Environmental Systems & Societies Handbook

Table of Contents


Environmental systems and societies aims

The systems approach provides the core methodology of the ESS course. It is complemented by other influences, such as economic, historical, cultural, sociopolitical and scientific factors, to provide a holistic perspective on environmental issues. During the course, students will look at examples on a variety of scales, from local to global, and in an international context. The aims of the ESS course are to enable students to:

1. acquire the knowledge and understandings of environmental systems at a variety of scales

2. apply the knowledge, methodologies and skills to analyse environmental systems and issues at a variety of scales

3. appreciate the dynamic interconnectedness between environmental systems and societies

4. value the combination of personal, local and global perspectives in making informed decisions and taking responsible actions on environmental issues

5. be critically aware that resources are finite, and that these could be inequitably distributed and exploited, and that management of these inequities is the key to sustainability

6. develop awareness of the diversity of environmental value systems

7. develop critical awareness that environmental problems are caused and solved by decisions made by individuals and societies that are based on different areas of knowledge

8. engage with the controversies that surround a variety of environmental issues 9. create innovative solutions to environmental issues by engaging actively in local and global context

Assessment Objectives

These objectives reflect how the aims of the ESS course will be assessed. It is the intention of this course that students, in the context of environmental systems and related issues, are able to fulfill the following assessment objectives.

1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of relevant: – facts and concepts – methodologies and techniques – values and attitudes.

2. Apply this knowledge and understanding in the analysis of: – explanations, concepts and theories – data and models – case studies in unfamiliar contexts – arguments and value systems.

3. Evaluate, justify and synthesize, as appropriate: – explanations, theories and models – arguments and proposed solutions – methods of fieldwork and investigation – cultural viewpoints and value systems.

4. Engage with investigations of environmental and societal issues at the local and global level through: – evaluating the political, economic and social contexts of issues – selecting and applying the appropriate research and practical skills necessary to carry out investigations – suggesting collaborative and innovative solutions that demonstrate awareness and respect for the cultural differences and value systems of others

Syllabus Outline

Assessment Outline

Note: The environmental systems and societies course is only offered at SL. There is no HL option available.

External Assessment

The external assessment consists of two written papers and is worth 75% of the final assessment.

A calculator is required for both papers. Graphic display calculators (GDCs) are permitted (see the Calculator section on the OCC: Diploma Programme > Mathematics > Calculators).

Paper 1

Duration: 1 hour

Weighting: 25%

Marks: 35

  • Students will be provided with a range of data in a variety of forms relating to a specific, previously unseen case study.

  • Questions will be based on the analysis and evaluation of the data in the case study.

  • All of the questions are compulsory.

  • The questions test assessment objectives 1, 2 and 3.

Paper 2

Duration: 2 hours

Weighting 50%

Marks: 65

Paper 2 consists of two sections, A and B.

  • Section A (25 marks) is made up of short-answer and data-based questions.

  • Section B (40 marks) requires students to answer two structured essay questions from a choice of four. Each question is worth 20 marks.

  • The questions test assessment objectives 1, 2 and 3.

The final part of each essay in section B (9 marks) will be marked using mark bands.

The aim is to find the descriptor that conveys most accurately the level attained by the student’s work, using the best-fit model. A best-fit approach means that compensation will be made when a piece of work matches different aspects of a mark band at different levels. The mark awarded will be one that most fairly reflects the balance of achievement against the mark band. It is not necessary for every single aspect of a level descriptor to be met for that mark to be awarded. It is recommended that the mark bands be made available to students. The descriptors of these mark bands are given below.

Practical work and Internal Assessments

Purpose of internal assessment Internal assessment is an integral part of the course and is compulsory for all students. It enables students to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge, and to pursue their personal interests, without the time limitations and other constraints that are associated with written examinations. The internal assessment should, as far as possible, be woven into normal classroom teaching and not be a separate activity conducted after a course has been taught.

The internal assessment task involves the completion of an individual investigation of an ESS research question that has been designed and implemented by the student. The investigation is submitted as a written report. Note: Any investigation that is to be used for internal assessment should be specifically designed by the student to address the assessment criteria. Students must therefore be provided with a copy of the assessment criteria when the requirements of the investigation are explained to them. If a student undertakes an extended essay, it must not be based on the research question of the ESS internal assessment.

Time allocation The time allocation for the internal assessment activity is 10 hours. Internal assessment is an integral part of the ESS course, contributing 25% to the final assessment. This weighting should be reflected in the time that is allocated to teaching the knowledge, skills and understanding required to undertake the work, as well as the total time allocated to carry out the investigation itself. It is recommended that a total of approximately 10 hours of teaching time should be allocated to the task.

This should include:

• time for the teacher to explain to students the requirements of the internal assessment

• time to refer to the IB animal experimentation policy if appropriate

• time for students to work on the internal assessment component and ask questions

• time for consultation between the teacher and each student • time to review and monitor progress, and to check authenticity.

Internal assessment details Duration:

10 hours Weighting: 25%

• Individual investigation

• The investigation covers assessment objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4. The individual investigation will be a single task taking about 10 hours. This time allocation includes time for consultation with the teacher to discuss the research question before the investigation is implemented, as well as time spent developing methodology and collecting data. It should be noted that during the consultation stage, the teacher provides advice to support the student but does not tell the student what to investigate or how to carry it out. Before the final submission, teachers should also provide feedback to the student on one draft of the written report. The purpose of the internal assessment investigation is to focus on a particular aspect of an ESS issue and to apply the results to a broader environmental and/or societal context. The investigation is recorded as a written report. The report should be 1,500 to 2,250 words long. Students should be made aware that external moderators will not read beyond 2,250 words and teachers should only mark up to this limit.

The internal assessment investigation consists of:

• identifying an ESS issue and focusing on one of its specific aspects

• developing methodologies to generate data that are analysed to produce knowledge and understanding of this focused aspect

• applying the outcomes of the focused investigation to provide understanding or solutions in the broader ESS context.

Internal Assessment Criteria

Internal assessment criteria For internal assessment, the following assessment criteria will be used.

Levels of performance are described using multiple indicators per level. In many cases the indicators occur together in a specific level, but not always. Also, not all indicators are always present. This means that a candidate can demonstrate performances that fit into different levels. To accommodate this, the IB assessment models use mark bands and advise examiners and teachers to use a best-fit approach in deciding the appropriate mark for a particular criterion.

Identifying the context (CXT) (6)

This criterion assesses the extent to which the student establishes and explores an environmental issue (either local or global) for an investigation and develops this to state a relevant and focused research question.

Planning (PLA) (6)

This criterion assesses the extent to which the student has developed appropriate methods to gather data that is relevant to the research question. This data could be primary or secondary, qualitative or quantitative, and may utilize techniques associated with both experimental or social science methods of inquiry. There is an assessment of safety, environmental and ethical considerations where applicable.

Results, analysis and conclusion (RAC) (6)

This criterion assesses the extent to which the student has collected, recorded, processed and interpreted the data in ways that are relevant to the research question. The patterns in the data are correctly interpreted to reach a valid conclusion.

Discussion and evaluation (DEV) (6)

This criterion assesses the extent to which the student discusses the conclusion in the context of the environmental issue, and carries out an evaluation of the investigation.

Applications (APP) (3)

This criterion assesses the extent to which the student identifies and evaluates one way to apply the outcomes of the investigation in relation to the broader environmental issue that was identified at the start of the project.

Communication (COM) (3)

This criterion assesses whether the report has been presented in a way that supports effective communication in terms of structure, coherence and clarity. The focus, process and outcomes of the report are all well presented.


Specimen Paper 1 and 2





Enhanced ESS IA.docx.pdf