DP Environmental systems and societies course outline


We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.  ~Native American Proverb

The IB ESS Subject Guide (2015) states:

As an interdisciplinary course, ESS is designed to combine the methodology, techniques and knowledge associated with group 4 (sciences) with those associated with group 3 (individuals and societies). 
ESS is a complex course, requiring a diverse set of skills from its students. It is firmly grounded in both a scientific exploration of environmental systems in their structure and function and in the exploration of cultural, economic, ethical, political, and social interactions of societies with the environment. As a result of studying this course, students will become equipped with the ability to recognize and evaluate the impact of our complex system of societies on the natural world.
As described by the IB Group 4 subject guide, the aims of the ESS course are to enable students to:
  1. acquire the knowledge and understandings of environmental systems at a variety of scales
  2. apply the knowledge, methodologies and skills to analyse environmental systems and issues at a variety of scales
  3. appreciate the dynamic interconnectedness between environmental systems and societies
  4. value the combination of personal, local and global perspectives in making informed decisions and taking responsible actions on environmental issues
  5. be critically aware that resources are finite, and that these could be inequitably distributed and exploited, and that management of these inequities is the key to sustainability
  6. develop awareness of the diversity of environmental value systems
  7. develop critical awareness that environmental problems are caused and solved by decisions made by individuals and societies that are based on different areas of knowledge
  8. engage with the controversies that surround a variety of environmental issues
  9. create innovative solutions to environmental issues by engaging actively in local and global contexts.
These objectives reflect how the aims of the ESS course will be assessed. It is the intention of this course that students, in the context of environmental systems and related issues, are able to fulfill the following assessment objectives:
  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of relevant:
    • facts and concepts
    • methodologies and techniques
    • values and attitudes.
  2. Apply this knowledge and understanding in the analysis of:
    • explanations, concepts and theories
    • data and models
    • case studies in unfamiliar contexts
    • arguments and value systems
  3. Evaluate, justify and synthesize, as appropriate:
    • eexplanations, theories and models
    • arguments and proposed solutions
    • methods of fieldwork and investigation
    • cultural viewpoints and value systems.
  4. Engage with investigations of environmental and societal issues at the local and global level through:
    • evaluating the political, economic and social contexts of issues
    • selecting and applying the appropriate research and practical skills necessary to carry out investigations
    • suggesting collaborative and innovative solutions that demonstrate awareness and respect for the cultural differences and value systems of others.
Year 1 Year 2

Content- Semester 1

1.1Environmental value systems
1.2 Systems and models
2.1 Species and populations
1.3/2.2 Energy and equilibria/ Communities and ecosystems
2.4 Biomes, zonification, and succession
3.1 An introduction to biodiversity
3.2 Origins of biodiversity
3.3 Threats to biodiversity
3.4  Conservation of biodiversity
1.5  Humans and pollution
1.4 Sustainability

Content- Semester 2
8.2 Resource use in society
4.1 Introduction to water systems
5.1 Introduction to soil systems
6.1 Introduction to the atmosphere
2.3 Flows of energy and matter
6.2 Stratospheric ozone
6.3 Photochemical smog
6.4 Acid deposition
2.5 Investigating ecosystems
7.1 Energy choices and security
7.2 Climate change- causes and impacts
7.3 Climate change- mitigation and adaptation

Content- Semesters 1 and 2

8.1 Human population dynamics
8.4 Human population carrying capacity
4.2 Access to fresh water
4.3 Aquatic food production systems
5.2 Terrestrial food production systems
5.3 Soil degradation and conservation
4.4 Water pollution
8.3 Solid domestic waste


What to expect from the teacher:
  1. Readiness to make connections between the course, other learning experiences, and your life
  2. Autonomous learning: To become or continue being a proactive self-motivated learner
  3. Willingness to contribute to a positive (and enjoyable!) class environment by being an “open-minded risk taker,” by sharing your opinions and ideas and listening those of others
  4. Submitting all assignments and participation in all learning experiences- the more evidence you give me of your learning, the better able I am to identify “where you are at” and help you in your learning process.  If you give me little evidence (i.e., you do not complete assessments), I will have to assume that you do not know or understand the material and that you are not meeting the assessment objectives.
External assessment (75% of final assessment)
The external assessment consists of two written papers and is worth 75% of the final assessment.  Both papers test assessment objectives 1, 2, and 3:
  1. Students will be provided with a range of data in a variety of forms relating to a specific, previously unseen case study.
  2. Questions will be based on the analysis and evaluation of the data in the case study.
  3. All of the questions are compulsory.
Paper 1
  • Students will be provided with a range of data in a variety of forms relating to a specific, previously unseen case study.
  • Questions will be based on the analysis and evaluation of the data in the case study.
  • All of the questions are compulsory.
  • Duration = 1 hour for 40 marks at 25% weight.
Paper 2
  • Paper 2 consists of two sections, A and B.
    • Section A is made up of short-answer and data-based questions.
    • Section B (40 marks) requires students to answer two structured essay questions from a choice of four. Each question is worth 20 marks.
Internal assessment (IA) (25% of final assessment)
Internal assessment enables students to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge, and to pursue their personal interests in ESS, without the time limitations and other constraints that are associated with written examinations.  The IA tests all assessment objectives.
The IA task involves the completion of an individual investigation of an ESS research question that has been designed and implemented by the student. The investigation is submitted as a written report.
You work on the IA for 10 hours over the course of several class periods.  
Nuts & Bolts:
  1. Readings – your homework will mostly be reading assignments from your book.  I will provide note-taking templates to support and focus your reading.  Completing the reading assignments at home will allow us to spend class engaging with the material and each other in more dynamic activities and discussions.
  2. Note-taking- taking notes in class and while you are reading is essential to organize and make connections between thoughts, as well as to review and practice with the examples and models from class. You are required to take written notes in a notebook.
  3. Tardiness: Be on time for class. All tardies or absences will be noted.
  4. Academic honesty: Have in mind that plagiarism will lead to serious consequences. Distinguish between correct paraphrasing, direct quotation, and citation formats. Any notebooks or homework that looks too similar will also face serious penalties. For more information, please see the ISB Assessment and Academic honesty policy document.
  5. Respect: Respect each other’s voice. Listen to each other. Do not cut each other off in class discussions.
  6. Due dates/Late work- you will be held to the expectations of the DP assessment policy- you will be marked down 10% for each day you hand in a late assignment, up to 3 days.  After that point, you will receive feedback on your work, but no grade.
You will be graded on the evidence you provide of meeting the expectations of the assessment objectives:
  • 25% - Demonstrating knowledge and understanding
  • 25% - Applying knowledge and understanding in analysis
  • 25% - Evaluating, justifying, and synthesizing
  • 25% - Engaging with investigations of environmental and societal issues at the local and global level
Year 1 Year 2
Final grades in Semesters 1 and 2 during the Year 1 will be scored:
- 40%  quarter 
- 40%  quarter 
- 20%  semester exam
Final grade in Semester 1 will be scored:
- 40% quarter
- 40% quarter
- 20% semester exam
Final grade in Semester 2 will be scored:
- 80% Quarter 3
- 20% overall mock grade