How to Make Stress Work for You

Tim Woods Education, Health Leave a Comment

This is a guest post written by a very old friend of mine, Phil Meehan. Phil is a professional counsellor, with his own practice in Singapore. Among other things, he helps teenagers deal with stress. I told Phil I’ve been a bit worried about the stress levels faced by my IB students, so he was kind enough to write this for us: 

First thing’s first – stress is not a bad thing. In fact, it is how we know we’re alive. Stress is anything that shifts your balance. It is the excitement of a crush and it helps get things done when a deadline is looming.

For over a hundred years, a simple way to see the relationship between stress and productivity has been the Yerkes Dodson curve (1). Think of an upside down U.

Stress Graph - Phil Meehan

On the left you have low stress and low productivity. On the right you have high stress and low productivity. In the middle, you have what some researchers call “flow”, or the peak productivity. Can you remember a time when you were so completely immersed in something that you lost track of time? Maybe it was working with a group on a interesting art project, playing your favourite video game or programming? That’s the top of the curve. Now, it might be hard to reach the top studying for your next test, but how can you ensure that you are not at either extreme: bored or burned-out?

When I talk with people about stress, I often use the analogy of a bucket with a tap near the bottom. The bucket is your capacity to deal with stress. Your stress is what is filling the bucket and it can never be empty (because the tap isn’t at the very bottom, and if you have no stress, you wouldn’t be alive! 

Phil Meehan - Stress Relief Diagram

A quick self-analysis

This is a simple exercise and can be really helpful to look back on when you find your bucket nearing the overflow point:

A)   List the things that fill up your bucket. What goes on in your life that adds stress, both good and bad? It may be family, friends, school, extracurriculars, thinking about the future.

B)    Next, list the things that happen when your bucket overflows. When you have “had it up to here”, what do you do, what happens?

C)    Lastly, and this is the really important one, what are the things that you do or have done in the past to turn on the tap and empty your bucket? What are the healthy things that you do to relieve stress?

[Phil also showed me this quiz you can take to assess your stress level.]

When you write it all down, you might find patterns, like you tend to lose your patience with your sister less on days you have training for your sport. You also might find that you are better able to deal with unexpected stresses when you’ve spent a few hours taking photos.

When it comes to stress, balance is key. It’s important to understand what it is in your life that fills up your bucket, but also what you do, and can do more of, to empty the bucket.

As for FLOW, not many things that fall under “need to do” will get you into that really rockin’ space. But if you think about how you work as a relationship between stress and productivity, there are things that you can do to have stress work for you. Boring tasks can be pretty predictable, so the next time you find yourself preparing to work on something you know will put you in the “bored” range, why not add in a little bit of (good) stress?

Easy things you can try

  • try giving yourself a positive incentive to work towards once you have finished the task, like a piece of chocolate or 20 minutes of video games.
  • give yourself a consequence, like asking your little brother to come in when the timer goes off at the time you expect to be done and throw, I don’t know, his dirty socks at you if you are still working on XYZ. Ok, maybe that’s just gross, but probably a good motivator. And imagine how excited he would be!

I’m sure you can come up something that would work for you… I would love to hear it in the comments below!

Sources: (1)  Goleman, Dan. “The Sweet Spot for Achievement.” Psychology Today. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web. (2) Henden, John. “Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery.” Wiley, Jan. 2011.


Phil Meehan
Phil Meehan is a Canadian Certified Counsellor working in schools and private practice. He works with clients of all ages, helping individuals, families and groups discover solutions that work for them. He lives in Singapore and can be reached via twitter @meehanphil or through his website.


Tim WoodsHow to Make Stress Work for You

The May 2015 ToK Essay Titles (And Some Help)

Tim Woods TOK Leave a Comment

If you are completing the IB Diploma Program in May 2015, the official ToK essay titles you’ll be working with have been released. If you’d like some help approaching these questions and finishing your essay, I’m sharing a new set of resources. See the red button below.

There are 6 Official Titles for May 2015:

1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

6. “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

I can help you with that

Last year I got an offer to write a textbook. I was flattered and really excited to be approached like that. But I knew I had to say no. If I was going to spend that kind of time on a big project I knew it couldn’t be writing yet another textbook. I never hear from students that they need a new textbook. I knew I could use modern technologies, to make things easier for students. Books have been around since a little before 2014 BC, so I thought I’d try to do something more AD. So, I spent about 4 months and put together an online video program (and other support material) to cover every possible issue around you completing a great essay. You won’t need all of the resources I’ve made, but whatever you need is in here. You can get  all of the guidance and tips I give my own ToK classes and a lot of new things I’ve developed just for online –to make sure this really works.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve ended up creating an entirely new set of process to streamline how you write your essay. If you have any concerns at all, this program will handle them for you. And I’ll be right there in case you have a question I haven’t anticipated.

This is obviously the future of education: students connecting with the best possible learning experiences, regardless of geography.

So, if you are a student (living outside of Singapore), who would like some extra support as you prepare to write your essay, please feel free to join the program and we’ll sort you out.

Learn more here.

Tim WoodsThe May 2015 ToK Essay Titles (And Some Help)

8 Aspects of Successful Teaching

Tim Woods Education Leave a Comment

8 Aspects of Successful Teaching - Tim Woods

A new teaching year has started, so we teachers are coming back to work full of energy, enthusiasm and new ideas. So this is a post for teachers.

Two years ago I read some research which forced me to change how I teach. Dr. Ethna Reid’s research into the behaviours which successful teachers exhibited. Her priority was to uncover a manageable number of high-impact teaching activities. Her team is said to have spent thousands of hours conducting best practice studies with teachers. Ultimately, they identified eight teaching, which they felt would get the most out of students. They argue that the most successful teachers:

  1. Reinforce correct responses and positive behaviour
  2. Elicit rapid overt responses
  3. Closely monitor students’ responses
  4. Increase rate of responses among all students
  5. Expect learning mastery (83 to 100 percent accuracy)
  6. Reteach when students fail to learn
  7. Model for students during instruction
  8. Teach reading, writing, listening, and speaking in all fields

What I changed in my teaching practice

I made some big changes to my teaching after reading this.

  • I dramatically increased the number of questions I ask of students each lesson and how I ask these questions. Question and answer sessions (often peer-to-peer), with more challenging follow-up questions to go deeper, seems to help me to tick almost all 8 boxes a little better.
  • It also convinced me to reteach material. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t really used to do this. I used to sometimes say something like, “you were here when we taught that, so please go through your notes and let me know what you’re not clear on.” I used to put it back on to the students if they didn’t understand something. Now I’m completely happy to teach the whole thing again, in a different way. I probably end up explaining the gist of the most challenging concepts 6 times before they all comfortable that they understand it (i.e. one time explaining to the whole group, once to a smaller group and multiple times clarifying things to individual students as needed).
  • On average, going over previous material, in different ways, going deeper into concepts, checking students’ knowledge (often peer-to-peer), etc takes about a third of each of my lessons now. And this ‘trying to go deeper into thing is often the best part of the lesson because of the critical thinking going on.

Do you agree?

I’d like to put this question out to my fellow teachers out there. What are a few things you try to do every lesson? What works in your classrooms? What are your priorities? What have you learned recently that you think other teachers would benefit from trying?

Don’t think that no one will listen to you. I will listen. I’ll try anything (everything) you suggest and report back. The way my brain works, improvement always comes down to deciding on a few, carefully-chosen aspects focus on. So, I always want to try to be sure I’m focussing on the right teaching priorities for my practice, to best help my students.

Thanks and have a great year!

Tim Woods8 Aspects of Successful Teaching

How to Get Full Marks in Business Questions

Tim Woods IB Business 1 Comment

I teach IB Business and Management. It can be one of the hardest IB subjects to score a full 7 in. Actually doing that might be impossible if you don’t follow an appropriate method for answering the long-answer questions.

Every year I hear from students struggling with this aspect of IB Business.

My passion is making this kind of almost-impossible thing completely doable. My students deserve that. Developing and sharing these kinds of efficient and effective approaches is what The Method is all about. So far I’ve tackled the TOK presentations and essays, the the Economics essay questions and the IA’s, and in Business I’ve looked at the EE’s and IA’s. (For a complete list, see the Resources link at the top). But the Business long-answer questions are especially hard. There are just so many different types of questions you can be asked. Businesses have a lot of moving parts. They’re extremely complex.

In a business question you can be asked almost anything about a business. And you’re expected to apply the relevant concepts from a very long textbook. The one I use is 673 pages long! Not easy my friend.

But let’s break it down. In this situation you need to do 3 things quickly:

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Tim WoodsHow to Get Full Marks in Business Questions

How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Presentation

Tim Woods TOK 63 Comments

The following TOK presentation structure has been designed very carefully. (It’s taken about 2 years of conversations!) It’s easy for you to follow and ticks all the boxes. It tells you how many slides to have (eight), what text should go on each slide and what you should talk about while each slide is up. A clear structure like this is essential because it helps the audience follow what you’re saying. It also keeps you from wasting time, both during your presentation and in your preparation phase. (This is also done for the TOK essay, here).

There are a few things I need to go over before we get into the slides.

The Development Section

When you get into the Development section (where the knowledge question is explored and analysed with reference to the AOKs and WOKs), you’ll see that we use a Claim, Counterclaim, Mini-Conclusion structure. We do this (claim, counterclaim, mini-conclusion) for each of your developments (AOKs or WOKs), so we do it 3 times in total.

Here’s an example, for one of your developments:

-Your claim might be that all art is ethical and you show this using some theory (evidence) from the course.

-Your counterclaim is a problem (a limitation) with your claim, or an opposing idea in the same perspective. It might be that art can be viewed in a different way, which would show it to be unethical. You show this using (as evidence) an example from your own life experience or knowledge referenced material or material studied in some other theory from the course.

-And then, in the mini-conclusion, you basically have to find a way to draw together the two opposing sides. You have to somehow synthesise these two insights to arrive at a more insightful understanding or some kind of summary. So you might say that art can be both ethical and unethical at the same time, depending on the perspective taken and then explain how that might be true. So the MC is a possible conclusion to your KQ (Knowledge Question).

In the final conclusion of the presentation you will try to combine (draw together/synthesise) the insights of this mini-conclusion as well as the other ones (from the 2 other development sections) to show a really sophisticated/developed answer to your KQ.

Using Evidence

Use evidence for each of your claims and your counterclaims. It will make your talk much more compelling.

Evidence can be:

-Examples of from the course or from your research. For example, stories of real scientific experiments or how society responded to a certain piece of art.

-Personal examples. Specific and realistic examples from your own life experiences are highly valued in this course. So you might tell us about something that you did in IB Biology class, or when you suspected a classmate of cheating.

Now let’s go through the structure of your presentation, slide by slide. (The suggested timings in green are assuming you’re in a group of two.)

The Structure 

Slide 1: Title Page (1 minute)

Text on this slide:
-Title of your presentation.
-Your group members’ names

What to say:
-Explain what you thought about the real life situation (RLS) when you first encountered it.
-Explain why it’s significant to you.

Slide 2: Decontextualization (1 minute)

Text on this slide:
-Some of the thoughts or questions you had about the real life situation.

What to say:
-Explain a few of the things we can know about the RLS and how we know it
-Consider the limits of what can be known about your knowledge questions (KQ)

Slide 3: Knowledge Question (1 minute)Read More

Tim WoodsHow to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Presentation

Words That Don’t Have An English Equivalent

Tim Woods TOK 8 Comments

This post is the result of the work of my Theory of Knowledge classes at the Overseas Family School. The idea here is that we want to pull into the English language some of the richness of other languages. Other languages have words that simply do not translate easily into English. These are sometimes called “untranslatable” words, but of course any word can be translated. More accurately they are words that don’t have equivalents in other languages.

Often these words show us something unique or special about a culture –they might have a word for something that people in other cultures may have never thought about. Some students also think that to fully understand these words you need to understand the culture or how people think about things a little differently in that part of the world.

Please share words that you know in your language (in the comments below), that we should (or could) start using in English. Don’t forget to provide an example. 

Unique Words from Foreign Languages


Aap – This means ‘you’ but it is used to address someone with respect.


Hygge – When you are with friends and you light a candle or put a fire on and everyone is very congenial with each other. When no one debates things, but you just enjoy each others’ company.  


Gezellig (HKA – zel – ah) – When you’re feeling really good with a group of friends. Guili Castillo Oriard describes “Gezellig this way, “Literally [it] means nice, cozy. But it’s also used for something that’s fun, or for good times. It implies belonging, togetherness, in ways that are much more than just fun. It also conveys a certain quaintness–sometimes” (Source). More on this word.


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Tim WoodsWords That Don’t Have An English Equivalent

Meeting The Economics IA Rubric Requirements

Tim Woods IB Economics 12 Comments

On this, the third of three posts to make sure you score full marks on your Economics Internal Assessments, I want to give you a detailed checklist you can use to check your own work.

I have included what the IB says they expect for full marks, and translated that into actionable steps.

If you do everything on the checklist your teacher will have to give you full marks.

A: Diagrams (3 marks)

IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student is able to construct and use diagrams.

IB Expectations: Relevant, accurate and correctly labelled diagrams are included, with a full explanation.

Checklist (to get full marks):

Drawing the diagram:

- You have fully labelled your x and y-axis (See the method here)
– You’ve chosen the most appropriate diagram (the one that best explains the theory that relates most to your case).
-You’ve used a full title (such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”)
-You’ve labelled all of your lines (D1, D2, S1, S2)
-You have marked all of your intersections with letters (i.e. E1, E2)
-You have shaded in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand)
-You have indicated the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. (If no prices or percentage changes are mentioned,  label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.)

Explaining the diagram

-You have made sense of the diagram for the (unschooled) reader
-You have explained WHY the curves shift (etc), not just THAT they do.
-You have taken a step-by-step approach (See the method here)

B: Terminology (2 marks)

IB Explanation: This criterion assesses the extent to which the student uses appropriate economic terminology.

IB Expectations: Terminology relevant to the article is used appropriately throughout the commentary.

Checklist (to get full marks):Read More

Tim WoodsMeeting The Economics IA Rubric Requirements

How to Structure an Economics IA

Tim Woods IB Economics 63 Comments

This post will go through what you should write in your Economics IA, with step-by-step instructions and with word counts for each section.

What you need to know before you write:

  • Avoid writing anything that isn’t going to earn you marks. You’re going to need all the words you can get for your analysis and evaluation. Avoid quotes from the article and introductions longer than 2 sentences.
  • Stick with one section of the course (micro, macro, international, or development). Don’t start off in micro (apple prices rise, supply and demand, elasticity) and then evaluate the potential macro effects (this could hurt economic growth). Even if this is true, the IA is about going deep into one part of the course, rather than showing the linkages between different parts.
  • Less is (often) more. Because of the very constraining word count (750 words) you’ll want to focus on really developing just one or two (two at the most) diagrams in your IA. And only evaluate one potential solution (the one in the article or one of your choice if (and only if) there isn’t one in your article. Some of you, I know, are wondering, “What if the article mentions two solutions? Like price ceilings AND subsidies?” Answer: the International Bacheloreate Organization says you can highlight the section of the article you’re going to focus on, so just highlight one solution (and not the other) and you’re good to go. Bibliographies are not obligatory, but they’re nice. And if you include them, they won’t count against you for the word count.

Now you’re ready. Here’s the Method:

Key words (150 Words)

Don’t waste words with a lengthy introduction (or quotations). Instead right away start explaining the case using at least 4 course words (and then use more later). You may want to define some of these words, but we’re definitely not looking for a list of definitions. Actually definitions are not specifically required in this new syllabus. The rubric only asks for terms to be “used appropriately.” So you can get away without definitions if you are using terms in ways that show you definitely know what they mean. If you do define some words (which is still advisable) , do so only after you’ve used them in a sentence.

Also, make sure to always use the economic terms rather than the common terms for things throughout your IA. So instead of writing “money” write “consumption” or “expenditure” or “spending.” This will help to convince the reader you are familiar with the subject.

Draw the Diagram (0 Words)

The diagram (and it’s titles, etc) do not count in your word count.

You need to diagram the problem explained in the article. And also diagram your solution. Sometimes both the problem and the solution can be shown on one diagram. Sometimes not.

Of course don’t include a diagram (or any theory at all) that doesn’t help you to explain the case.

Include in your diagram as much information as you can. It will need to:

-Use a full title such as, “The Market for Apples in Singapore”

-Label all of your lines

-Mark all of your intersections with a letter, so you can refer to them later in your article

-Shade in and fully label the areas of the shapes on your diagram (i.e. excess demand),

-Indicate the exact prices and quantities (or percentage changes in price or quantity if they are included in the article. If not, label them Q1, Q2, P1, P2, etc.

Show as much as you can in your diagrams. A clear picture can help you tell a lot. 

Obviously you will want to fully label your X and Y axis. Let’s look at a simple supply and demand curve for apples:


Fully explain your diagram (200 words)

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Tim WoodsHow to Structure an Economics IA

How to Write the Economics Internal Assessment (Getting Started)

Tim Woods IB Economics 12 Comments

The next 3 posts will provide you with a bullet-proof system for scoring full marks on your Economics Internal Assessments, following the new 2013 syllabus. The IA is a brilliant opportunity to put some marks in the bank and make that 6 or 7 in the course much easier to achieve.

This first article will focus on choosing an appropriate article.

Why does this matter?

If you choose a bad article you’ll find it like competing in the Olympic 100 meter dash wearing your granny’s high heels. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Your name might be Usain Bolt. You’re working with the wrong equipment, so you’re gonna get beat. Here, just like in your Extended Essay and so much else in life, you’ve got to make good decisions at the start of the thing to end up where you want to go.

Actually, you need to decide on the concept you want to explore BEFORE you go looking for your article. You should normally focus on one of the really major concepts like supply and demand, market failure, or aggregate supply and taxes. And once you’ve done that you’ll know what type of article you’re looking for.

Here is how to spot the perfect article for your commentary

- Of course the article can’t be written by an economist. It relates to course concepts, but doesn’t explain or understand the economic reasons behind what’s going on. It might say something like, “apples are more expensive than they were before the drought, but no one can figure out why.” So you get to come in and be a hero.

- The article relates to theories that you have covered in class. If it’s about development, but you haven’t covered development yet, save that article for a later IA and find something you’re sure you can nail.

- The article can be sufficiently explained using two related theories. For example it might be explainable using (1) supply and demand, and (2) elasticity. It isn’t always necessary that two concepts be involved in your analysis to achieve full marks, but it allows you to show how theories interrelate (and that you know more than one concept).

- Make sure the article is not from a source or a country that you have covered in a previous IA. Using several different online sources are fine. But several articles from the same news organisation (i.e. all from the BBC, or all from the New York Times) is not okay.

- The article must be published within the last 12 months. This isn’t 12 months from the start (or the end) of the course, but from the time you write that specific commentary.

- Finally, the article will be a slam-dunk, perfect example of the concept you want to discuss. You don’t want to have to waste words trying to justify why you think a certain product has negative externalities of consumption. It needs to be obvious. For example, vaccinations obviously have positive externalities of consumption. Wheat, while good for you (because if you don’t eat anything you’ll die) is a much worse choice. So you’d much rather go with the subsidising vaccinations article, if market failure is your concept of the concept of choice.

Google news is obviously a great source. Once you’ve chosen your concept you can go a long way doing simple searches like “cotton subsidy shortage,” or “vaccination price africa.” And then test the articles you find against the criteria above. It should take you too long if you know what you need. However, even if it does take you a couple of hours that’s time well spent.

The next post will lay out a step-by-step approach that get you top marks on your IA’s every time.

Tim WoodsHow to Write the Economics Internal Assessment (Getting Started)

The Theory of the Firm Rappers

Tim Woods IB Economics 1 Comment

Theory of the firm is hard. It’s “ToF” to get your head around. The first year I taught IB Economics, my students really struggled with the diagrams and all of the memorisation in this part of the course. And I didn’t know how to help them remember it.

But I love taking something hard and making it easy. So I love mnemonics and finding a structure (or a system) that you can always use to get great results. This approach is the only thing that works for me.

So, while this is obviously an Economics post, you can also take this as a lesson in how to use mnemonics to pack otherwise hard-to-remember information into your brain. I read a lot of books on this subject to help my students (people like Cal NewportAdam Robinson and Joshua Foer) and I’ve applied what I’ve learned here.

You might want to read your Theory of the Firm textbook chapters before reading this post, because this article won’t teach you the theory. That would require a very long and detailed post. Instead, what I want to do here is give you a powerful system to help you remember what most people struggle to: the 5 most important points in the theory of the firm.

First, here are the important ToF facts that most people try to memorise, but fail to, because they don’t use a system:

If a product is sold…

1) Where Marginal Revenue = 0 total, total revenue is maximised.

2) Where Marginal Cost = Average Total Cost (or, you can say, where Marginal Cost = Average Cost) productive efficiency is maximized AND the firm breaks even. (2 things to memorise there, rather than just one for each of the others).

3) Where Marginal Revenue = Average Variable Cost, the firm will have to shut-down. That’s their shutdown price. Well actually it’s the minimum price a firm can sell their product for before they have to shut-down –but we call it the shutdown price anyway.

4) Where Marginal Cost = Average Revenue, social benefit (or allocative efficiency) is maximized.

5) Where Marginal Cost = Marginal Revenue, profit is maximized.

I know, I know. By now you’re wishing you’d taken History instead of Econ. But you didn’t. You, my friend, are destined for greatness, so you’re just going to have to learn this and be great.

Let me tell you about these 5 rappers (or MC’s as we used to call back in the day). Each of these MC’s sell their albums for a particular price.

The 5 MCs

Here are their names and their personalities:

Where MR=0

MR Zero doesn’t understand about costs. He just wants the biggest possible pay cheques (the most revenue). But, in the end, he doesn’t end up with a lot of profit (because revenue is not the same as profit). That might make him a big zero in your book, but doesn’t care. He just keeps smiling.

Where MC=ATC

MC Average TC is just an average guy, so he’s not rich. He just breaks even every month. He’s also in the rock group MC AC, which is known for being against waste. (I show my students this video.) The helicopter pilot on this show was named TC. He was just an average guy and I don’t recall him ever wasting anything.Read More

Tim WoodsThe Theory of the Firm Rappers