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Using case studies to teach Environmental Systems and Societies

When I ask my Environmental Systems and Societies students why they have chosen the subject for the DP, they often mention its interdisciplinary nature as a significant factor. Being able to explore the relationships between human societies and the natural environment through case studies or real-world examples is an essential part of the learning process in ESS. That's why, like many ESS teachers, I found it reassuring that the case study element of the assessment has remained in the new guide from the IB.

Teaching about the interdependent nature of environmental issues 'from the front' can be a challenge. However, when explored through case studies or real-world examples, students can delve more deeply into key 21st-century environmental issues and make essential connections across topics from the course. This is precisely what case studies accomplish. With this in mind, our approach to the Boost digital product of the textbook has been to design interactive case studies that encourage students to engage with the source material and develop the key analytical and evaluative skills needed when working on case study sources, whether in class or at home. These interactives are also excellent for practicing the exam skills required for Paper 1 questions. As every teacher of the subject knows, it is crucial for our students to write well-supported extended answers in their Paper 2. Without topical, recent examples, and wide-ranging evidence, a student's level of response can be limited.

My approach in co-authoring those interactives with Emma Shaw was to provide flexibility for teachers and students. The case studies are designed to be used independently by students outside the classroom or by teachers within the classroom.

In this new Boost package, we have included one case study per sub-topic from the textbook. In each case study, students first discover and learn more about the source itself and its related topics. You can view this here.

Then, they have to answer several questions to analyse and evaluate the evidence.

In the final section of the interactive case study, we have included new DP exam-style questions for students to assess their comprehension and practice their exam technique. Mark schemes are also available for clarity.

This blog was written by Thierry Torres, the co-author of Environmental Systems and Societies for the IB Diploma. Thierry Torres has taught in IB schools for over 15 years. He currently teaches DP ESS and Geography at Antwerp International School where he is also IBDP Coordinator.

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