asking Dr. Helfenbein questions to clarify my knowledge in parts of the subject.


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