The book and the blog: different roles to support IB Theory of Knowledge

The 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 BLOG doesn’t aim for an overview.  It dips into the world to scoop up stories and examples that illustrate how we build our knowledge — and maybe how we stumble in the process.  Catching current research and events, Activating TOK aims to activate our awareness and skills to think critically and clearly in the real world.

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

The Beach Beast: perceiving pattern, playfully

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Cute, isn’t he? May I introduce to you the Beach Beast, and a playful class example for sense perception and intuition as ways of knowing? Oh yes, we TOK teachers all have our collections of optical illusions and suggestive images to create a gestalt moment. (Aha!)  We might even use the word “pareidolia” in class for the brain’s inclination to find pattern in random sense perceptions – with human faces, for example, startlingly apparent on the surface of the moon or the melted cheese sandwich on our plate. But, really, I think you’d have to go far to find an example with the appeal of my local Beach Beast!


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“Genocide”: what we call things MATTERS

(by Eileen Dombrowski) May no student graduate from our course without a sensitive awareness that what we call things truly matters! This week’s illustration is a rather grim one, but one that resonates with TOK topics: language as a way that we gain knowledge, influenced by how we categorize; concepts and naming as important issues in every area of knowledge, to the extent that the topic is given special emphasis in the knowledge framework. This particular illustration also demonstrates that history as an area of knowledge is not entirely about the past: Continue reading

Beasts, whirligigs, and raindrops: engineering, art, and the play of the imagination

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) On this fine day in May, most Theory of Knowledge students in the northern hemisphere are surely preoccupied with only a certain aspect of knowledge: how well they have demonstrated it, in relevant forms, on examinations. So today let me suggest that tired students deserve to be invited away from exam stress through their senses and imaginations, and through a gentle form of TOK reflection.

I’d give them no taxing questions, but instead the chance simply to watch and respond to Theo Jansen’s Sandbeasts:

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“Untranslatable”: some goodies for your collection

160509 bird_singing(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Words claimed to be “untranslatable” are often a tease. If they were truly untranslatable, we would have no access to them whatsoever. What makes many examples delightful is that, in fact, we can translate them. We won’t feel the resonance that the words possess for native speakers, of course, but we often have access to the core meaning in a way that provokes pleased surprise at unfamiliar packaging of ideas – and perhaps a smile of recognition.

We Theory of Knowledge teachers collect words like that to enliven discussions of languages mapping out the world in different ways, and to stimulate student curiosity about some of the more profound differences — in language, and in cultural conceptions of the world. Would you like a few appealing words to add to your collection? Continue reading