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Senior School Prospectus.

Subject Groupings and Descriptions

Group 4: Sciences

Through studying any of the Group 4 subjects, students should become aware of how scientists work and communicate with each other. Using the scientific method in its variety of forms, there is a great emphasis on a practical approach through experimental work that distinguishes the Group 4 subjects from other disciplines.

Discovery College offers Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Design Technology and Sports, Exercise and Health Science both at Standard and Higher Level, as well as Food Science and Technology, and Environmental Systems and Societies, at Standard Level only. All courses run for two years and are divided into a comprehensive syllabus of theory and a practical programme. The students will also develop and apply information and communication technology skills within all subjects.

There are no prerequisites for any of the Group 4 subjects, however students who have not consistently achieved a Level 5 or higher in MYP Sciences, or have not regularly scored at least 6 out of 8 in assessments of Knowledge and Understanding (Criterion A), often find the Higher Level IB Diploma Sciences very difficult and find the demands of the course may result in lower grades than expected. Such students are normally better served by choosing a Standard Level Group 4 course.

Assessment for most Group 4 subjects consists of 80% from the final exams at the end of the two-year course and 20% from the criterion-related internal assessments (practical work) covered over the two years. For Design Technology, the split is 60% to 40%.

It is a requirement for successful completion of the IB Diploma that all students (except for Environmental Systems and Societies students) participate in the Group 4 Project. This is an interdisciplinary activity where students from the different Group 4 subjects work collaboratively to analyse a common scientific or technological topic or problem. This may involve a field trip or fieldwork. The emphasis is on the processes involved in scientific investigation rather than the products of such investigations. The project forms part of the internal assessment and takes about 10 hours.  Environmental Systems and Societies students undertake required fieldwork when other students are doing the Group 4 Project.

Note: The Group 4 Sciences are subject to IB programme review at present. The new guides and support material as such are not yet available. The information as such is based on the current guides and programme material. Whilst wholesale change is not anticipated, some variations and changes are inevitable, these will be communicated at a later date once available. 


During the two years of the IB Diploma Biology course, students will acquire and learn a significant amount of facts and information, but at the same time, will experience and practise the real science behind those topics which will lead them to a good understanding of the main pillars of the subject: Structure and Function, Universality Versus Diversity, Equilibrium Within Systems, and Evolution.

A series of skills outside the laboratory and the confines of a school timetable will be included in the course. Many of the practicals can only be carried out in the field and on consecutive days. Different areas in Hong Kong provide a stimulating and varied environment, which is significantly different from that in the school. In addition, the experience of working as part of a team is invaluable.

Subject-specific Core topics covered in the Standard Level and Higher Level courses include Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity, Genetics and Human Physiology. Additional Higher Level material covers the Human Health and Physiology topic in greater depth as well as devoting considerably more time to Nucleic Acids, Metabolism, Cell Respiration, Photosynthesis and Genetics. The option topic is usually decided upon by the students, based on suggestions from the teacher.


Chemistry spans the scientific spectrum. At one end, the reactions and processes studied are those that biologists need to explain the mechanisms of life. At the other, the design of materials used by engineers to construct technologies links to physics. Environmentally, chemistry covers very topical and up to date subjects such as pollution, global warming and ozone depletion.

Core topics include the mole concept, atomic structure, periodicity, bonding, energetics, kinetics, redox reactions, acids and bases, and organic chemistry. Optional topics such as medicines and drugs, environmental chemistry, food and industrial chemistry give the chance to explore some real-world applications of chemistry.

Experimentation lies at the heart of every science.  Chemistry students spend much time in the laboratory learning practical skills, safety, data handling techniques and working effectively with other people. These processes and skills are necessary for a full understanding of chemistry concepts as well as the development of problem-solving skills.

The course provokes questions about the responsibility chemists have to society, as students explore the social, industrial, technological, environmental and economic implications that chemistry has for the global community. As more and more demands are made on our planet and its limited resources, chemists will be in a crucial position to ensure that technology can keep pace with our wants and needs. The study of chemistry places students in a position to better comprehend and play a part in facing the challenges ahead.


Physics is considered to be the root science as its laws apply to all of the experimental sciences. Physics seeks to understand the universe itself, from the micro-scale of the smallest particles to the macro-scale of the vast and expanding distances between galaxies. Physicists seek to acquire knowledge through observation of our natural world, creation of models to understand these observations, and the formulation of theories, which are then tested by experiment.

The IB Diploma Physics programme covers the core topics of Measurement and Uncertainties, Mechanics, Thermal Physics, Waves, Electricity and Magnetism, Circular Motion and Gravitation, Atomic, Nuclear and Particle Physics, and Energy Production. One specialty option, which allows for teacher and student choice, will also be covered. Popular options include Astrophysics, Relativity and Engineering Physics. Higher Level requires additional learning time to cover a deeper extension of the core topics, in addition to learning more advanced topics such as Quantum and Nuclear Physics, Fields and Electromagnetic Induction.

Physics students not only gain knowledge and understanding of Physics concepts, but also develop investigative practical skills, technological skills, and interpersonal skills. Students will regularly use Mathematics to communicate findings and the relationships between variables.

Perhaps the most relevant application of Physics is the development of technologies that have changed our world to accommodate our needs, which have had profound impacts on the daily lives of all human beings. Students explore the ethical issues surrounding these applications, and the positive and negative impacts these applications have had on our society, to understand the moral issues and responsibilities that physicists must consider.

Design Technology

Design Technology is human-centred. It aims to develop creative and empathetic people whose enhanced understanding of design, and the technological world, can facilitate our shared guardianship of the planet.

Design Technology achieves a high level of design literacy by enabling students to develop analysis, design development, synthesis, and evaluation skills, which they can apply in a practical context. At the heart of the subject, the design cycle is used as a tool to inquire into and analyse problems, develop solutions and evaluate individual solutions.

Core topics include: Human Factors and Ergonomics, Resource Management and Sustainable Production, Modelling, Final Production, Innovation and Design, and Classic Design. Higher level adds: User-centred Design (UCD), Sustainability, Innovation and Markets, and Commercial Production.

The course culminates in the Design Project, where students demonstrate their technical and design understanding to address an identified need.

Design technology is multidisciplinary in nature and draws from many areas including the natural and social sciences, mathematics and arts. An inquiry-based practical course, design technology  is considered very useful for students wishing to study creative and design subjects. It may also provide preparation for engineering or technology related subjects at a tertiary level.

Sports, Exercise and Health Science

Scientific inquiry, conducted over many decades, has accumulated a vast amount of information across a range of sub-disciplines that contribute to our understanding of health and human performance in relation to sport and exercise. The Diploma Programme course in sports, exercise and health science involves the study of the science that underpins physical performance and provides the opportunity to apply these principles.

Furthermore, in a world where many millions of people are physically inactive and afflicted by chronic disease and ill health, the sport and exercise scientist should be equally proficient when prescribing exercise for the promotion of health and well-being.

The course incorporates the traditional disciplines of anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, psychology and nutrition, which are studied in the context of sport, exercise and health. Students will cover a range of core and option topics and carry out practical (experimental) investigations in both laboratory and field settings. This will provide an opportunity to acquire the knowledge and understanding necessary to apply scientific principles and critically analyse human performance. Where relevant, the course will address issues of international dimension and ethics by considering sport, exercise and health relative to the individual and in a global context.

The sports, exercise and health science course is offered at both Higher and Standard level.

Food Science and Technology (SL only)

The world faces challenges in terms of food production, nutritional well-being, food safety and quality. The Food Science and Technology course aims to develop creative and balanced students whose enhanced understanding of food and the technological world can facilitate our shared responsibility of caring for the planet. An understanding of food is increasingly crucial to individual and societal well-being.

The course combines aspects of Biology, Chemistry & Technology. During the course, students will develop transferable skills useful for life-long learning and future careers. 

Topics studied during the course include:

  • Nutrition

  • Materials, components and their applications

  • Food quality and safety

  • Food process engineering

In addition to final examinations, students complete an Internal Assessment, which has a duration of 10 hours and a weighting of 20%.

The course is useful preparation for students wishing to study Food Science, Food Technology, Nutrition, Hotel Management and Sports Sciences at tertiary level.

The Food Science and Technology course is offered at Standard level only.

Environmental Systems and Societies (SL only)

This is an interdisciplinary course that fulfils the requirements of both Group 3 (Individuals and Societies) and Group 4 (Experimental Sciences) in the IB Diploma Programme.  Designed to bridge the gap between Environmental Studies and the Sciences, it is a very topical course involving many contemporary and controversial issues such as global warming, pollution, conservation of resources and biodiversity in ecosystems.

These are studied in a manner that enables students to appreciate that human society is directly linked to the environment. It also promotes a critical awareness of a diversity of cultural perspectives and that appreciation of these is needed at both a local and global scale.

Although the course is not completely science based, many experiments are conducted using biological, chemical and physical techniques. The results are then used to analyse concepts being studied. Students are expected to design experiments, record and process data, evaluate results and draw conclusions. The personal skills of working cooperatively, safely and ethically are also addressed.  In addition to experimental work, students carry out computer modelling, role-play scenarios and fieldwork. Hong Kong is a wonderful place for doing this as it has such a great variety of different habitats.

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