“Fake news”: updating TOK critique

news dood clip(by Eileen Dombrowski, OUP blog) “Fake news” is a term that I would happily consign to the annals of 2016 and 2017. Goodbye. But as it lives on, it morphs meaning – and takes on further allure for TOK analysis. It doesn’t just face us, belligerently, with issues of truth and falsehood. It also offers an excellent current example, rooted in real life situations, of another topic central to Theory of Knowledge: the interaction between concepts and language. Further, its shifts in meaning demonstrate the care that we have to take with our tools of analysis – that is, our words and terms. Time for a TOK update! Continue reading

“How am I supposed to appreciate it?” Art, science, and some silly assumptions

(by Eileen and Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Do we expect to understand art and the natural sciences in the same way?  Today, here’s a 5-drawing cartoon sequence to open a comparison in class discussion, with class-ready questions and a download at the end. I hope it gives you not only material for thought but also a smile.

“How am I supposed to appreciate it?” cartoon sequence by Theo Dombrowski

art sc 1 Continue reading

Download TOK resource: 2017 TOK blog posts, collected

Dear TOK teachers — Again this year, I’ve gathered into a single document my year’s blog posts on Theory of Knowledge so that you can skim them easily, looking for ideas for your own teaching.  Note the Table of Contents at the beginning for an immediate overview.  Please feel free to download this resource, and to use it and share it freely (with the usual conventions of acknowledgement).

My goal in this blog is to give support to teachers by supplementing your core resources with fresh ideas for teaching TOK, activities for the classroom, and commentary relevant to TOK on current knowledge discoveries and events of the world as they pass.  My stress throughout is on thinking critically to gain the best knowledge possible, and on appreciating reliable knowledge as the achievement that it is.  I hope that, somewhere in this document, you may find something that stimulates your own ideas.

DOWNLOAD: 2017 TOK blog posts Dombrowski

I wish all of you an excellent year ahead.

Eileen Dombrowski

“2017, a good year”: Wasn’t it?

171218 new-year(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) As 2017 comes to a close, what impression will our students have of the world in which they live? Is it of an angry and threatening place? If they follow the news – even if only through social media – they might benefit from ending 2017 or starting 2018 by stepping back from the predominantly shocking or grim events that so often characterize headline news to encounter some of the good news that can easily get lost. For TOK, a class on “good news” reinforces much that we teach about knowledge production – and at the same time offers (perhaps) a little lift of the heart. Continue reading

“Those experts!”: cartoon, class discussion activity

experts_intro(by Theo and Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Distinguishing Experts from Imposters has always carried a lively edge when their conclusions matter in the real world.  Yet it’s still a bit of a novelty when views get applause simply because they reject experts!  “Those bully experts, telling the rest of us a lot of stuff — just ’cause they actually know!  How unfair!”  If our students are picking up on the anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge attitudes that echo in some current media, we might prompt them to reflection on the role of justification — such as boring old evidence! — in making knowledge claims. Would you find the following cartoon and its discussion questions useful in your TOK class to stir such a discussion? Continue reading

Signed language, symbolism, and reflections on inclusion

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I learned something important from my friend Lynx – something important for how I think about TOK and knowledge. It was almost seven years ago. I was interviewing her, as an experienced New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, on how signed languages worked and what they tell us about the nature of language. I was keenly interested in the ideas – and on using my laptop to make a video for the very first time. Then, when I had finally edited the interview, I passed it to Lynx for her response. It was immediate. “Can we add closed captions?” she asked. I was mystified. Why would we do that? “I wouldn’t like to talk about the Deaf community and their knowledge,” she explained, “without their having access to what I’m saying.” In an abrupt shift of perspective, I suddenly thought about the function of the closed captions I had always ignored – and realized that she was right. I had anchored my thinking entirely in my own TOK community and relationships of ideas. As an interpreter between hearing and Deaf groups, Lynx was much more fully attuned to the people. She was talking about inclusion and respect. Continue reading

Do Nobel prizes distort public understanding of scientific knowledge?

171106 nobel-prize(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) “Absurd.” “Archaic.” These are surely not descriptions most of us would apply to the world’s most celebrated prize in science. The Nobel Prize, conferring millions of Swedish krone (more than a million American dollars) and everlasting fame upon its recipients, honours the year’s highest achievements in knowledge. Yet even as it grips our imaginations, could this illustrious award simultaneously distort our understanding of how that knowledge works? Continue reading

SPOT and the cloak of invisibility: cognitive biases

170925 cloak

For the observer: a cloak of invisibility?

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) With a laugh, I pass on to you today a couple more cognitive biases, ones that students are likely to enjoy. We could, of course, despair over how deep our biases seem to go and what a challenge it is to achieve an open mind, but I find it curiously entertaining to learn about the quirky biases of our human minds. Maybe it even creates some patience with other people – those others who are so stubbornly wrong! – if we recognize that we are also naively wrong ourselves.

When considering reason as a way of knowing, we Theory of Knowledge teachers have long treated fallacies that derail clear thinking. When considering intuition as a way of knowing, we have a wealth of material in all the biases that kick in before we’re even consciously thinking. At moments, I’ve idly wondered whether we could teach the entire TOK course centred on confirmation bias, our tendency to notice and accept only information that reinforces what we believe already.   Continue reading

That event in the past: what do we make it signify in the present?

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) The Franklin Expedition just gets better and better. The present narration, I mean, not the actual expedition in the 19th century. No, that was a wreck in the icy north, costing the lives of all the men! But it’s a splendid example for Theory of Knowledge of the way the past can be reframed by our present interests. Continue reading

Sharing knowledge – effectively!

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Alone we go fast, together we go far.” So goes the proverb quoted by a leading neuroscientist involved in a major new project bringing together 21 labs in Europe and the United States for research on the brain. The international team aims to discover “where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond.” What’s interesting for the Theory of Knowledge classroom is the commitment undertaken by all the labs to work within a shared framework. Continue reading