At The Core: The Heart of Our Learning Journey
Posted 03/16/2018 02:58PM

The IB Diploma Programme at Keystone

Keystone’s first annual IB Diploma Programme Core Exhibition took place the night of March 11, transforming the Secondary School Foyer into a space where grade 12 students presented their IBDP theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay (EE), and creativity, activity and service (CAS) projects to a community of teachers, parents, faculty, staff, and rising grade 12 seniors. The breadth of topics studied by the 47 senior students showcased the strength of inquisitive and inquiry based learning that occurs at Keystone, and demonstrated the diversity of intellectual interests of the students.   

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) is a rigorous and demanding curriculum that many international and world schools utilize in order to prepare secondary school students for the intellectual challenges of post-secondary education across the globe. The skills honed in the Diploma Programme focus on providing a well-rounded education that enables students to be internationally minded, partake in global citizenship, and explore intellectual ideas through a combination of skills, knowledge, creativity, and community service. 


The IB Diploma Programme is organized across six subject areas and three core elements. The six subject groups in which the IB consists of are: Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and The Arts. Students are required to choose one subject from each group – three subjects at the standard level (SL) and three subjects at the higher level (HL). At both levels, high school seniors are required to demonstrate a body of knowledge, understanding, and skills during official examinations that take place towards the end of each academic year.

The Diploma Programme Core elements are: theory of knowledge (TOK), the extended essay (EE) and creativity, activity, and service (CAS). The underlining purpose of the core elements in the DP aim to broaden the students’ scope of knowledge, challenge them to apply critical thinking skills to a wide range of subjects, and to expand their educational experience during their secondary school years.  


The integration of the IB Diploma Programme curriculum greatly aligns with Keystone’s Chinese Thread and serves as an invaluable foundation for students to apply their critical thinking skills and knowledge to research, investigate, and challenge intellectual ideas across various subject areas. As a new world school, Keystone’s commitment to bilingual and bicultural immersion is most evident during students’ high school years as they undertake the rigors of the IBDP. In addition to choosing six subject areas in each of the IBDP subject area groups, students are required to take one English, and one Chinese subject course.   

The rewards of undertaking the rigors of the IB Diploma Programme manifest itself in the ways that students articulate their academic scholarship to peers, teachers, even their families – as evidenced by Keystone’s inaugural IBDP Core Exhibition - but more subtly, in the ways they matriculate into post-secondary institutions across the globe with the knowledge and confidence that the IBDP has prepared them for. And Keystone’s Chinese Thread, alongside the school’s shared values of justice, compassion, respect, wisdom and honesty, produce graduates who not only possess the ability to think creatively and apply knowledge and critical thinking skills to a wide range of subjects, but who, more aptly bring unique gifts to the world in a number of ways, inside and outside of the classroom.


The Core

Opening the IBDP Core Exhibition the night of the 11th was Diana Martelly, Head of High School at Keystone Academy. “The DP Core aligns with everything that we are trying to do at Keystone and making sure that our students are well rounded,” said Martelly. In the Multi-Purpose room, students and parents eagerly listened to Martelly and the four IBDP coordinators explain the merits of the Diploma Programme and the challenging 18-month process that grade 12 students underwent. 

The three core elements of the IB Diploma are: theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay (EE), and creativity, action, and service (CAS). Each student in the program is required to submit a project from each of the domains, and to apply critical thinking and research skills that culminate into a final product to be graded externally by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). For the theory of knowledge requirement, students must “reflect on the nature of knowledge and how we claim to know what we know”.


When asked about the skills strengthened or acquired through the theory of knowledge course, coordinator Amina Burslem states, “From the TOK course, the students have improved their thinking skills in a number of important ways; primarily they have developed the ability to look at real life situations, or reflect on their learning in their IB subjects and ask relevant questions to critically evaluate knowledge claims and explore their veracity and the implications of those claims. They will be confident in holding conversations with people from different backgrounds, cultures and belief systems on issues in English or Chinese and rationally analyze and justify their viewpoints. They will have the strength of character to either justify or change their views in light of new learning.”

The extended essay (EE) element in the Diploma Programme “is an independent, self-directed piece of research finishing with a 4,000-word paper.” In this domain, it is imperative that students exercise good time management skills, organization, and creativity and balance these skills alongside their academic studies. The extended essay is an opportunity for students to apply methodological processes to a particular topic area, and showcase true scholarship in the subject of their choice. As with the two other core elements of the Diploma Programme, the extended essay is graded externally by examiners all over the world. 

“Students submit their extended essay without any indication of their name, gender, school, or country. Examiners are trained to look at just six criteria. And this criterion includes the focus and the knowledge of an understanding of the topic that they choose to write on. The presentation of that academic paper, the personal and academic engagement with which they go through the whole process, and the most important one: critical thinking is challenging” remarked Trish Power, the extended essay coordinator. 


Several students chose to creatively explore Keystone’s Chinese Thread through the extended essay. Choosing Visual Arts as her subject area, Nancy Li examined traditional Chinese architectural elements and modern architectural impact on the design of the Suzhou Museum. Her research question, To What Extent, did I.M.Pei incorporate traditional Chinese architectural elements with his own design philosophy in the Suzhou Museum? demonstrates how students weave The Chinese Thread with the Diploma Programme in exploring the beauty and depth of their home country.   

The creativity, activity, and service (CAS) element is a domain “in which students complete a project related to those three concepts.” Service learning trips offered by Keystone offer students the opportunity and exposure to causes otherwise out of reach for them in China. Other students opt to focus their CAS projects on large international issues and bring them to the forefront of the Keystone community. For students Sasha Onyango and Goleba Lefatshe, their CAS project is called “Girls LEAD”. A worldwide movement that seeks to empower the lives of girls, Girls LEAD (Leadership, Education, and Development) is an initiative at Keystone that seeks to empower young girls to raise their voices in class, lead by example, and become powerful motivating forces in order to bridge the inequality gap between boys and girls. Their project raised awareness of an issue many young girls face all over the world, and gave younger Keystone students the confidence to embrace their intellect, athletic abilities, and artistic skills.


CAS coordinator Audrey Moh remarks, “The purpose of CAS is for students to discover themselves and understand the people around them. As the students finish up their CAS program and conduct their final CAS interviews with us, we have discovered that this is indeed true.”

The first annual IBDP Core Exhibition at Keystone marked a wonderful night of achievements for all of the grade 12 students. After 18 months of preparation for theory of knowledge projects, countless hours poured over extended essays and creative service based projects all over China, the students are true examples of what it means to be a Keystone student. Intellectually curious, service oriented, creative and analytical thinkers, the first cohort of graduates are ready to flourish and succeed in the next stage of their lives. As Amina Burslem stated to parents the night of the exhibition, “We never cease to be amazed by some of the ideas and intellectual ability of your children.”

The Keystone Magazine

School Events

    • Thursday - January 17, 2019 Through the Lens: The Art of Cinema with Professor Richard Pena from Columbia University 6:30 PMMulti-Purpose room
Western Association Of Schools And Colleges Round Square
Beijing, China
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