At The Post Oak School, high school students have direct experience in Houston's cultural center—the Museum District—and the nearby Texas Medical Center.
The unique opportunities, including multi-year internships, give students authentic, real-world work that drives their development and prepares them for an engaged adulthood. Experiences at Post Oak nourish students' diverse interests, helping each student identify personal passions, and actively prepare for university and for life beyond school. At Post Oak, student curiosity deepens into real interest, and work becomes expertise.
9th & 10th Grades. The first two years of high school help students to ground themselves in a diverse array of experiences and challenges across their classes. Each subject area is a deep dive toward robust understanding and skill building. Students combine classroom and off-campus opportunities to build themselves up toward applied practicum work and real-world accomplishments.
11th & 12th Grades. Students in their final two years of high school engage in a rich array of class experience that includes working toward a International Baccalaureate diploma. Students focus on the intersections of place, culture, history, and the natural environment through the disciplines, in pursuit of the unifying values of peace and sustainability.
The Post Oak School is one of a handful of Houston schools offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program for 11th and 12th grades. An IB diploma is highly regarded around the world, and the state of Texas requires its universities to implement policies awarding college credit to students who’ve successfully completed the IB diploma.
IB Schools share a common philosophy—a commitment to high quality, challenging, international education that we believe is important for our students. As an IB World School, Post Oak is committed to a balanced world-class education that supports students on their path to adulthood.
Lower Level Courses (Grades 9 & 10)
- English Language Arts and Literature
- History and Social Sciences
- Natural Sciences
- Physical Fitness
- Second Language
- Visual and Performing Arts
English Language Arts and Literature
English Language Arts study fosters a lifelong interest in and appreciation of language and literature. Students engage in deep analysis of writing from a variety of periods and genres. They cultivate personal expression, both written and spoken, and, by understanding careful literary criticism, learn to draw their own conclusions from a variety of sources. Experiences and readings build from the contemporary context and experiences in students’ immediate culture, then extend themes to historically and culturally diverse perspectives. (Two-year course for grades 9, 10)
History and Social Sciences
Integrated History and Social Sciences combines the traditional study of history with the social sciences, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, geography, economics, and political science, as well as civics. The key concepts of each of the social sciences are illustrated by historical case studies from around the globe and from prehistory to the present. Student experiences include: key texts, seminar discussions, individual research, and field work. These shed light on the patterns of human behavior and make possible an understanding of historical causality. They provide students with diagnostic and prognostic tools that make it possible to perceive accurately the world as it has come to be and to envision a better future. (Two-year course for grades 9, 10)
Integrated Science begins with investigations into cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, and ecology. Inquiry and innovation are the driving principles as students implement scientific methodologies using state-of-the-art equipment. Lectures, seminars, group work, lab experiences, and field work combine to create cross-disciplinary grounding in physical and life sciences, which helps satisfy natural adolescent needs to connect the dots of earlier science studies. Students learn to develop and critically investigate their own questions. Every scientific idea connects to the human story and to the historical backdrop upon which the story of the universe, the story of Earth, and the story of humankind plays out.
Physics, chemistry, and biology provide the foundation of scientific methodologies used to consider local and global environmental phenomena and how these affect human societies small and large. Students learn that issues are complex, multinational, and evoke many different reactions across cultures and time. The course provides opportunities for students to investigate the costs/benefits of technological progress and the role of small- and large-scale collaboration in resolving environmental issues. (Two-year course for grades 9, 10)
Integrated Mathematics treats mathematics as an everyday tool, as well as one of humankind’s most elegant abstractions. The goal in the study of mathematics is for students to develop a range of pragmatic skills and an ever deepening understanding of the mathematics underlying our modern world. Initial mathematics at the high school focuses on a historical, contextualized approach that helps students understand mathematical principles of discovery and problem solving. Standard coursework includes algebra, geometry, logic, and trigonometry; advanced topics are chosen based on students’ interests and abilities. The format is a mixture of lecture, seminar, and work in the field.
Students develop creative and logical thinking while using digital technologies to augment their own work. Philosophical questions about the fundamental nature of numbers naturally emerge as students progress. In addition to the expected proficiency, this course endeavors to impart to students the gift of understanding and appreciating the beauty, order, and elegance of mathematics. (Two-year course covering algebra, geometry, and trigonometry for grades 9, 10)
The approach is one of fitness for life that provides opportunities for students to engage in life sports and physical activities in addition to playing with friends. The course offers introductions to a variety of team and individual sports as well as opportunities for basic cardio-training, strength training, running, yoga, team sports, and other fitness activities. (Two-year course for grades 9, 10)
Practicum refers to the great variety of opportunities Post Oak provides for students to pursue their own interests, discover their own passions, and develop talents for work that enhances their own lives and contributes to a better world beyond the walls of the school. Practicum can include student endeavors as diverse as working as a lab or office intern, museum docent, or research, teaching, or coaching assistant. Practicum can also include more personal projects, such as writing for publication, giving musical or poetry performances, or campaigning to raise awareness on a social issue. What all practicum will have in common is potential (1) for stimulating growth in the student and (2) to have a positive impact on the world outside the school. The only requirements associated with practicum are to adequately document and reflect on the experience.
Second Language Studies augment students’ connections to other cultures and enhance their understanding of their native language. Students may choose to study Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. As students progress, they work toward complete fluency in both written and oral communication. To that end, all students participate in spoken language, aural activities, reading, and writing. All language studies are couched in holistic studies of the cultures in which the language is spoken natively. (Two-year course for grades 9, 10)
Visual and Performing Arts
Design Technology is a course centered around the “making” mentality, which encourages students to create things that are simply practical, strictly artistic, or anything in between. Students receive lessons in woodworking and complete large projects as groups after working on hand-drawn 2D design blueprints for their projects. They quickly progress to designing digitally in 2D using Adobe Illustrator to create laser-cut projects of their choosing. The semester culminates with 3D design with students working on projects involving 3D Printing or CNC Routing. (One semester required in grades 9, 10.)
Music Theory and Performance provides students opportunities to connect their interest in music (listening or performing) to critical studies of music theory, music history, and performance. (One semester required in grades 9, 10.)
Theater Arts helps students cultivate natural self-expression. There are a variety of connection possibilities as students engage in learning acting techniques, dramaturgy, set design, prop management, and technical theater. Performance is a central component of this course. (One semester required in grades 9, 10.)
Visual Art encompasses drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, assemblage art, ceramics, graphic design, photography, videography, and more. Students undertake this course with the goals of developing a working understanding of a variety of techniques and media types; exploring a variety of artistic qualities; investigating meaning and content; and developing an appreciation for and sensitivity to art across time and cultures. (One semester required in grades 9, 10.)
All Upper Level courses are two-year courses and may be designated as SL (Standard Level) or HL (Higher Level).
View the Guide to the Upper Level High School Program, or read course descriptions below.
Upper Level Courses (Grades 11 & 12)
- English Language Arts and Literature
- Second Language
- History and Social Sciences
- Natural Sciences
- The Arts
- Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay
English Language Arts and Literature
Language and Literature SL introduces students to the study of a wide range of literary and non-literary texts in a variety of media. By examining communicative acts across literary form and textual type alongside appropriate secondary readings, students will investigate the nature of language itself and the ways in which it shapes and is influenced by identity and culture. Approaches to study in the course are meant to be wide ranging and can include literary theory, sociolinguistics, media studies, and critical discourse analysis among others.
Language and Literature HL students study an additional two literary texts over the two-year course and write an additional 1200–1500 word literary analysis.
At the Upper Level, there are two levels of Chinese: Ab Initio and Standard Level.
Ab initio Mandarin Chinese is for students with little or no experience of the language. Through the development of receptive, productive and interactive skills, students develop the ability to respond and interact appropriately in a defined range of everyday situations. The course is organized into three themes: individual and society, leisure and work, and urban and rural environment.
Assessments include a presentation and follow-up questions based on a visual stimulus, a written assignment integrating receptive and productive skills, and a general conversation with the teacher based in part on the written assignment. The senior exams require students to demonstrate understanding of authentic print texts and produce two short writing exercises.
Mandarin Chinese SL is for students with two or more years of experience in the language. Interactive, productive, and receptive skills are developed through contextualized study of language, texts, and themes. The core themes of the course are communication and media, global issues, and social relationships, and there are also two further themes covered.
Assessments include a written assignment integrating assessment of receptive and productive skills, an individual oral based on the further themes, and an interactive oral based on the three core themes. The senior exams require students to demonstrate understanding of authentic print texts based on the core themes and productive skills in a writing based on the further themes.
At the Upper Level, there are three different levels of Spanish: Ab Initio SL, SL, and HL.
Ab Initio Spanish is for students with up to one year of experience in Spanish. It is organized into three themes: individual and society, leisure and work, and urban and rural environment. The main focus is on language acquisition and development of language skills, achieved through the study and use of a range of written and spoken material. The material used is appropriate for each student to develop mastery of language skills and a strong intercultural understanding.
Assessments include an individual 10-minute oral presentation based on a visual stimulus and the Written Assignment, demonstrating intercultural understanding. The senior exams assess reading comprehension and writing skills.
Spanish SL is for students with two or more years of experience. The core themes of the course are social relationships including social and religious celebrations, taboos, friendships, and family; communication and media including advertising, radio, television, and the internet; and global issues including migration, poverty, politics, and ecology. Further themes of the course are customs and traditions including visual arts, music, dance, etiquette, protocol, and food; cultural diversity including beliefs, values, and norms; and language diversity and preservation.
Assessments include an individual oral presentation based on one of the further themes, an interactive oral activity based on the core themes, and a written exercise and rationale based on intertextual reading. The senior exams assess reading comprehension and writing skills.
Spanish HL is for students with two or more years of experience who would like to go deeper in the study of the language. In addition to the topics and assessments described for the Spanish SL course, HL students complete an additional assessment consisting of a 150 to 250 word paper that is a reasoned response to a prompting text dealing with a topic linked to the core themes and a creative writing task of 500 to 600 words linked to one of the two works of literature read in class and a 150-word rationale. The two works of literature studied are Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel and El coronel no tiene quién le ascribe by Gabriel García Marquez.
History and Social Sciences
At the Upper Level, there are two different tracks students can choose to take: Economics in Historical Context (EHC) and Global Politics in Historical Context (GPHC). Studying the social sciences in historical context demonstrates for students how politics and economics are inextricably intertwined in human affairs, and students in both EHC and GPHC will gain an enhanced understanding of the significance of events by sharing their perspectives. Ultimately, both EHC and GPHC are designed to provide students with the experiences and tools they need to become active, ethical, and efficacious citizens of the world.
Economics in Historical Context HL introduces students to the study of the ways society deals with human needs and wants in the context of the material environment. Economics encompasses two broad theoretical perspectives. Microeconomics models variables affecting individuals, firms and markets. Macroeconomics models variables affecting countries, governments and societies. Combining these two perspectives are the separate sub-disciplines of International Economics and Development Economics. Together these four subjects comprise the main units covered over two years in EHC. As a social science, much of the evidence underpinning Economic theories comes from the study of the human past, or history. Thus, in EHC, economic concepts and theories are presented in the context of key historical events.
Assessments include creation of a portfolio of three commentaries based on different sections of the syllabus and on published media reports. The senior exams are comprised of an extended response paper divided into sections on microeconomics and macroeconomics, a data response paper with sections on international and development economics, and questions involving quantitative skills.
Global Politics in Historical Context HL gives students the historical and conceptual knowledge they need to comprehend the complex challenges of our ever-more interconnected and fast-changing world and the skills they need to make a difference in it as active global citizens. Through studies of historical and current events, students learn how political controversies derive from the diverse interests, preferences, and identities of individuals and groups. A grounding in history, political philosophy, and political science gives students the tools necessary to analyze problems and envision positive action steps. The skills of engaged citizenship are fostered through action-oriented case studies of global political challenges at the international, national, local, and communal levels.
Assessments included student exploration of a self-chosen political issue through engagement and research to produce a written report. Students also conduct two case studies on different global political challenges and deliver 10-minute oral presentations on each. The senior exams are comprised of a stimulus-based set of four structured questions on core subject matter and three essays, each from a different core unit.
Biology SL covers many major concepts in biology, including cells, basic biochemistry, genetics, ecology, evolution, human health, and physiology. We will also cover two topics in more depth: behavioral neurobiology and conservation ecology. Field studies, laboratory exercises, and the students’ own self-directed work aim to enable students to apply their knowledge and skills in the lab and the field. They will come to understand biological issues from the local to the global.
Assessments include an interdisciplinary activity in which students analyze a common topic or problem collaboratively with an emphasis on the process rather than the product of scientific investigation. The senior exams are comprised of 30 multiple-choice questions on the core topics, a data-based question, several short-answer questions on core topics, an essay on the core topics, and several short-answer questions on each of the two further topics.
Biology HL covers all of the same topics as SL as well as nucleic acids and proteins, cell respiration and photosynthesis, genetics, human physiology, and health.
The senior exams differ from SL only in that there are 40 multiple-choice questions, with 20 on the HL-only topics.
Chemistry SL is designed to inspire scientific curiosity and drive home the idea that chemistry is everywhere in our surroundings. Students will make observations, ask questions, and make connections between macroscopic phenomena and atomic interactions. We will reinforce math and science concepts learned in previous study and build upon them. In this course, we will cover the basics of atomic and molecular structure, bonding, chemical reactions, and the periodic table. Topics will be introduced in a historical and contemporary context, promoting an understanding of how chemistry plays a role in global issues. Once students establish foundational knowledge in chemistry, we will tackle advanced concepts including organic chemistry, redox chemistry, and materials chemistry.
The course will be comprised of lectures, independent research, and laboratory activities, with an emphasis on learning safe laboratory practices and use of material safety data sheets (MSDS). Students will be assessed on both mathematical and conceptual understanding, and each student will have the opportunity to explore a topic of their own interest. Students will also gain exposure to the greater scientific community by developing their science reading and writing skills.
Chemistry HL challenges students to expand upon each topic covered in SL. HL students will learn about advanced analytical techniques and complex reaction mechanisms. Advanced topics will be introduced in the context of current research and will serve as a deep dive into reading and comprehending scientific journal articles.
Computer Science SL or HL students gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of computational thinking, as well as knowledge of how computers and other digital devices operate. Students study how computer science interacts with and influences culture, individual and social behavior, and relevant ethical issues. The course aims to introduce students to a wide spectrum of knowledge underpinned by conceptual thinking, and enables and empowers innovation, exploration, and the acquisition of further knowledge.
Assessments require students to demonstrate the personal skills of cooperation and perseverance, as well as appropriate technical skills for effective problem-solving in developing computational solutions.
Physics SL introduces students to the core elements of physics, including measurements, mechanics, thermal physics, waves, electricity and magnetism, gravitation, particle physics, and energy production. Students demonstrate knowledge of and apply the concepts, terminology, methodologies, and techniques of physics and experience how physicists work and communicate with each other. They analyze and evaluate hypotheses and primary and secondary data, and they formulate scientific explanations of their observations.
Assessments include computer simulations and data-gathering exercises, such as data analysis exercises and general lab work. Students enrolling in Physics SL must also be concurrently enrolled in either Math Analysis SL or HL.
Math Applications SL recognizes the increasing role that mathematics and technology play in a diverse range of fields in a data-rich world. As such, it emphasizes the meaning of mathematics in context by focusing on topics that are often used as applications or in mathematical modelling. To give this understanding a firm base, this course also includes topics that are traditionally part of a pre-university mathematics course such as calculus and statistics. The course makes extensive use of technology to allow students to explore and construct mathematical models. Students will develop mathematical thinking, often in the context of a practical problem and using technology to justify conjectures.
Math Analysis SL offers students a liberal variety of math topics providing a solid foundation of knowledge to support study in higher mathematics. The coursework covers topics in precalculus, calculus, trigonometry, and statistics. The focus is mostly on pure mathematics, although applications are explored through various in-class investigations. Each student will choose a topic commensurate with the work of the course on which to write a research paper during their Senior year. Students enrolling in Math Analysis SL must have completed and passed Integrated Math 3 before the beginning of their junior year.
Math Analysis HL caters to students with a solid background in mathematics who are competent in a variety of analytical and technical skills. The majority of students in this course will be expecting to go on to study higher math topics as a major component of their university studies, although students with simply a strong interest in mathematics who enjoy the mental challenges it offers may take this subject. The coursework includes all of the topics covered in Math Analysis SL, along with deeper investigations into the major topics. Students enrolling in Math Analysis HL must have completed and passed Integrated Math 4 before the beginning of their junior year.
Film SL aims to develop students as proficient interpreters and makers of film texts. Through the study and analysis of film texts, and through practical exercises in film production, the film course develops students’ critical abilities and their appreciation of artistic, cultural, historical and global perspectives in film. Students examine film concepts, theories, practices and ideas from multiple perspectives, challenging their own viewpoints and biases in order to understand and value those of others.
Film students experiment with film and multimedia technology, acquiring the skills and creative competencies required to successfully communicate through the language of the medium. They develop an artistic voice and learn how to express personal perspectives through film.
The film course emphasizes the importance of working collaboratively. It focuses on the international and intercultural dynamic that triggers and sustains contemporary film, while fostering in students an appreciation of the development of film across time, space and culture. Film students are challenged to understand alternative views, to respect and appreciate the diverse cultures that exist within film, and to have open and critical minds.
At the core of the Film course lies the need for creative exploration and innovation. Students are challenged to acquire and develop critical thinking, reflective analysis and the imaginative synthesis that is achieved through practical engagement in the art, craft and study of film.
Film HL students complete all of the same work as SL students, but with one added element. HL students work collaboratively to create an original, completed film.
Music SL provides experiences in all aspects of music performance and creation. The course covers music history, music theory, and various exploration activities which will enhance each student’s knowledge of music. Particular emphasis is placed on studying the interactions of different styles of music across different cultures and historical eras, gaining perspective on how music serves as both a support and reflection of the human spirit/condition.
Assessments include formal analyses of musical works and the submission of performance recordings, compositions, and essays for final assessment. In May of the senior year, students sit for a listening exam comprised of four musical perception questions.
Music HL covers all of the same topics and requires all of the same assessments as SL. The listening exam is longer and there are more required recordings and compositions.
Theater SL provides an environment to explore theater with an open mind, expressive body, and caring heart. Students in the first year explore the origins and development of theatre in the world through research and observing plays. Students participate in vocal and physical work to become more effective communicators. Second year work leads to thoughtful risk in a final live performance piece involving exploration of dramaturgy, technical theatre, and playwriting.
Assessments include a director’s notebook, developing ideas regarding how a play text could be staged for an audience, a research presentation, outlining and physically demonstrating research into a convention of a theater tradition, and a collaborative project, creating and presenting an original piece of theater for and to a specified target audience.
Theater HL covers all of the same topics and requires all of the same assessments as SL. In addition, each student creates and presents a solo theater piece based on an aspect of theater theory.
Visual Art SL is an exploration and production of visual art within the student’s own and other cultural context. The content of the course is assessed on three components: visual inquiry including exploration, investigation, research and experimenting within the context of the process portfolio; comparative study including comparison of two or more artists’ work in a written document supported with illustrations and photos; and visual art exhibit—video documentation including studio art work, a diagram for the exhibit, and text in a written curatorial format.
Visual Art HL covers all of the same topics and requires all of the same assessments as SL as well as a larger exhibit and process portfolio.
Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay
Theory of Knowledge (TOK) gives students the opportunity to step back from the continuous acquisition of knowledge that characterizes the greater part of their coursework in order to engage in a critical inquiry into the nature of knowledge itself. This unique course is organized around a series of probing questions, including “What counts as knowledge?”, “How does knowledge grow?”, and “What are the limits of knowledge?” Students investigate a variety of ways of knowing, such as reason, sense perception, language, and faith, and investigate how each contributes to areas of systematically shared knowledge, such as the arts, history, natural sciences, religious knowledge systems, and ethics.
In spring of the junior year, students create a presentation (approximately 10 minutes per student) on a particular knowledge issue. In spring of the senior year, students compose an essay of 1,200 to 1,600 words on a prescribed topic.
The Extended Essay (EE) is an in-depth study of a focused topic chosen from the list of approved DP subjects—normally one of the student’s six chosen subjects for the IB diploma. It is intended to promote high-level research and writing skills, intellectual discovery, and creativity. The EE provides students with an opportunity to engage in personal research in a topic of their own choice, under the guidance of a supervisor (a teacher in the school). This leads to a major piece of formally presented, structured writing, in which ideas and findings are communicated in a reasoned and coherent manner, appropriate to the subject chosen. It is recommended that completion of the written essay is followed by a short, concluding interview with the supervisor. The extended essay is a formal piece of scholarship containing no more than 4,000 words and is the result of approximately 40 hours of work by the student.