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Mathematics – Standard Level

This [Math SL] course caters for students who already possess knowledge of basic mathematical concepts, and who are equipped with the skills needed to apply simple mathematical techniques correctly. The majority of these students will expect to need a sound mathematical background as they prepare for future studies in subjects such as chemistry, economics, psychology and business administration.

The course focuses on introducing important mathematical concepts through the development of mathematical techniques. The intention is to introduce students to these concepts in a comprehensible and coherent way, rather than insisting on the mathematical rigour required for mathematics HL. Students should, wherever possible, apply the mathematical knowledge they have acquired to solve realistic problems set in an appropriate context.

The internally assessed component, the exploration, offers students the opportunity for developing independence in their mathematical learning. Students are encouraged to take a considered approach to various mathematical activities and to explore different mathematical ideas. The exploration also allows students to work without the time constraints of a written examination and to develop the skills they need for communicating mathematical ideas.

The aims are to enable students to

  • enjoy mathematics, and develop an appreciation of the elegance and power of mathematics
  • develop an understanding of the principles and nature of mathematics
  • communicate clearly and confidently in a variety of contexts
  • develop logical, critical and creative thinking, and patience and persistence in problem-solving
  • employ and refine their powers of abstraction and generalization
  • apply and transfer skills to alternative situations, to other areas of knowledge and to future developments
  • appreciate how developments in technology and mathematics have influenced each other
  • appreciate the moral, social and ethical implications arising from the work of mathematicians and the applications of mathematics
  • appreciate the international dimension in mathematics through an awareness of the universality of mathematics and its multicultural and historical perspectives
  • appreciate the contribution of mathematics to other disciplines, and as a particular “area of knowledge” in the TOK course.

Mathematics and Theory of Knowledge

The Theory of knowledge guide (March 2006) identifies four ways of knowing, and it could be claimed that these all have some role in the acquisition of mathematical knowledge. While perhaps initially inspired by data from sense perception, mathematics is dominated by reason, and some mathematicians argue that their subject is a language, that it is, in some sense, universal. However, there is also no doubt that mathematicians perceive beauty in mathematics, and that emotion can be a strong driver in the search for mathematical knowledge.

As an area of knowledge, mathematics seems to supply a certainty perhaps missing in other disciplines. This may be related to the “purity” of the subject that makes it sometimes seem divorced from reality. However, mathematics has also provided important knowledge about the world, and the use of mathematics in science and technology has been one of the driving forces for scientific advances.

Despite all its undoubted power for understanding and change, mathematics is in the end a puzzling phenomenon. A fundamental question for all knowers is whether mathematical knowledge really exists independently of our thinking about it. Is it there “waiting to be discovered” or is it a human creation?

Students’ attention should be drawn to questions relating theory of knowledge (TOK) and mathematics, and they should be encouraged to raise such questions themselves, in mathematics and TOK classes. This includes questioning all the claims made above. Examples of issues relating to TOK are given in the “Links” column of the syllabus. Teachers could also discuss questions such as those raised in the “Areas of knowledge” section of the TOK guide. 

Mathematics and International Dimension 

Mathematics is in a sense an international language, and, apart from slightly differing notation, mathematicians from around the world can communicate within their field. Mathematics transcends politics, religion and nationality, yet throughout history great civilizations owe their success in part to their mathematicians being able to create and maintain complex social and architectural structures.

Despite recent advances in the development of information and communication technologies, the global exchange of mathematical information and ideas is not a new phenomenon and has been essential to the progress of mathematics. Indeed, many of the foundations of modern mathematics were laid many centuries ago by Arabic, Greek, Indian and Chinese civilizations, among others. Teachers could use timeline websites to show the contributions of different civilizations to mathematics, but not just for their mathematical content.

Illustrating the characters and personalities of the mathematicians concerned and the historical context in which they worked brings home the human and cultural dimension of mathematics.

The importance of science and technology in the everyday world is clear, but the vital role of mathematics is not so well recognized. It is the language of science, and underpins most developments in science and technology. A good example of this is the digital revolution, which is transforming the world, as it is all based on the binary number system in mathematics.

Many international bodies now exist to promote mathematics. Students are encouraged to access the extensive websites of international mathematical organizations to enhance their appreciation of the international dimension and to engage in the global issues surrounding the subject.

Examples of global issues relating to international-mindedness (Int) are given in the “Links” column of the syllabus.

Group 5 Assessment objectives

Problem-solving is central to learning mathematics and involves the acquisition of mathematical skills and concepts in a wide range of situations, including non-routine, open-ended and real-world problems. Having followed a DP mathematics SL course, students will be expected to demonstrate the following:

  1. Knowledge and understanding: recall, select and use their knowledge of mathematical facts, concepts and techniques in a variety of familiar and unfamiliar contexts.
  2. Problem-solving: recall, select and use their knowledge of mathematical skills, results and models in both real and abstract contexts to solve problems.
  3. Communication and interpretation: transform common realistic contexts into mathematics; comment on the context; sketch or draw mathematical diagrams, graphs or constructions both on paper and using technology; record methods, solutions and conclusions using standardized notation.
  4. Technology: use technology, accurately, appropriately and efficiently both to explore new ideas and to solve problems.
  5. Reasoning: construct mathematical arguments through use of precise statements, logical deduction and inference, and by the manipulation of mathematical expressions.
  6. Inquiry approaches: investigate unfamiliar situations, both abstract and real-world, involving organizing and analysing information, making conjectures, drawing conclusions and testing their validity.

From Diploma Programme Mathematics SL guide, International Baccalaureate, Cardiff, Wales, 2012


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