Tag Archives: reason

Stay cool. TOK teachers can handle this. 

180813 horoscope(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Are we on “the path back into darkness, tribalism, feudalism, superstition, and belief in magic”?  The apparent upsurge of belief in astrology has sent one of my favourite bloggers and podcasters, neurologist and skeptic Steven Novella, into a paroxysm of sheer frustration. How can anything so thoroughly debunked as astrology make inroads back into public belief?  But – stay cool, Steven! This is a job for Theory of Knowledge teachers!  It seems to me we’re in a perfect spot to raise questions about astrology – not with earnest annoyance but with humour and a light heart. Continue reading

Exercise for awareness: facts, feelings, and changing your mind

(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Here’s a challenge for your students. Are they open to changing their opinions if faced with contrary facts? Today we offer a class exercise – ready for you to download, to use directly or to customize – whose goal is student self-awareness. It demands reflection, research, and discussion, and should raise discussion on facts, feelings, values, opinions, and confirmation bias in accepting or rejecting knowledge claims. The formatted version is available for download at the end of this post. Continue reading

Biases, fallacies, argument: Would you argue with a T-rex?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) If you were the brontosaurus, what would you say back? The following cartoon sequence is designed for TOK to prompt examination of assumptions, emotional appeals, and fallacies of argument. Students will quickly see some real world relevance and echoes of common knowledge claims.

If you would find this activity useful with your own students, please feel free to download a formatted copy here (with permission given to teachers to use it in their own classrooms): Would you argue with a T-rex?  You’ll find commentary on the cartoon frames at the end of this post. Continue reading

(Dis)trusting statistics: a one-page guide

dombrowski dracula 1 300(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A numbers expert declares he’ll sum up everything he knows about analyzing statistics on the back of a postcard. Could any TOK teacher NOT instantly spring to the alert? He’s inspired me to attempt my own lean summary: a single page mini-guide on (dis)trusting statistics, useful in our own educational context of Theory of Knowledge. 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

Standing at the Centre of the World: TOK class discussion (with handout)

Daryl Duke 200 dpi

Standing at the centre of the world: it’s a compelling image. But just who or what is at the “centre”, and what does planting that centre do to our knowledge? Clearly, this question of “centrism” threads through the Theory of Knowledge course, and there are plenty of good entry points to take students into discussion of its complexities. For one such entry point, I’d like to suggest using the image above, with its claim, “Whoever holds a camera stands at the centre of the world.” Continue reading

Love, luck, literature, and logic: Who will win the lady?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Which of her eager suitors will make the right guess in the gamble – and win the beautiful Portia and her fortune? Mathematician Alex Bellos gives us a new twist to a story familiar from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: a lovely and virtuous heiress is compelled by her late father’s will to marry the man who chooses, out of three caskets, the one which contains her portrait. In a Theory of Knowledge class, love, luck, literature, and logic combine in a quick class activity solving a problem – and thereby clarifying for students the process of deduction and justification through reason and language as ways of knowing. And it’s fun. Continue reading

AGAINST empathy? Really?

170213-hands(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “In the moral domain…empathy leads us astray,” argues Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University. “We are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators motivated by compassion and care for others.”  Bloom adopts a provocative stance to focus attention on what we in IB Theory of Knowledge would call “ways of knowing”, and ties emotion, imagination, and reason to ethics as an area of knowledge. 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