History of the Americas - HL: This is a two-year course taught by the team of James Rogers and Eric Sacco. Rogers attended Connecticut College and spent 17 years as an AP teacher and exam reader before his exposure to IB courses. Sacco is a graduate of Cheshire Academy and Johns Hopkins University before earning his PhD at UConn.
The differences between IB and AP history courses are fundamental and straightforward. AP courses are “coverage based,” often involving a fast-paced survey of 500 years of history of a region. In contrast, IB courses are based on units of study chosen from an extensive list by the teacher. For example, one unit of study in our IB History of the Americas course is the Cold War. The course examines this period aiming for a deep understanding of the complex dynamics of the era. As the course title suggests, events and perspectives from both Canada and South and Central American countries are also of importance. This international focus is typical of the IB as a whole.
Naturally, the differences are apparent in the major assessments. In addition to an essay section allowing for little choice of topic, AP history tests have a large number of multiple choice questions and, just recently, a short answer section. There are four major IB assessments. The first is an internal assessment which is a three-part process graded by the teacher. Students must choose a topic and then critically evaluate two of the sources they use. Next is a written historical investigation, followed by a critical reflection on the entire process. Here again we see the IB focus on critical thinking and reflection on the nature of learning itself within a particular discipline.
The externally graded exam taken at the end of the course is comprised of three essays. These essays are related specifically to three different elements of the course. Students know exactly which areas of historical analysis will be involved. As Rogers puts it, “the IB wants to find out what you know, not what you don’t know.” Rogers and Sacco chose “The Move to Global War” (WWII) from a list of five possible topics for in-depth study. Students must include study of Japan, Hitler and Mussolini; they can develop the unit in any way they see fit after that.
The second essay relates to world history, which for the Academy involves a focus on The Cold War. The unit must include perspectives from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. The final essay, the inclusion of which is the primary distinction between the SL and HL courses, is focused on study of perspectives from the three American regions relative to a chosen theme. We respect the focus on transregional perspectives; important historical events always have an international context.
With all of these essays, students can be confident their efforts at deeper understanding will be rewarded at exam time. It has been clearly established through extensive educational research that memorization of material is of limited value. What is not integrated into a clearly developed structure of knowledge is quickly forgotten. This is the main reason Cheshire Academy prefers the IB approach to the AP approach. With each passing year, more colleges and universities are coming to view this element of the IB with favor.
IB Language and Literature HL: Here, too, the differences between AP and IB are distinct and important. Our two-year HL course is taught by Marc Aronson, a graduate of Tufts University. AP literature courses focus on close reading, rhetorical devices, style, tonal elements – generally on matters of technique. While personal, historical and cultural contexts of texts inevitably emerge in any analysis, recognition and exploration of them is not valued and rewarded in AP assessments.
In the IB course, examination of any text begins with a reader’s personal response. Consistent with the IB’s emphasis on international perspectives and understanding, students are encouraged to explore cultural and historical contexts. The major assessments, some of them evaluated internally and others externally, offer students a range of questions to which they may respond. Some of the questions tend in the same direction as the AP assessments, but others allow for a different kind of deep, meaningful response to a text. We think that the benefits of this differentiated approach are clear, as students have different kinds of serious and important interests in literature. The faculty feels that the emphasis on the humanistic intentions and possibilities of literature in the IB course is appropriate for a majority of students.
Mathematics HL: One of our teachers of IB HL math is new to the school. Michael Ropke came to us from NYU and Teachers College Columbia University. He has several years of experience teaching both AP and IB courses. He teaches the seniors in the two-year sequence. The juniors are taught by Dean of Academics Sue Eident, a graduate of Brown University. HL math is a very difficult course involving exposure to a wide range of problem types. The HL course focuses on six topics with the teacher choosing one of four possibilities for additional emphasis, which in our case is calculus. The topics are algebra, vectors, functions, circular functions and trigonometry, statistics, and calculus, which, because of the extra emphasis, rises to BC level. In contrast to the AP calculus course, there is less emphasis on the memorization of formulas and use of calculators. Calculators are used, of course, but the main focus is on application of skills and problem solving. Exams may involve unfamiliar problems, but students will know they have studied the exact skills and relevant mathematical concepts required for solution to the problem. One area where Ropke thinks the IB course offers considerably less than an AP course is statistics. There is a school of thought holding that statistics rather than calculus should be the highest rung of the high school math ladder for most students. Fewer people will use calculus skills in the future, while statistics have relevance across a wide range of academic disciplines and in many ordinary life contexts. Despite the fact that we have phased out some AP courses in recent years, we do offer an AP Statistics course at Cheshire Academy.
IB SL Physics is taught by veteran teacher Ray Cirmo, a graduate of the UConn who spent many years as a developer of medical equipment before entering teaching. Cirmo is highly regarded by students for his passion and ability regarding incorporation of real-life applications into his classes — a skill sharpened, of course, by his first professional life —- and this is a main feature of IB physics. Cirmo has taught AP physics for many years, including recent years when the AP became a two-year course.
The Academy began our two-year IB SL Physics course last year, so his comparative impressions are still forming. He does consider the AP course an excellent and comprehensive physics course, and he loves teaching it. In recent years, his AP course students constructed a framework satellite with cameras that ascended to 120,000 feet and eventually returned to earth about 30 miles away from the school. Needless to say, the students loved this project. The IB course does not attempt the same degree of content coverage, a general theme in the IB program, but instead focuses on the thinking processes of science itself. Of course, there is a substantial exploration of the content of physics, but the emphasis is different, which relates to Cirmo’s favorite aspect of the course: the internal assessment. Students choose a topic, develop a related experiment, collect data, then organize and make sense of that data. One student took apart an electric guitar and is studying the mechanics of electrically produced sound. Cirmo noted that her excitement with this project has led directly to better performances on recent tests, clearly a result with important implications. Another student is using a metal pie plate and a magnet to explore electromagnetism. He is spinning the pie plate and moving it closer and closer to the magnet while measuring the strength of developing magnetic fields. Cirmo values this process highly because it asks students to work in the exact same manner as professional scientists. One thing students learn from this is that there is always a gap between abstract, mathematical formulations and the actual physical world. My final question to Mr. Cirmo AP and IB physics students would not be placed in different courses in college engineering programs. That provides another compelling reason for the Academy to embrace the IB program and its focus on qualitative and creative thinking rather than a “coverage” goal.
IB Music HL and SL: This course is taught with both HL and SL students in the same classroom. The course is taught by Nathan Trier who spent six years teaching chorus, leading ensembles which include a wide range of instruments, songwriting, performance and AP Music Theory at a public charter school in CT before coming to the Academy last year. Eunyoung DiGiacamo, music director, has many years of music teaching experience and a background in music therapy developed in an NYU graduate program. They both consider AP a valuable and interesting course that can help any student in their development as a composer. AP Music Theory, a one-year course, focuses on the chamber music and four-part choral music of famous classical composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. IB Music, a two-year course, focuses on the same theoretical ideas but – and here we see a consistent IB theme – there is also a focus on music from around the globe, including popular and folk music, and on student creativity and interests.
Students are encouraged to explore commonalities of all kinds between musical cultures, and students compose and arrange music of whatever kind interests them.
For example, one female student who loves the sea intends to write three sea shanties for her composition project. Students also write a paper comparing musical ideas from two different cultures, which is graded externally. They also perform recitals and arrange music for their internal assessment and sit for an externally graded exam. Trier loves the IB course especially because it allows him to share his own wide-ranging passion for music with all music-loving students.