The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme

I found this great post today from an A-level student’s blog, reviewing their A-level choices and subsequent grades. I thought it was such a good idea that I’d do something similar about my experiences on the international baccalaureate diploma programme (IB).


It’s such a long-winded fancy name that you immediately get reactions like ‘ok……’. Then you get people that actually have heard about it and respond with ‘I bet that was hard’. Yeah. It was bloody hard.

Now let me first say that the IB is a great idea in theory. In short, you study 3 subjects at ‘higher level’ and 3 subjects at ‘standard level’, which many UK students like to compare to AS/A-level standards (no, it’s not that simple). You have to pick those subjects within areas though. So you have to do a physical science, a maths, english literature, a language, a humanities subject and usually an art or an extra science/language/humanity. Your grades are out of 7, 4 is a pass and 7 is like top 2% in the world (little bit different to an a* a level, just saying). You then have to complete 150 Creativity Action Service hours over the 2 year course, an ‘extended essay’ (where the Extended Project Qualification came from) and participate in Theory of Knowledge classes. ToK is basically an easy going philosophy class. So I basically had 7 ongoing subjects.

Where IB gets hard is when the school isn’t really prepared to host it. I found out about IB at my local college’s open day, from a teacher who sold it to me as ‘an easy ticket into uni’. As I was already volunteering and had a diverse array of GCSEs at the time, I thought ‘great! sign me up!’.

IB at my local college had about 30 participants and well over 400 A-level students. So we were already a bit of a minority.The great thing about this was the class sizes were really low, my largest was 8 and my smallest was 2 (me and one other person). The bad thing was training of the teacher staff was left to the bare minimum.

So i’ll go through my review of each aspect of IB for me, but please bear in mind this will be different depending on the emphasis IB has at your school.

Higher level Biology

Grade: 6

Rating: 8/10

This text book was a life saver
This text book was a life saver

So I did quite well in Biology in the end! It was my favourite subject after all and always will be. Our teacher, Steve, was great and guided us through the syllabus step by step. We always knew what was coming up and what we needed to know, which made learning such a breeze.

The only reason I deducted some marks was because the actual content got a bit weird sometimes. As IB is an ‘international’ qualification, some of their anecdotes and comparisons can be odd. For instance, we had to randomly learn the process of making soy sauce in the middle of a microbiology chapter. There was a lot of random facts you just had to memorise, which prepped me well for a uni course in anatomy but was really boring as well. They could have lead somewhere with it, y’no?

Higher level Pscyhology

Grade: 5

Rating: 9/10

This video of Rosenhan himself describing his revolutionary experiment in the 70s that changed the american mental institution system for good. It also stimulated so much curiosity in me about psychology. Learning about this experiment kickstarted my degree choice.

Again, I really really enjoyed this course even though I completely chose it on a whim as I didn’t know another humanity I wanted to study. My teacher was so engaging and the subject content itself was fascinating. What’s weird about it is I was predicted a grade 6. I even came out of the exam, thinking it had gone well, and explained my answers to my teacher who said congrats i’ll maybe even get a 7! Our whole class ended up with a grade lower than our predictions so part of me doubts how great those lessons were in the long run. Regardless, it’s part of the reason I studied neuroscience, so nothing can take that away.

Higher level Chemistry

Grade: 4

Rating: 7/10

Online videos from Bozeman science got me through this subject.

This was where it got tough. The teacher (bless him) was such a nice guy but for some reason just got disjointed with the IB content. The rest of my class would grill into him so much as he had a lisp and a stammer, making it hard for him to keep the class under control and focused. I honestly think half of the problem with this class was the rest of my classmates constantly being negative and depressing.

The content itself was fairly interesting and I actually really enjoyed the amount of knowledge they expect out of you at that level – it’s much more than a-level, trust me, teachers have said this. I ended up getting extra help with this topic, but it was too little too late in the end. Regardless I enjoyed it! That’s the science nerd in me showing.

Standard level English

Grade: 6

Rating: 7/10

Who can forget the weird tragedy – Othello

My teacher in this subject had such a lovely, mumsy type personality. I have never been a fan of English (read my post about my rant), so I was so surprised to get this grade in the end. My writing quality improved so much during this course, so I owe a lot of this blog performance to her! I actually enjoyed the lessons where we would act out a play together from start to finish and then go over the analysis. I had been part of a local pantomime society for 8 years so I loved getting stuck into it.

I remember receiving a 7 in my English exam, which was the only place I had ever seen a 7 on any of my work, so that was an amazing feeling. It restored my confidence in writing, which went on to help me in so many future essays at uni (and this blog!).

Standard level Spanish

Grade: 5

Rating: 3/10


Oh my god, Spanish. Now, for someone who got my only A* at GCSE in spanish to go to hating it at IB was really something. My teacher was bat-shit crazy. If you can imagine a typical crazy young spanish woman with the energy of a 5 year old. Triple it and that was Itziar. She was a complete loon and I do not do mornings. I DO NOT DO MORNINGS. Itziar was always full of energy and inappropriate-ness that I just did not enjoy on those Tuesday 9ams (Tuesday’s are the worst).

This was the class with just one other person in it as well who was in sync with Itziar. They were both raving feminists who were super into history, culture and spain and I just kind of enjoyed spanish… Not saying i’m not a feminist in any way, it’s just that I preferred having a discussion about science than Don Quixote. The content was also yet again more pointless vocab that I have never used in my 3 trips to Barcelona. I just wish the academic side of languages would update a bit and start teaching us the relevant stuff first, then move onto random vocab about nuclear power plants.

Standard level Maths

Grade: 4

Rating: 1/10

Probably the best one out there

I saved the best til last!

I actually originally scored a 3 in maths, which was then remarked to a high 4 (how can you even go up a level and a half in a maths remark?!). Just goes to show how much I LOOOOOVED maths! At the beginning we had this extremely socially awkward teacher who just sat at the front of the class and ordered us to do exercises day in day out. Of course, being teenagers we usually just sat there chatting and not caring at all. Then he ‘moved to china’ although we heard he got fired. I can see that.

We then ended up with another crazy loon who was a really good teacher but would focus on one-on-one teaching. She would sit down with people one person each lesson and go through the content while the rest of us were left to our own devices. I brought in my old GCSE maths teacher to help out in the end. This was ok, but the problem was that he’d never been trained in IB so it was a bit awkward to teach me in his way. That’s the thing with Maths at IB, they seem to go into huge amount of depth into a few topics and then miss out other crucial stuff that a-level does. I only gave this the 1 mark purely because of the miracle that I passed.


Grade: A

Rating: 9/10

It looks so useless but I promise you it’s good!

At the beginning of ToK, I used to hate it so much and think it was all so pointless. Then the more we got into it and started relating it to all of our other subjects, it started to click to me how everything is connected. That sounds so hippie… But its true when it comes to school! There were parts of english that were relevant in science and parts of maths relevant to psychology. Spanish is probably the odd one out but still! ToK helped me to develop my self-reflection and problem solving skills sooo much and I think this subject single-handedly prepared me for university learning.

The assessment in this subject is also all coursework and debating, which was fun and stress-free. It was much needed in an environment of constant deadlines, oral exams and written exams.

Extended Essay

Grade: D

Rating: 5/10

I did my extended essay in psychology, hence the lower than expected grade in the end. I think this actually started off as a B or something and was remarked and down-graded… Great choice! I’m not really sure what went wrong here as again, my psychology teacher was adamant it was worth an A grade.

Regardless, the EE was a useful enough tool in preparing you for future research essays but I swear there was next to no guidance for this at all. Again, maybe it was just my college, but I struggled to get on board with what they wanted from the essay, which was really annoying as the EPQ on the a-level stream seemed to have so much more support in place.

From chatting to other students studying similar a-levels, if you were heading off to a school that doesn’t prioritise the IB, then I’d consider going mainstream as chances are the teachers are better trained in that area and there will thus be more support in place for you. I’ve visited schools across the country that offer the IB as standard and it looks like such an amazing course and I can see the potential it has to be brilliant if it’s delivered well. The extra bits like CAS and ToK are so worthwhile. I honestly didn’t think I’d enjoy them as much as I did and you’ll find there is a super strong community out there of IB survivors.

It is hard. It is tiring. It is a lot of extra work.

But it’s also rewarding, encouraging and seems to be something that employers now tell me is something that stands out on my LinkedIn profile. For all the hours upon hours of revising and working my socks off, I did in the end secure a place at my first choice uni for the subject of my dreams. I scraped in, but I got there. And it’s only now that i’m reaping in the benefits from external appreciation at job interviews.

So in reality, as much as I hate on the subjects and the teacher training and what not. I don’t regret my choice at all. Some of the friends I met on IB were incredible and so motivating. One person was the sole driving force that got me through IB and made me into the hard-working, passionate individual that I am today (thanks El!).

For that I will always be thankful.


Teacher’s back to school guide

I decided to take a wander around my local shopping centre today to finally get my hair cut (haven’t had one in just under a year… My hair has gone mad). I ironically didn’t even get a haircut today, but an appointment has been made! Progress!

In the meantime, whilst meandering around the mostly high-end fashion shops wishing for a time where I have solid income, I noticed a common theme… Back to school branded everything! Although, these displays seem to cover only half of the market…


They all target the kids!! Now as much as its the kids that are going back to school, and its the kids that will be bugging their parents to buy them all this useless amazing stationary, teachers are going through this too!

I think it’s about time teacher’s had a back to school spree! Here’s my advice for this…

  1. Pens!


You can find them anywhere and everywhere! Here is a special display just for pens to demonstrate their importance…

2.  Paper


I finally bought some new printer paper!! No more excuses now! Although you’ll obviously need masses of notebooks as well as printer paper.

3.   Oodles of unnecessary stationary

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 22.03.02.png

You’ll need a rubber in the shape of a penguin one day right?

4.  Some professional looking clothes

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 22.03.24.pngSo that everyone will think you know what you’re talking about even when you don’t!

5.  Motivation


In the form of constantly hot coffee (flask), the promise of food (microwavable container) and a reflective daily journal so you can keep a record of your failures mistakes and lucky days successes!

6.  Some kind of stress relief

Untitled 2
Because whether it be alcohol, playing video-games, reading a good book or chilling on the balcony (or all four for me!) we all need something to help us wind down and forget about that bad day week month term.

If you have all of this along with a passion for educating and content knowledge yada yada yada… Then I reckon you’ll do just fine!

As long as you don’t run out of coffee of course…

App Review – The elements (by Theodore Gray)

Since this was released in 2010 I have probably cumulatively spent hours DAYS on this app.

I remember pleading for my dad to buy this on his iPad for weeks after seeing it advertised in a magazine. When he finally gave in, I pretty much took over his iPad for a week…

When I finally bought my own iPad to help with studying at uni (the app ‘notability’ was a life changer for me) this app was a MUST on my list of new purchases.

This app is only available on iOS and is best used on an iPad to take advantage of the bigger screen as you will soon see, the images and content on this app are simply stunning. Regardless of its incredible vast array of scientific info about every single element that we currently know about, the presentation of this app alone could win it awards. The home screen sets out the periodic table as your playground. Each element has it’s own feature image that you can freely rotate from the home page, which is really fun to just play around with.

The fun really starts when you zoom in on any element of your choosing and are welcomed with a story-esque approach to explaining each building block of the universe. You get the classic atomic weight, density, melting/boiling points with little gems like audio with proper pronunciation and often multiple images of that element in action. Each image has been photographed to a very high resolution so they look beautiful and can be manually enlarged, rotated and even shown in stereo 3D (you’ll need to experiment with cross-eyed vision or buy some special cheap glasses online).

At the top right of each element page, you’ll find a flame icon that redirects you to another app (if you buy it, which you should) that demonstrates the elements in action. This includes some short experimental videos to show off each element in all it’s glory. Explosions galore!!

In the main menu, you’ll also find a video showing you all the elements in turn to the famous tune by Tom Lehrer. I remember being first shown this song by my secondary school chemistry teacher during a lesson and I think it’s probably the moment when I realised I was a science nerd for enjoying it so much… It’s nice to see it come alive within this app nonetheless. There is also a really modern Japanese take on the song that they’ve included, which is… Interesting…

OPTIONAL EXTRA – molecules

Another extra that has since been introduced on the app store is ‘molecules’, which if downloaded, becomes an extension from the elements within the menu screen. From the home screen you can choose to view the content in book form, where everything is split into chapters with the stunningly interactive images that featured in the elements.

 Or you can choose the ‘gallery of molecules’ option, which is way more dynamic. Here, you are presented with pages after pages of interactive molecules organised alphabetically and by appearance in each chapter of the book. Upon choosing one, you now have the freedom to drag the molecule around the page however you choose. You can even alter the theoretical temperature and speed of the molecule to see how this alters it’s structure in 3D.

There is also a 2D structure that you can’t move about so its much less interesting, but useful if you want a straightforward representation of complicated molecular structures. There is an info tab for each molecule that outlines alternative names, chemical formulae, class and the elements included in the molecule (with links back to the original elements app to get even more info). There is also a link to the relevant chapter if you want to learn more.


Obviously, Theodore was never going to fit every molecule into this app, like he could with the periodic table of elements. Nevertheless, the essence of this app is to act as a person’s first chemistry set that covers the basics of molecules and their interactions.

Its also nice to see a little bio of Theodore himself in the menu of this extra along with Nick Mann (the photographer).


What makes these apps stand out is the brilliance of connectivity between the 3 components and the stunning details put into capturing the elements in all their glory via pictures and videos. The textual components are equally engaging and bring science back to how it all began – curiosity.

Book Review – 100 Things Awesome Teachers Do by William Emeny


First off, I just want to point out that this nifty 142 page collection of anecdotes is available on both the amazon kindle and ibook store for £3 or you can snag a paperback copy for £6-8 online. Super good deals!

Although this book is relatively short it definitely packs a punch. It is divided into lots of sections with different focuses like behaviour management and how to work with high achievers. Personally, the fact that it goes over coping strategies for high achievers was a big push for me to buy this as lots of people tend to be more worried about low achieving students. Not me! I’m most worried about not knowing enough for those students who go above and beyond expectations. This book is really good at providing short and sweet answers to general queries and sharing some anecdotes about scenarios that the author has come across in the past (great for teaching!).

I think it’s great that the author chose to break down the whole book into ‘idea’ sections. The whole essence is that you can carry this guide around in your pocket or on your smart phone and refer to it when you’re having a rough day or in need of some inspiration! Indeed, the author seems passionate about teaching old dogs new tricks!

Regardless, for a newbie to the teaching game this guide will still be a valuable tool that I will surely keep nearby when i’m starting out to keep my lessons fresh and exciting.


Book review – The Brain Box by David Hogson and Tim Benton

I really really love this book and highly recommend it for anyone still studying for something! It’s full to the brim of hints,tips and great strategies for revising and writing essays/reports. It focuses more on self-discovery revolving around your attitude towards work. I would compare this book to curing a disease rather than curing the symptoms of a disease (like a true medical sciences graduate). It tackles the important aspects of studying like your mentality and motivation rather than feeding you empty techniques like I have seen in other study books.

Moreover, there are still useful tips like the revision timetable planner that I found particularly helpful and interesting ways to make revision more memorable eg. Using music.

What’s best about this book is I have met one of the authors at an educational event and he was an inspiration to get motivated to teach as well as learn. He even managed to teach us a random list of Grammy award winning films using one of the techniques. I can still remember quite a few… Silence of the lambs… Dances with Wolves… Forrest Gump… Gladiator… I haven’t seen half of those!

It’s £9 on Amazon for 196 pages that may revolutionise your life.


General revision: – Great for organising your workload and designing creative resources to keep you on track – Amazing site that outlines the key information for each GCSE and A-level unit for easy revision

S-Cool – I used to use this when I was in school… Same as before, good breakdowns for GCSE and A-level units

BBC Bitesize – A classic revision tool for secondary school subjects that goes over the basics and has fun quizzes and games to keep things interesting!

The Student Room – A place to share your thoughts with other students about homework, university or just general student life!

eRiding – A huge database of random resources for both teachers and students across a range of subjects (can be a bit awkward to navigate through).

Edudemic – Helpful articles on how to get through school both as a teacher and a student! Also focuses on educational links with technology.

Careers resources:

Prospects – Brilliant website full of info and more resources about every career under the sun and all the details you could possibly want about how to get there too.

iCloud – A set of first hand experiences within different careers to get some reviews and ideas on whether it would be for you.

The National Careers Service – Lots of help on how to get started on finding and securing the career that is right for you including university choices.

Science revision:

Flash Bang Science – Quirky company that offer fun experimental methods and quizzes to test secondary science knowledge.

Super awesome experiments to try:

Plastimake – Crazy material that you can mould with your hands into anything and be super strong, but can also return to original material to reform!

Butter experiment – It may sound boring but making butter in a jar may be more fun than you think! Wonder how long it would take to make cheese…

Points of interest:

Good Magazine – Infographics – A subsection of a magazine that deals with statistical representations as infographics. Has some interesting science articles too.

Duncan Shotton – Super cute sticky notes that act as bookmarks that may be useful when reading masses of text books!

TED article – how to give more persuasive presentations – Great article with hints and tips on how to present yourself more effectively.

Guardian science blog – The Guardian do a great series all about science bloggers writing one-off pieces for the master blog of them all! *life goals*

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre is a man of many talents. From being a GP, academic, blogger and most importantly an advocator for abolishing misleading statistical info he writes great pieces relating to stats and medicine and even has a book (which is also fantastic and hilarious)!

Design Thinking – Provides some stunning resources and posters for school life

Teachers specific resources:

Doddle Learn – Cool resources for teachers although can be costly.

Educake – Paperless, online assessment tools to completely revolutionise teaching!

Science Fix – Blog with tonnes of videos on easy science experiments to repeat in class.

Teacher Planner Co – Incredibly beautiful and practical planners just for teachers! You can personalise them too!