Tag Archives: critical thinking

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

Controversy in the Canada Day Party: analyzing perspectives for understanding


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Differing perspectives are easiest to see when they come into conflict.  As a result, it’s tempting for Theory of Knowledge students to seize on conflicts as topics for presentations — and for us as teachers to use them as class examples to illustrate differences in perspectives. As I’m about to do here!   I worry a bit, though, that, unless we treat perspectives with nuance and some empathy for the people involved, we could end up entrenching a binary vision of the world, and possibly a static one where we don’t reach beyond the conflicts into hope for the future.

A conflict in my own country this month over the meaning of Canada Day is a case in point: a specific event gave the media a story and focused attention on conflicting views. It’s a good example in various ways to take to a TOK class, but done well only if we place the skill of identifying perspectives within the larger TOK and IB goals of curiosity, openness and desire to understand. Continue reading

Red lines and “complex moral duality”: TOK and ethics of witnessing

(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Civilians Attacked by Chemical Weapons!” Few headlines spark as much outrage. If a TOK class engages students in the questions of knowledge connected with this kind of horrendous event, it can help them feel the importance of the intellectual tools that the course provides for probing into – and reacting to – such events.

A reflective piece in the current edition of Dispatches, a journal of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, provides an articulate, subtle, and thoughtful focus for many such questions. (Stephen Cornish, “Red Lines”) Easily viewed online, the article is short enough to be used as the basis of a rich and far-reaching discussion. What makes the article particularly effective, too, is that it appeared shortly before the most recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, and thus concerns a whole array of questions perhaps not fully apparent in the most recent news flashes. Continue reading

TOK and “fake news”: 3 tips, 2 downloads, and 3 resources

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Well, we’ve done it at last. We’ve hit the Big Time. Suddenly the topics that we chat about every day in class – such as concepts of truth and reliability, the nature of “facts”, methods of validating or rejecting knowledge claims, and the dynamic and formative role of perspectives – have come into the glaring public spotlight. Headlines blare out claims about “fake news” or “the war on truth” over British and American politics most specifically, but with fallout that rains down on us all. It’s time for us Theory of Knowledge teachers to take a bow – and then eagerly scoop up for future classes all the new and relevant resources that are being churned out so energetically in the media-sphere that surrounds us. Continue reading

Thank you, Hans Rosling: numbers, facts, and the world


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Hans Rosling, who passed away earlier this month, made numbers tell significant stories about the world.  A self-proclaimed “edutainer” — educator and entertainer — Professor Rosling championed a worldview based on facts. He had a genius for revealing large patterns in human development by making people see the data on population, inequality, and global education and health. He leaves to teachers resources on numbers, facts, and large patterns that can continue to help us in our classrooms — and also leaves us, in less practical terms, the inspiration of his love of knowledge. Continue reading

Media literacy for TOK?

170106-media(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Professional development for Theory of Knowledge teachers? February 6 is the last day for signing up for the current iteration of the course Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens. It’s an online course offered on coursera.org. It can be done fairly inexpensively for credit or audited for free (presumably without the February 6 sign-up). Me, I’ve cruised through its outline and preview materials, judged it good, and signed myself up to audit it for the next six weeks. Want to join me?

I’ve long been interested in media literacy and have dealt with aspects of it in Theory of Knowledge. However, the guidance I used to give students now seems to me to be woefully insufficient. How do we encourage students to evaluate sources and consider evidence when readily accessible channels of sharing knowledge have multiplied massively, when accurate information is often swamped by hasty misinformation, heavily biased accounts or deliberate lies, and when people following their own media streams tend to reject any contrary information offered by others? Continue reading

Oh, that air of authority!

All the form without the content!  I leave it to you to formulate the appropriate knowledge questions — about persuasive devices in language and body language, about apparent expertise and authority in manner, and maybe…about the role of comedy in exposing conventions (in this case, in sharing knowledge)! I’m too busy laughing! Continue reading

Thinking beyond the knowledge bubbles

soap-bubbles-01(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I’m taking a little holiday from watching the news. I do this sometimes. I turn off the volume to watch all those mouths move, then let all of the frustrated and angry people float away, sealed in their lovely bubbles. Escapism? Yes – and no. Sometimes it’s the only way to imagine myself outside my own bubble of news and views, to try to see how people get sealed off from each other in their internally coherent mini-worlds. If I quiet my own rage at the world and stop myself from yelling about “truth”, I think I can see that the people inside all the bubbles are a lot alike, and are using similar ways to create their different versions of the world. It’s those ways that grab my attention for Theory of Knowledge. The following story is likely to grab your attention as well. Continue reading

Is Palestine on the map?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Is it surprising that in Theory of Knowledge we are drawn to an analogy between the MAPS different people have made of the world and the KNOWLEDGE they have constructed of it – with all the selection, interpretation, and representation both demand?  Is it surprising that critical reading of maps needs the same recognition of perspectives that we apply to language as a way of knowing? A recent article in the Science section of The Guardian gives us a striking contemporary example of maps being used to express and support a political perspective.  “The issue caught fire,” writes Petter Hellstrom, “after the Forum of Palestinian Journalists accused Google of removing Palestine from their maps.” 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