Tag Archives: knowledge questions

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 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

Clever cons and TOK 3: Is critical thinking utterly futile?

160222 mirror(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Does everyone really fall for con artists? Everyone, always? That’s the subtitle of Maria Konnikova’s book: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time. No, I’m not going to fall for taking a catchy title literally! But if potential victims are so very vulnerable, is it utterly futile to try to develop skills of critical thinking in our own defense? Continue reading

Clever cons and TOK 2: What does storytelling do to knowledge?

160215 scam roadsign(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Stories have power. In the scams of con artists, they have the power to “get you emotionally transported enough that you stop asking questions, or at least the questions that matter.” So warns Maria Konnikova, whose recently published book The Confidence Game prompted my post last week, and this week. At the same time, however, stories have an enriching role in the creation of knowledge, not just in obvious areas such as literature and history but also in areas such as the sciences where we might not expect a narrative to carry us. What, then, is the role of storytelling in telling lies, and telling truths? Continue reading

Clever cons and TOK 1: Does it matter to tell the truth?

160208 illusionist(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Claiming he was a surgeon, Ferdinand Waldo Demara tricked the Canadian navy into giving him a ship full of people as his patients. With no qualifications whatsoever – without so much as high school graduation – he even performed operations on his trusting patients. How could anyone be so dishonest and callous as to deceive others so flagrantly? And why would so many people fall for his impersonation? The “con artist” – the swindler who plays a “confidence game” or gains the confidence of others for his own ends – seems to awaken our emotional outrage, but also our fascination. Such reactions make stories of large scale deception enormously attractive for stimulating and focusing discussion in a Theory of Knowledge classroom. Continue reading

“Climate Skeptic” or “Denier”: Can journalists stake neutral ground in a language war?

(by Theo Dombrowski. first published OUP blog)

151108newsglobeWords map our concepts. They affect how we think within our personal knowledge, and how we shape and exchange our shared knowledge. In any critical examination of the creation and flow of knowledge, we need to be aware of the influence of the terminology we use.  

Do you accept the knowledge claims above? If so, you are likely to be keenly interested in guidance on terminology issued to journalists by the Associated Press Stylebook editors on September 22, 2015. The editors have recommended specific language for journalists writing on climate change “ to help our reporters and editors present the news accurately, concisely and clearly”.

This AP announcement hands TOK teachers a current example for class on the relevance of language to handling concepts, and the importance of definitions and connotations in public flow of knowledge. Continue reading

“Really? You don’t know what MATTER is?”: Nobel Laureate in physics uses doughnuts to explain.

(from OUP TOK blog) In just a minute and a half on a comedy show, Arthur McDonald explains the discovery in physics that made him a co-winner of a Nobel Prize for physics this month. Well, actually…..no, he doesn’t. But he does provoke a laugh, perhaps especially for Canadians who recognize the popular chocolate Timbits he resorts to using in a simplified explanation. I recommend this video clip for TOK class for two reasons: first, a class laugh opens discussion of scientific discovery without distancing those fearful of physics; and second, it raises some tasty knowledge questions about the nature of explanation and responsibility.   Continue reading

Visualizing the TOK course: a graphic overview

5b TOK overview

(originally posted on my OUP TOK blog) Ideas can be treated at different scales.  Anyone writing a paper or preparing to teach a course knows that – and Theory of Knowledge teachers most certainly do!  Knowledge questions zoom skyward to such broad levels of overview that they can temporarily scale everything but the strongest contours of knowledge right out of sight. Today, I’m going to risk extreme vertigo to share with you one overview of the Theory of Knowledge course itself, scaled to a single page.

Continue reading

Simplifying the knowledge framework, entry level

Dombrowski-knowledge-framework-wb

(originally posted on my OUP TOK blog) IB Theory of Knowledge soars over knowledge, dipping to see knowledge claims close-up and lifting into the sky for overviews of whole bodies of knowledge claims and the contours of different areas of study. Experienced teachers of TOK become comfortable with framing particular examples with general concepts at differing levels of generality, or grounding large concepts with particular examples, across all areas of knowledge. But do we risk leaving our students behind? What is a comfortable level of generality, and a comfortable level of language, for students as they enter discussions on areas of knowledge?

Continue reading

Small picture, big picture: a photography resource for TOK

15 09 camera(first published in my Oxford University Press blog) Images and stories – singular tales have power to grip our imaginations and, in vividly capturing individual moments, to evoke a far more general experience. We’ve certainly witnessed the impact on political discussion of the single photo of a drowned child that I blogged on – and so did everyone else! – just recently. (“How does a single photo of a single drowned child affect our shared knowledge?”, Sept 9) Yet what is the role of images in the knowledge we share?

This question is huge: it takes us into photos and films, maps and models, all of them compared with language for symbolic representation of the world; it takes us into forms of evidence and issues of reliability; it takes us into the particularizing methods of photography and literature compared with the generalizing methods of the sciences. For today, though, I’d like to narrow down to the relationship between images, representation, and knowledge claims — and share with you an exciting resource. Continue reading