In biology there is a joke we pass around: the more complicated a system is, the more difficult it is to study. Biological systems are the most complicated systems humanity has yet observed, and thusly studying these systems is the most difficult science. This joke is especially fun around physicists and chemists.
Yet there is truth in this joke. Biological systems are immensely complicated and they exist under an unfathomable scale, from subcellular structures to entire ecosystems. How then do we approach this science, and how do we teach it to the people who will inherit our knowledge?
I am trained as a population geneticist and molecular ecologist. Molecular ecology is the study of how genetics is shaped by ecology (ranges, niches, etc.) or vice-versa. This field attempts to relate the big-scale (ecology) to the small-scale (genes) to see how they influence one another. Molecular ecology is the perfect bridge between the small and the large phenomena we encounter in biology.
The IB Programme is similar in its pedagogy. Seemingly disparate topics are dovetailed together and their common themes are found. The IB Programme stresses how each classroom is tied to other classes, be it through language, culture, history, or ethics. Science is no exception: science is simply a human institution, and human institutions are shaped by history, language, and philosophy.
At WaPrep, IB Biology is structured as a university-level class. Exams are difficult and focus on essays, themes and content, as opposed to simple answers. Academic rigour, thoroughness, and precise wording are stressed to truly prepare students for a university education. It is my goal that zero students from my class return home to express shock at how difficult their classes are; I intend for them to first taste this at WaPrep; I want them to hit the ground running once their university career begins.
In IB Biology, the first academic year (Bio 101) covers the “small,” starting at molecules, working through genetics and cells, and ending at physiology. The second year (Bio 102) focuses on populations and ecosystems, and relates them back to the “small,” much like molecular ecology does as a scientific discipline. WaPrep values hands-on learning and IB Biology at WaPrep follows this model. For example, in our unit over biotechnology, we will transform bacteria via conjugation to insert a jellyfish gene via the pGLO plasmid: the resulting bacterial colony glows in the dark. This is the technology that also produces modern human insulin. In the spirit of the IB Programme this lab is related back to other classes, in this case ethics. Previously, insulin was extracted from cows and pigs—how much animal suffering was reduced by this technology, but at the expense of increased costs to the consumer?
IB Biology at WaPrep focuses on bridging all fields of biology, much like the IB Programme focuses on bridging all topics. At WaPrep, this is accompanied by academic rigour and discussion in the classroom, complemented by hands-on labs that apply students’ newly acquired knowledge.