Digging into the Environmental Systems and Societies SL.

Written By Carly T.

For many Environmental Systems & Societies (ESS) students the IA (Internal Assessment) is an intimidating component of their IB Diploma score. This task requires a high level of independent thinking, strong investigation skills as well as time management. Unlike a regular research task or lab report the IA is completely independent, meaning that students will not have a lab/research partner and teachers are not allowed to give anything more than the most basic of guidance. This blog post is meant to help guide students through the ESS IA process, it is my hope that this post will help to clarify the unique nature of the ESS IA, after all it is not a Science IA nor is it an Individuals & Societies IA.

What is the ESS IA?
 The IA is your chance to show the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) that you have learned how to apply your knowledge in ESS through critical thinking, data analysis and experimental design. Since it is a cross-listed Group 2 & Group 4 course you can choose to investigate an ESS issue from a laboratory science or social science perspective. The IBO requires that you are given ten hours of class time to work on the IA, but that is rarely enough time to complete the entire process. Most students will need to spend a significant amount of their own time on their IA as those 10 hours include teacher instructional time and consultations with students to check the authenticity of each IA. The majority of class time is usually spent collecting and analyzing data as well as writing up the 1500 to 2250-word long report.

IA Component of ESS Score
The ESS IA is worth 25% of the students’ final grade in ESS, the other 75% coming from Paper 1 (25%) and Paper 2 (50%) of the final exam written in May or November of the students’ final year of the IB Diploma. It is worth noting that this is the only non-exam-based component of the students’ final score and therefore it is less likely to be affected by a single bad day during the chaos of exam month, unlike the two papers of the ESS exam. With many hours to work on the IA and limited teacher and peer support students should really focus on earning the best possible score they can on their IA.

Assessment & Rubrics
 As previously stated the ESS IA is worth 25% of the students final score in the course, that 25% is made up of six different components:

  • Identifying the Context (20% of the IA score)
  • Planning (20% of the IA score)
  • Results, Analysis & Conclusion (20% of the IA score)
  • Discussion & Evaluation (20% of the IA score)
  • Applications (10% of the IA score)
  • Communication (10% of the IA score)

Since the IA is an internal assessment it will be graded by your classroom teacher who will then submit their score and your IA along with their notes and an explanation of their choices to the IBO. A random sampling of IAs from each class will be moderated by an IB examiner, the examiner will grade the IA to check that the teacher’s grading is accurate. If the randomly chosen IA is graded correctly then none of the other IAs in that group will be graded by an examiner, the teacher’s grades will stand; however, if the teacher’s grades were too high or too low by a significant margin all of the IAs will be graded by an IB examiner. It is therefore in the best interest of the teacher to grade each IA as accurately as possible.

 Strategies for Success
There are many excellent ways to conduct and write a high quality ESS IA, in the following sections I will discuss some of the most important steps in this process providing tips and strategies to help you get the highest possible score on your IA!

Connecting to an ESS Issue
The ESS IA begins with the choice of a particular aspect of an ESS issue to focus on through some sort of investigation. Your ESS issue will guide your context, the research question and your applications. This ESS issue can be tackled from a human science studies or an experimental science perspective, something unique to the ESS IA. You must start by considering what is an ESS issue that you care about? It can be local or global and this choice of an issue will then lead to your focused research question.

 How to Pick a Good Research Question & Why it Matters
The single most important part of your IA is your Research Question, which must include and arise from a broader area of environmental interest, or the context and then focus in on the specific area to be analyzed. For example, the broader issue could be sustainable food production and the students’ research question could be about the impacts of aquaculture in their area, which would allow them to then discuss the possible use of aquaculture in other regions based on their findings. It is worth taking time to really think about your research question, I would suggest brainstorming 5 or more ideas and then narrowing them down. The entire IA must be tied to your fully focused research question, so do not rush it, make sure it is focused and that you can collect and analyze sufficient data (primary or secondary data will work) to answer your question and then propose solutions based on your findings.

 Stages of the IA Process for Student
 Your IA process should look something like this:

  • Brainstorming ESS issues which are of particular interest to you & researching them to establish the context
  • Brainstorming research questions (RQs) for your preferred ESS issues
  • Checking how you will collect data to answer your RQs and eliminating any which cannot be answered with primary or secondary data
  • Finalizing and focusing your Research Question
  • Choosing your methodology & collecting data (primary or secondary data work)
  • Analysing the data with statistics or other analytical techniques
  • Interpreting your analyses to draw a conclusion
  • Discussing your findings and evaluating the strengths & weaknesses of your investigation
  • Proposing solutions and applications of your findings to help with your ESS issue in the real world
  • Editing of the IA draft by a peer, by your teacher (for commentary feedback only)
  • Using the IBO rubrics to make one last check before submission

 Teacher Guidance: What is allowed?
 Your teacher is allowed to support you in the planning stage and throughout your time working on the IA. They need to inform you about the IBOs expectations for the ESS IA, the animal experimentation policy and the assessment criteria. Students can and should ask their teacher questions which they teacher can answer, as long as they are not guiding the student in how to improve their IA…for example your teacher can tell you which equipment they have to use to collect data or explain a technique or tool you want to use, but they cannot tell you which data collection technique to use to answer your research question. Your teacher is allowed to read a draft of your IA only once, they can provide you with written or oral advice based on that IA, but they cannot edit the draft. Throughout the process your teacher will ask you questions and check on your progress both to support you and to ensure that they can confidently say to the IBO that the IA is your own authentic work.

I hope that this blog post helped give you a little more clarity about the ESS IA and the process. With hard work and a well-organized plan to answer your research question I am sure that you will do well! Try to think of it as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate your skills rather than a big assessment to check off the list. You can do it!

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