The book, the blog, the facebook page: different roles to support IB Theory of Knowledge

The theory of knowledge BOOK is substantial and comprehensive, designed to support the questioning, discussion-filled approach of inquiry teaching.  It gives activities and explanatory background for all the topics of the TOK course. It’s a book not on what to think but on how to think — how to explore perspectives and evaluate knowledge claims — and how to appreciate in overview the diverse achievement that is knowledge.

The Activating TOK BLOG complements the book with current illustration.  It picks out individual stories and examples from the real world to raise questions on how we build our knowledge.  It aims to activate awareness and skills of thinking critically.

The Activating TOK FACEBOOK page, recently launched, shares the blog posts and comments briefly for TOK on passing events of the world.

Creativity: arts and sciences

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) As a PS to my previous post on creativity and ways of knowing, I’d like to add a short (3:44) video clip of scientist Neil de Grasse Tyson speaking of the importance of the arts.  In context of defending the arts from funding cuts, his appreciation of creativity and culture, embodied in the arts, gains the energy of argument.  The importance of BOTH the sciences AND the arts may be self-evident to those of us teaching TOK — as indeed to most scientists and artists.  Yet the faux-competition between these two areas of knowledge is one of those zombie ideas that just….won’t….die! Continue reading

Where do fresh ideas come from?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Where do new ideas come from? Is it inevitable, I wonder, that in trying to talk with students about using ways of knowing creatively I’m inclined to turn to individual stories of “getting ideas”?  Today I’d simply like to share two or three resources for raising discussion of creativity in class. Continue reading

Is that woman really a man? Tidy categories, messy world

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Swift and powerful, the athletes burst across the finish line of the women’s 800 metre in Rio. The Olympics gave the world another moment of glorious human achievement as 25-year-old Caster Semenya took the gold medal for South Africa. In the background of her performance, however, controversy swirled around claims that Semenya had an unfair advantage in a women’s competition – that she didn’t fit into the category “woman”.

The issue contentious in the Rio competition is one we confront constantly as we construct our knowledge: how to classify things and whether we can do so in a way that delineates our world neatly into categories. Classifying is basic to observing, and to the naming that enables us to share our knowledge. But what a complex world it is, often eluding the systematizing we bring to it! Continue reading

Burkini controversy: TOK activity in analyzing perspectives

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A storm of controversy over a swimming suit? Astonishingly, it’s not even a risqué one! Women have recently been fined in France for keeping too much of their bodies covered on the beach – and towns have passed regional laws to ban the “burkini”.  The ban on this bathing costume, however, has met extensive protest. The top French administrative court has now overturned it. A cultural flashpoint hotly contested, the burkini offers an ideal class activity – not because the TOK course cares about beachwear but because the controversy provides material for students to consider the nature of symbolism and to practise their skills of analyzing perspectives in application to issues very alive in the world. Continue reading

Small biases, large consequences: an interactive online game on diversity or segregation

160817polygons(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Often it takes dramatic illustration to convey just why certain abstract concepts are so important to thinking critically about knowledge. For demonstrating the significance of concepts of “bias” and “implications”, try this online game with your students. “The Parable of the Polygons” provides an attractive, interactive – and startling! – visualization of what can follow from accepting some initial ideas, or from being influenced by only a little bit of bias! Students can play the game online, make their own choices, and see the graphic results form before their own eyes. Continue reading

Getting it wrong, getting it right, and generating knowledge questions: “The Forgotten History of Autism”.

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Rarely does a 14-minute talk hit so many ideas we explore in Theory of Knowledge or treat them so engagingly. In his 2015 TED talk “The forgotten history of autism”, Steve Silberman hands us a splendid case study of failures and successes in the pursuit of knowledge, and the features that distinguished them. He treats central concepts such as classification (of conditions, of people) and identification of cause. Through his own storytelling, he conveys the humanity of the researchers – in both flaws and strengths – and the human impact of getting our knowledge claims right. At the same time, he comments on storytelling itself within knowledge and sets up, for a TOK teacher, an activity on identifying knowledge questions. Continue reading

“Bomb detector”: knowledge goes horribly wrong

explosion2_640(by Theo Dombrowski from OUP blog)  300 people are dead as the result of one disastrous failure with “shared knowledge”: in Baghdad, a bomb detector costing tens of thousands of dollars failed to sense a terrorist bomb. Was this tragedy a failure in technology? No. It was a failure in knowledge. Who claimed, and who believed that the device really could detect bombs? For a TOK classroom, the fake bomb detector provides teachers with a powerful story, a striking example of some key issues surrounding knowledge, and an exercise in applying critical thinking to claims with evident consequences. Continue reading

Indigenous memory codes, the wisdom of crowds, and other summer listening

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Surely in the holiday sunshine of a northern hemisphere summer we TOK teachers deserve to rest our minds — even as we nourish them. Do you share this belief? If so, you might, like me, enjoy listening to interviews or thoughtful conversations while preparing salmon for the barbecue, watering the garden, or walking on the beach. Often, podcasts treat ideas not with bullet-point-analytical-delivery but with chatty interviews and reflective conversation – more diffuse, more relaxing. Continue reading

TOK and zombies

1607 zombie(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Until this very moment I hadn’t realized exactly what’s been missing in my TOK classes.  Zombies! I’ve been missing zombies. For years I’ve introduced terms such as “justification”, “counter-argument” and “refutation” or “falsification”. For years I’ve compared areas of knowledge on the basis of whether their knowledge claims could be tested, and whether and why people in those fields would consider rejecting them. “And so you should,” you might say. After all, that’s core TOK. But don’t you think it lacks a bit of….je ne sais quoi… a bit of colour, perhaps…a bit of personality? Wouldn’t students find refuted ideas much more attractive if presented in terms of zombies? Continue reading