|IB higher math at Ruamrudee is about as far away from traditional "chalk and talk" mathematics as you can get, reflecting its status as a college-level course within a high school setting. Lively debates are commonplace and the teacher often acts as a consultant and class manager rather than the source of all knowledge.|
At Ruamrudee International School, ambitious college-bound students are busy trying to decide which courses will give them an edge
'Even as a tenth grader you have to start thinking," says Ruamrudee International School (RIS) senior, Maria Plengsangtip. "Oh my gosh what am I going to have to take, AP or IB. RIS has a lot of choices."
Indeed it does. The 755 RIS high school students have a remarkably wide variety of courses to choose from, particularly in their final two years. Juniors and seniors can literally select from A (Art History) to Z (Zoology).
There are different levels of difficulty as well, ranging from basic RIS and standard level International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, to advanced placement (AP) and higher level IB courses for ambitious college-bound students.
AP vs IB
|RIS principal David Parsons (right) and IB coordinator Joe McMillan, have worked hard to give high school students flexibility in choosing from the wide variety of courses available to them.|
Of all their possible selections, RIS students probably put in the most time deciding on their advanced courses. These are the in-depth courses that give them the best chance to enter the college of their choice.
At RIS, these courses fall into two categories, AP and higher-level IB. "Both are college classes inside of a high school," says Alex Furstenberg the twelfth grade counselor. "You are taking two things at once. You are taking a class that is counted for credit here inside this school to graduate and (in many cases) it counts for credit in college."
The AP programme, consisting of 35 courses in 19 subjects, is based in the United States. Last year nearly 60 percent of US schools offered AP courses and more than 800,000 students took them. Over 90 percent of US colleges and universities grant credit for AP courses meeting their standards Ė usually a minimum score of three out of five.
The IB programme is an international programme which originated in Europe. Students have the option of taking individual IB courses at either the standard or higher levels, or they can take a full programme of six two-year courses leading to the IB diploma. Three, possibly four of these courses will be at the higher level.
This year 106 RIS students are taking AP courses in 15 subjects. At the same time, there are 24 full IB diploma students and 38 others are taking some IB courses.
"We donít push one way or the other," says Principal David Parsons. He adds that most RIS students take a mixture of regular, AP, and IB courses. "I think that students feel that to do just IB or AP is too demanding. So theyíll take the courses that they see they definitely need in university along with some courses that arenít so demanding," he explains.
RIS has structured its courses so that students can change their minds after their junior year. "We try to have them related so our students donít have to choose one from the very beginning and stick to it right through," says Joe McMillan, the schoolís IB coordinator.
"A perfect example is mathematicsí" he says. "AP has a prerequisite for pre-calculus. IB is a two-year course, so in the first year of IB, we make sure we have all the pre-calculus topics in that first year of IB."
This month RIS tenth graders are busy deciding which courses to take during their final two years. They have been advised to talk to their upper class friends about the classes they are taking. You can get a good taste of what they are from the four seniors below.
With the calculus and psychology courses she is taking this year, Maria will have five AP courses to her credit when she finishes RIS.
"I moved to the States in ninth grade and I took one AP (European history) in tenth grade," she explains. "Then when I moved back in my junior year I took another two (chemistry and biology) and in my senior year Iím taking two."
In addition to her AP courses, Maria says she is currently taking two regular English courses, reading for college and classic myth and legend, as well as US history and religion.
"AP is a lot harder, more demanding," she says. "It goes at a much faster pace and itís a lot more challenging than are standard courses. During the first semester, AP courses meet every day, but then during the second semester, they are every other day. Each class is 85 minutes."
"Sometimes thereís a lot of homework, but one thing is that people who take AP are more responsible. Even if the homework is not assigned, a person reads and goes over what has been learnt in class. If not, I donít think you could catch up with the work," Maria says.
In almost all AP classes (the exception being art-oriented classes) everything is geared toward a comprehensive, externally-graded examination. But, says Maria, that doesnít mean that everyday course work doesnít matter.
"The course work doesnít count towards the AP exam, but then we have individual semester grades, so all the class work, tests, essays, group work all count toward the semester grade," she says.
As for the exam, "there are two parts. One is multiple choice and the other is essay free response. Free response might be anything from any areas I have studied. Multiple choice questions deal more with logic."
Maria has a number of reasons for taking AP courses in preference to IB. "AP is much better for me as an individual," she says. I have taken four other AP and if I take any other IB then for the money itís not worth it. Another very important thing is that Iím planning to go to the States and I donít think I need the IB. I think itís better if I take one thing, all AP."
While school administrators insist that US colleges and universities readily accept both AP and IB courses, many RIS students, like Maria, are under the impression there is a preference for the AP. That may be one reason why there are almost twice as many students in AP courses as there are in IB courses at the school.
Adipong is one of the 24 RIS students in the IB diploma programme. He is taking five courses this year, having finished one other course Ė Spanish Ė a year early.
The coursework for the IB diploma is very broad and demanding and Adipong clearly thrives in such an environment. He feels his programme is much more suited to his interests than are AP courses.
"With IB I can take more courses which cover a large area of knowledge. If I take AP calculus, for example, Iíll only be studying calculus. But if I take IB higher math, Iíll be studying not only calculus but vectors, statistics, probability and other areas.
"AP courses do go deeply into subjects, but at the high school level I enjoy taking the time to reflect on what I learn rather than just learn it. I believe IB offers that.
As an example, Adipong cites one of the IB diplomaís core requirements, the extended 4,000-word essay. "I got to reflect on a topic I chose on my own," he says. My essay was on chemistry. I investigated the relationship between the amylose (a type of sugar) content of rice and its water absorption during cooking.
"I learned about amylose and the chemistry of rice but I also got to learn about how scientists go about doing their experiments. I got to go to a research laboratory and got to talk to experts in this area.
"What I appreciated the most was in my conclusion I had to analyse what I did and whether what I did was up to standard or whether there were any experimental errors. Itís not only about learning but also learning about what you learn.
In explaining how he chose such an arcane topic, Adipong gives a good demonstration of the thought processes fostered in the IB programme.
"First of all, I like chemistry, I talked to my advisor about it and he suggested that I might want to do something connected with Thai culture. Thatís where my interest is because Iím Thai. I was eating dinner and I was thinking to myself, Iíve been eating rice since I was young, so I came up with the idea that rice would be an appropriate topic.
Then I thought about rice some more and I did a little research. Since Iím also taking biology at the higher level I have a little background information about sugar and amylose. So I got the first variable Ė amylose.
Now I had to see how this amylose affects different properties of rice. Amylose affects numerous properties of rice Ė its stickiness, toughness, colour and water absorption. Qualities like stickiness and toughness didnít appear as important to me as water absorption because my parents have to cook rice every day and they have to measure how much water they cook. That just seemed like a practical topic to research."
John Ki-chung Hsu
John, like many other RIS students, is taking a mixture of AP, IB and regular RIS subjects. For his advanced courses, he is taking AP physics and AP studio art as well as higher level IB business organisation and management.
Which does he prefer? "I prefer AP," he is quick to respond. "Itís less work. In AP, youíre more independent. You go more according to your own pace and just follow the class. What you need to know, itís there. Itís set. But in IB itís also set in what you need to know, but you have to apply. Itís harder, you need to be more intelligent. It requires thinking.
"For AP, itís really direct on what you have to cover. The AP coursebook is what you need for that course. Itís very specific. But for IB, I think its more well-rounded. You need to know a lot more because itís a two-year course. Thereís an internal assessment and thereís the (final) exam, so you donít only focus on the exam like the AP.
Johnís AP studio art course, however, is a significant exception since there is no final examination. Instead, he is required to produce a series of works which are sent to the United States at the end of the term for evaluation.
"AP art is really independent," John says. Thereís a breadth section and thereís a concentration. The breadth section requires many different kinds of works. They (the examiners) say they want a diversity of ideas, techniques, and styles.
"For the concentration, you concentrate on one (type of) work. The teacher will advise you, but most of the time, you spend your time working on your own. Iím doing a landscape. Iím drawing a specific place, but in my 12 drawings (a course requirement) each has a different story to it."
Apart from individual work, John says there are workshops for students who need to develop particular skills. "Then we have critiques. Every month there will be critiques of the works you did that month. You explain about the work and you get comments to help you improve."
Thanh Tam Nguyen Duc
Thanh Tam is uniquely qualified to comment on the differences between the AP and IB programmes. She is one of those rare students who wasnít satisfied with merely obtaining the IB diploma. Last year, she also managed to fit in two AP courses. This is not recommended, but given Thanh Tamís capacity for work, it wasnít discouraged either.
"In AP you go into one specific topic deeper than in IB where you explore different topics and you get more variety. For IB, itís more hands-on work. Itís experimenting. You can do more lab work," she observes.
I took both AP statistics and AP calculus. For AP calculus, we studied solely calculus and we tried to go in depth, but for IB we study calculus and we also go into matrixes. Now that I have been studying both I see that IB maths covers almost as much as AP does."
Finally, she offers a good piece of advice for RIS tenth graders and other students in similar situations around the world. "Overall, the choice between IB and AP is more about how you study. Choose the IB if youíre more analytical, if youíre good at writing essays," she says.
RIS principal David Parsons (left) and IB coordinator Joe McMillan, have worked hard to give high school students flexibility in choosing from the wide variety of courses available to them.