A big part of what makes the IB DP so unique is that the curriculum is geared towards making connections between the three core components of the program and the subjects studied. Any IB teacher will agree that students receive the most benefit from their classroom endeavours when they can see the theoretical material they are studying enacted in the real world and vice versa. That said, finding impactful ways to integrate CAS, Theory of Knowledge, and the Extended Essay across the academic subjects is easier said than done.
At CAS Trips, we are, of course, focused on the value that the CAS component contributes to the overall program. The embodiment of ‘doing’ in the IBDP, CAS is the action that students can take, outside of their demanding academic responsibilities, to apply their knowledge and understanding to the real world. We believe CAS offers students the chance to cultivate their existing passions while using what they are learning creatively and through activities that benefit the community. To strengthen this process, thoughtful and dynamic integration of academic subjects can be key.
In order to explore the various ways this synthesis plays out, we spoke with IB expert Tom Brodie. A leading voice on IB subject integration, Tom has been involved in CAS for 20 years as a teacher, CAS coordinator, IB Diploma Programme Coordinator and an Education Consultant. He has dedicated much time and research to shedding light on how the building blocks of the IB can come together for more meaningful and powerful outcomes.
Benefits of Integrating CAS Activities into Academics
Before exploring the best ways to make subject integration happen, it is essential to understand the value that it offers. As Tom explains, “having CAS experiences that support connecting academic subjects is, in my mind, vital to allow students to apply their academic skills and understanding in the real world. This raises engagement in their subjects, leads to improved subject knowledge, analysis and evaluation, gives students real-life examples to draw upon and generates improved results.”
By offering real-world applications for students, Tom notes that thoughtful CAS engagement can also provide a variety of benefits for teachers, such as helping raise the profile of their subject, increasing enthusiasm and commitment, and ultimately ensuring that students are better prepared for their final assessments and when it comes time to submit their university applications.
Ways to do it
In his many years of experience, Tom has found that students often require assistance when looking at the broader opportunities offered by their IB experience. “The hard part for students when they are dealing with a CAS project is that it can be challenging to step back and see what relevant skills they have.” Luckily, they are in the right environment to overcome this obstacle.
As Tom puts it, “there is a significant difference between a teacher working with a regular syllabus and an IB teacher. The traditional school model compartmentalizes subjects—each is separate, and never the two shall meet. The IB Diploma is actively looking to break down these barriers. In addition to covering the content of the syllabus, the IB philosophy forces the students to use thinking and inquiry to engage with the material more deeply, look for connections, and find reflections of it in their own experiences.”
Tom further emphasizes how important this is because the real world does not operate in tidy little compartments. “The pandemic has served as a powerful example that when it comes to more complex problems, you need to draw on more complex skills and branches of learning to be able to identify, communicate, and implement solutions.”
Strategies for teachers to connect CAS to academics
Tom outlines two main approaches that educators can take to facilitate academic interaction with CAS.
Run activities: In this case, the teacher takes the lead, sets aside time and space, and is responsible for getting things up and running. Examples include initiatives like a business club, science club, etc.
Signposting activities: Alternatively, the teacher points out opportunities (organizations that students can get involved with and lend their knowledge on a particular topic, etc.). In this case, students take the initiative and set the time and place, and the teacher supervises at a distance.
You can find more of the examples Tom has compiled for each category here.
Striking the right balance
As Tom is quick to point out, though, it is not always necessary to connect CAS with academics. Pursuing a CAS Experience simply for the pleasure of it or due to an existing interest is an excellent way to make the most of the opportunity and keep motivation high. That said, when it comes to the CAS Project, he certainly believes that it is better to zoom out and go in with a plan.
“Everything benefits from planning. By spending some time thinking about how they want to approach CAS in relation to their academics, students will naturally be able to double up on research and discover connections of their own.”
Indeed, CAS and The CAS Project are designed to give students the chance to explore and discover links in their curriculum through the various initiatives they pursue. Students are encouraged to encounter new cultures, develop life skills, engage with multiple art forms, and share their experiences with their school and the broader community. When approached mindfully, the CAS Project also serves as a valuable opportunity to establish a foothold in a specific area or industry. In summation, Tom encourages students to focus on their points of success and interest and continue building on them.
“If you begin a successful CAS Project or experience early enough, why not consider making it the focus of your Extended Essay? I always tell students that a meaningful CAS Experience or Project will fire your enthusiasm for your subject and could propel you to university and beyond.
You can talk about your successful CAS Project in your application essay, application forms, and university interviews. You can tell employers about what you have achieved, or if your Project is wildly successful, continue it as a profitable business or charity.”
A big thank you to Tom for sharing his knowledge and expertise on the topic of subject integration. An IB education aims to transform students and schools as they learn through dynamic cycles of inquiry, action, and reflection—and his work can help both students and teachers to mobilize all the opportunities offered by this unique program. You can learn more about his work by following him on Social Media or via the Core Consultants Facebook Page.