IB Diploma Programme Course Descriptions


Recognized in over 100 countries and valued by the world’s leading colleges and universities, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) represents the worldwide gold standard in secondary education.  As illustrated by the curriculum model, the DP provides a complete educational program that develops each student for the global world of the 21st century.  DP classrooms are designed for the teacher and students to form a learning team.  Students will always have responsibility for developing their individual program and reflecting on their progress.  The balanced design of the program with six subject groups and three core components enables each Alcuin Upper School student to grow as a whole person.

Studies in Language and Literature

Through the study of world literature across genres, the DP student learns how language creates meanings in a culture and a text.  In addition to understanding of the form, content, structure and audience, the student also studies the individuals and societies which produced and valued the works.  A deeper understanding of the student’s own life and personal point of view comes through actively engaging with the texts. As students connect with the text and other disciplines, they develop the ability to research, write and present proficiently on topics which are personally interesting and meaningful.

  • How does the reader shape the meaning of the text?*
  • When does a text become defined as literature?*
  • Is literature enlarged or diminished by interpretation?*
  • If meaning is determined by the context and the reader, how can it ever be determined what a text means?*
  • What is the proper function of literature?*
*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2013). Diploma Programme Language A:Language and Literature
 Guide. Cardiff, United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization

Language Acquisition

Language acquisition in the DP will enable the student to have the intercultural awareness and skills to communicate where that language prevails.  DP language classrooms are designed for the student to take the initiative and to evaluate their own progress and learning.  Students will also reflect on the process of language acquisition.

  • Are first languages learned in the same way as additional languages?*
  • To what extend does membership in a group (gender group, cultural group) affect learning a language?*
  • Does the learner understand the world differently through learning another language?*
  • How is perception shown differently in languages (for example, color or sound)?*
  • When, if ever, is it possible to make a perfect translation from one language into another?*
  • When is a translation “perfect”?*
* International Baccalaureate Organization. (2011). Diploma Programme Language B Guide. Cardiff, United   
Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization.

Individuals and Societies

Individuals and societies explore the interactions of humans and their environments in time, space and place.  Information is developed in the broadest possible contexts including political, social, economic, religious, technological and cultural influences. Students seek to explain trends and developments, continuity and change through time and societies.  The nature of knowledge within the discipline enables analysis and understanding rather than the memorization of facts.  Thus providing the student with an understanding of and empathy for individuals and societies across time and across cultures.

  • Is knowledge of the past ever certain?*
  • Can history predict the future?*
  • Is it possible for historical analysis to be objective?*
  • What problems are posed for the study of history by changes in language and culture over time?*
  • Can history be considered in any sense “scientific”?*
  • How does culture influence attitudes toward history and the environment?*
*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2009). Diploma Programme History Guide. Cardiff, United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization.  

*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2008). Diploma Programme Environmental systems and societies 
Guide. Cardiff, United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization.


In the DP science program, students learn how scientists work and communicate.  DP sciences are distinguished from other advanced academic programs by the investigations which progress from the question rather than a set of provided steps.  As a result, the students experience the imagination and creative leap required to develop and test scientific theories and solutions. Also unique to the DP is the Group 4 Project that allows students to appreciate the environmental, social and ethical implications of science. The project is a collaborative experience between DP Biology, DP Chemistry, DP Physics and DP Design Technology students where the interdisciplinary teams design an original question and experiment. The intention is that students analyze a topic or problem which can be investigated in each of the science disciplines. On Group 4 Project day, students present their problem, data, analysis, conclusions and evaluation. 

  • Does scientific truth change?*
  • How can science be reliable?*
  • How does a person decide when one model/explanation/theory is better than another? *
  • Does culture influence science?*
                   *International Baccalaureate Organization. (2013). Diploma Programme Theory of Knowledge Guide. 
                    Cardiff, United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization.


From the artist’s use of perspective to the engineer’s use of stress patterns in materials, mathematics exists across the disciplines.  “… there is no doubt mathematical knowledge provides an important key to understanding the world in which we live.” (IB, 2013, 4) DP mathematics provides an international level of mathematics which exceeds the offerings of any other advanced academic programs.  Additionally, the broad range of available courses provides for the full range of mathematical abilities and interests.  “Each course is designed to meet the needs of a particular group of students.” (IB, 2013, 4) At the Alcuin School, students will be active participants in mathematical inquiry.  Students will learn to explore the content, make a conjecture, test the conjecture, accept or reject the conjecture, justify and extend. (IB, 2013, 11)  As a result, students will understand and appreciate not only the reason in mathematics but also the beauty of mathematics.

  • Is mathematics invented or discovered?*
  • Is mathematics a language or a tool?*
  • Is the understanding of mathematics influenced by culture?*
  • Is technology destroying the understanding of mathematics?*
  • Is it easy to “lie” with mathematics?*
*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2012). Diploma Programme Mathematics SL guide. Cardiff, United
 Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization. 
                *International Baccalaureate Organization. (2013). Diploma Programme Theory of knowledge guide. Cardiff, 
                   United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization. 

The Arts

Courage, passion and curiosity hallmark the International Baccalaureate study of the arts.  Students develop the courage to explore ideas and harness their imaginations.  They become passionate about ideas and artistic communication of their ideas.  Their curiosity extends from self to encompass the world with all of its cultures and traditions.  As students create, present and study the arts, they develop not only their craft but also the ability to think critically, reflect and synthesize.  Appreciation of the limitless possibilities of human expression creates a richer life and brighter future for the IB student.

  • When is expression art?*
  • Is the function of art:  “… to capture a perception of reality, to teach or uplift the mind, to express emotion, to create beauty, to bind a community …?” *
  • How can artistic standards be justified?*
  • Is knowledge gained through study of the arts “of a universal nature or is it too heavily embedded in cultural factors?” *
                 *International Baccalaureate Organization. (2013). Diploma Programme Film guide. Cardiff, United Kingdom: 
                    International Baccalaureate Organization.  

Theory of Knowledge

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.  Chinese proverb
How does one know what one knows?  Therein exists the question which guides the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class.  This class is unique to the Diploma Programme and explores the ways the knowledge is the shared legacy of humankind.  It is viewed by IB students as the wonderful class which connects the learning across the disciplines.  Students explore ways of knowing personally, through disciplines and through cultures.  As a result, students learn to view knowledge and care about knowledge in new and different ways.  Thus becoming both more self-aware and more understanding of the perspectives of others.

  • What counts as evidence? *
  • What makes a good explanation?*
  • When is knowledge certain?*
  • Do facts change?*
  • What does a theory mean in the real world?*
*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2013). Diploma Programme Theory of Knowledge Guide. Cardiff,  
United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization.  

Creativity, Action, Service (CAS)

... If you believe in something, you must not just think or talk or write, but must act.
Alec Peterson (First Director General of the International Baccalaureate Organization)

Creativity – Action – Service (CAS) rests in the core of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  Although an individual school might have community service requirement, CAS is unique to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  Across the two years of the programme, students will design real and personal activities with significant outcomes.  Through CAS the student owns the learning by choosing what to learn about the world and what to learn about one’s self.  As a result, students experience learning that is both profound and life changing.

  • What did I plan to do?*
  • What did I do?*
  • What were the outcomes for me, my team and others?*
  • How has my perspective changed from this experience?*
*International Baccalaureate Organization. (2008). Diploma Programme Creativity, Action, Service Guide. Cardiff, United Kingdom: International Baccalaureate Organization

Extended Essay

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identifies the 4C’s of Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation as necessary for success.  For the IB Diploma Programme student, these 4C’s are embedded in the design of the programme with required activities which are uniquely IB.  The extended essay is independent, self-directed research culminating in a 3,000 to 4,000 word paper.  As the consolidation activity for the Diploma Programme, it touches all 4C’s.  When writing the thesis and developing the argument, the student uses the skills of critical thinking, communication and creativity.  Through structured conversations with the faculty advisor chosen by the student, collaborative skills are honed.  As a result, the extended essay provides a rich and meaning culminating activity for the Diploma Programme student. 
2010 EE topics from Oulun Lyseo Upper Secondary School, Oulu, Finland:

  • Biology: How does intensity of light influence the pigments found in specific biological stains?
  • English A1: The Use of Motion and Its Disruption in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Acquainted with the Night” and “On a Tree Fallen Across the Road”
  • Psychology: To what extent does gender affect the likelihood of becoming anorexic?
  • English B: The portrayal of women’s position and role in fairytales. How are the position and role of women in relationships and marriage portrayed in Angela Carter’s short stories The BloodyChamber and The Company of Wolves.
  • Business and Management: How does a TV commercial affect the awareness of the West Coast brand?
  • Biology: The effectiveness of using Gatorade on a 1500 m run
  • Physics: The Physics of Table Tennis
  • Chemistry: Theoretical and experimental consideration of kinetics of chemiluminescence in glow sticks
                 Oulun Lyseo Upper Secondary School, Oulu, Finland.
                 Partnership for 21st Century Skills. 
                David Wray. (2013). Student perceptions of the value of the International Baccalaureate Extended Essay in 
                Preparing  for University Studies. London, United Kingdom: University of Warwick.  
Innovative Thinkers. Passionate Learners.