DP Curriculum Corner: 22/03/2019

DP Curriculum Corner

How quickly time flies in the Diploma Programme! Our students are now 70% through Year 1 and are 1/3 way through their full programme, including the holidays. Internal assessments have started in earnest and our students have begun on their 8 month journey through the Extended Essay.

Our next big milestone takes place in June, with 2 weeks of End of Year examinations. It is never too early for our students to start preparing and revising for the examinations as they plan a key role in applications for University and predicted grades.

As students start to juggle more and more demands on their time, levels of stress can build, especially around examination times.

Some stress can be a good thing. But, sometimes stress levels can get out of hand, particularly at the end of an academic year.

One way in which we help our students to manage their levels of stress is to help them understand how some stress can be positive in relation to learning, but that too much can be damaging to their health and well-being.

From a positive perspective, scientists have discovered that hormones produced when we are stressed causes changes inside the cells of our brains that help memories to be stored more effectively. They found that stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline trigger changes in the way the genes inside neurons function and so enhances their learning ability. Professor Hans Reul, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol who has been leading the research, said that it suggests that studying while feeling stressed could help increase the ability of students when learning. He said: “We often find that unpleasant memories are the ones that stay with us for the rest of our lives more than pleasant memories. This is because of the role that stress plays – it is clearly important from a biological point of view to remember something that hurt or threatened us. So essentially the stress hormones are enhancing the process that is normally taking place when you are learning.”

From a negative perspective, Dr Reul warned that while some stress can be good for memory formation, too much stress can have the opposite effect. “When we are extremely stressed it is not possible to pick up any new information,” he said. “The brain goes into an override mode and so the memory formation is not efficient. Chronic, long term stress is also not good.”

So what does this mean for our students? To keep stress levels manageable, they need to plan strategies for the long-term. In school, we will be supporting students with clubs on study skills, mindfulness and sessions in Homeroom time. Here are some suggestions that parents can support with at home.

Encourage students to write down their worries

Create a personal notebook that becomes the place where students put down their thoughts, stress and dilemmas. It’s surprising how often a problem can be solved by simply writing it down and it often results in students feeling more prepared to talk about their feelings and problems. Students can also take control by throwing away the pages after the worry has passed or keeping it to refer as guidance in similar situations later on.

Here is an example: “I have an English essay due in by Friday but I also have sports practice three nights this week and don’t understand anything in Chemistry.”  Encourage them to re-read what they have written and try to think about the logical solution: what is the situation, problem, possible solutions? This will also help students in prioritizing actions when they feel there is too much to do.

The trigger here is the deadline for the essay so the solution required is time to complete the essay, fitting around the Sports practice. Utilizing time in study periods in school can also help with this. The Chemistry issue needs to be solved but it is not a deadline issue so students can work with staff in school to plan a long-term strategy to support in Chemistry.

Plan by breaking up big tasks and prioritizing:

Diaries, electronic planners, visual calendars are all useful here: one place in which to record everything with the more visual the better. Detail is important to help in prioritizing so encourage them to be specific in how the tasks are recorded. Answer past paper questions in 45 minutes is more effective than ‘do Chemistry homework’!

Break up big tasks by dividing it into smaller, more manageable tasks. Write in the date at by which the task should be achieved.

Prioritize the smaller tasks. On a regular basis, such as the start of each week, parents can be really helpful in helping in this. A tool that students find useful to use is based on the Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as Urgent-Important Matrix. This helps students to decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks:

By talking through the matrix with your child, asking them to justify the reasoning for the placements of tasks. This helps them to identify the priorities of the task and not to try and put them all into urgent and important. As adults we have much experience of prioritizing in our work and home lives and, as a life skill, this is crucially important for students.

Find out more at TedEd:  https://ed.ted.com/featured/2FpVJYYC

Take regular breaks

Encourage students to not feel guilty about taking a break. Sometimes, knocking on the door of their study space to bring a drink and to chat for a few minutes really helps. Research has shown that breaks do help productivity.

Beating the blues

Students will feel frustrated at times, especially when they are feeling stressed. Encourage them to look to the fun things that are happening in the future, something non-academic. It can be small, like lunch out or bigger like a vacation or birthday celebration. Taking time out for themselves on a regular basis is also important. Talking to someone outside of school and family, like a friend in another school or a relative, about something completely unconnected to school and the current stress can be useful, giving perspective on life beyond school and the IBDP.

Working in partnership with the school

When things seem to be getting out of control and unmanageable, talk to us here in school about ways in which we can work together to support.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me,

I wish everyone a lovely weekend,

Nicole Pearce