Tag Archives: shared knowledge

Mathematics and Scientific Methodology: example Malaria

insect-158565_640(by Theo Dombrowski) The statistics are horrifying.

 Every minute, a child dies from malaria.

In 2013, 90% of the world’s malaria deaths occurred in Africa and over 430,000 African children died before their fifth birthdays.

And there are plenty more statistics where these came from:

In 2013, there were about 198 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 124 million to 283 million) and an estimated 584 000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 367 000 to 755 000).

According to yet further statistics, this horrifying number is not as bad as it was just a few years earlier. Why the improvement? Mostly, it seems, from two causes: increased availability and use of both insecticides and mosquito nets over sleeping areas.   Medical research still has not led to a vaccination.

Malaria research as an example for TOK class

The research and experiences of IB graduate Dr. Miles Davenport provide excellent insight into the methods currently being employed in the biological sciences to combat this huge health issue faced principally by the world’s poor.

Two aspects of current malaria research are most helpful to bring to a TOK class. The first concerns those elements absolutely basic to gaining scientific knowledge–making observations, collecting data, making assumptions, and formulating hypotheses. The second, Dr. Davenport’s specialty, is less obviously fundamental–applying mathematics.

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Classification and implications: Who is black, or indigenous, or Jewish?

(by Eileen Dombrowski) I ended my last post with questions about Rachel Dolezal’s claims to be black: “Are her personal knowledge claims the deciding factor, in your mind, for determining her racial identity? Why or why not?” What has captured media attention, it seems, is the way in which her story pits her own personal knowledge claims about her own racial identity against social knowledge claims of racial classification – and this in a society where racial categorization is charged with assumptions, associations from history and politics, values, and implications for treatment.

What captures my own TOK attention, however, is more generalized. It’s the differing bases and justifications for general classifications, of course. But even more intriguing is the way particular examples fit – or, being human, sometimes dramatically refuse to fit – into the categories assigned to them. As soon as we take two steps back from Rachel Dolezal’s story, others flood into the space. Who is black? Who’s an Indian? Who’s Jewish? Continue reading

Eileen’s advice for new TOK teachers

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— “I’ve never even taken a course like IB Theory of Knowledge, and I’m not sure at all how to teach it.”

— “I’m just planning the course for the first time, and I have some ideas…”

Voices and faces linger with me as I return from a gathering of teachers (a flocking of my own kind!). Among them were many teachers new to TOK — still taking it in, connecting it with their own backgrounds, and beginning to plan. It’s to these new teachers – with their ideas, energy, and uncertainties — that I’d like to speak in today’s blog post. May I offer you some suggestions for enjoying to the full your teaching of IB Theory of Knowledge?

My last question, note, was purely rhetorical — and disingenuous. I really want to offer some suggestions and simply hope that what I prize from my own experience will find some place in your own shaping of a course that I consider central to education. I’m not at all detached, and not at all neutral: in my opinion, the whole way of thinking of TOK is crucial to the knowledge that our students should take with them as they graduate. Continue reading

“Knowledge-Based Trust” (KBT): Google aims to give us the facts.

google-76517_640(by Eileen Dombrowski) Who needs critical thinking when we have Google? A team of computer scientists working for Google has proposed an improvement on what comes up when we enter our terms in its search window. They suggest a method of calculating a “trustworthiness score” for webpages based on their factual content: “We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT).” An avid Googler myself, I am awash with both admiration and amusement. What would our students, many of them also consummate Googlers in face of essay assignments, make of the knowledge questions that instantly arise about the nature of facts, truth, and reliable sources? Continue reading

What colour is that dress? Millions disagree!

(by Eileen Dombrowski) Yes, of course, we do know that people perceive colours differently. But so very differently? The dress at the centre of this week’s media storm makes an entertaining example in TOK of variability in sense perception, interpretation of optical illusion, and the extreme edge of “shared knowledge” – knowledge claims not shared through communal and corrective methodology but instead spread swiftly through social media. Millions of people are firm in their conflicting knowledge claims: “It’s obviously blue and black!” “Are you kidding? It’s white and gold!”

In sheer crowd appeal, the colour of the dress surely trumps other colour tests or optical illusions that TOK teachers often take to class to prompt discussion on human variability in sense perception and interpretation. As the BBC reports, “Buzzfeed’s online story about the dress has been shared more than 20 million times. Its post about the story also set a record for the website when 670,000 people went on to the site at the same time.” Continue reading

News anchor in disgrace: media, memory, and questions of knowledge

14 02 helicopter-297742_640(by Theo Dombrowski) If there’s one quality we all want in news announcers it is their truthfulness. A liar is not what we want. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the most widely covered news stories of recent weeks is the one directed at exposing famous NBC News “anchorman” Brian Williams–as a liar. So high profile is this story that if you take it to a TOK class you can expect most students to have heard it (at least in North America.)

As for the lie itself, well, according to Williams he was traveling in a helicopter in Iraq in 2003, when it was hit by enemy fire. The truth? It wasn’t. (In fact, another helicopter traveling ahead of him by more than half an hour was hit—though Williams’ helicopter did land to avoid a dangerous situation.)

Ask the same TOK class what knowledge questions related to shared knowledge emerge from this story and, no doubt, many will point out those associated with trusting news media. The fact that Williams did not present his story as a news story will hardly take away from the point. This emphasis, however, obscures an even more interesting question for TOK, one raised by psychologists commenting on the story. Is it possible that it illustrates not a failure of honesty but the normal workings of fallible memory? Continue reading

newest technology + oldest subject matter = new knowledge (and it’s amazing)

(by Eileen Dombrowski) How do scientists know so much (and so little) about galaxies far, far away?  As we fly at high levels of general overview, surveying and comparing the methodologies of the areas of knowledge, we need stories to bring our discussions to life —  stories of people on the ground actively engaged in the process of building knowledge and news releases of research breakthroughs or shifts of interpretation.  For a news release that illustrates general points about technology and methodology but may also bring a moment of amazement and wonder, I recommend the latest image of the faraway Andromeda galaxy. Continue reading

Poppies and remembrance: symbolism and perspectives

poppyfield(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog) Controversy again over poppies and remembrance – or in TOK terms, over symbolism and shared knowledge! In Britain, a headscarf with a poppy pattern has been marketed to Muslim women to “raise awareness about the 400,000 Muslims, most of them Indian, who fought alongside British troops in the First World War.” Condemning this poppy scarf, one Muslim woman calls it one of “the most ill-conceived of the recent spate of ‘we are not extremists’ initiatives.” She adds,  “I also take issue with the fact that a symbol of my religion is being appropriated as a marketing tool for empire.”  (“Brits divided over ‘poppy hijab’”)

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Shroud of Turin follow-up: new material for AOK History

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The image of the shroud pictured above is a poster from 1898. By then the images on the shroud were faint.

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) This topic of the Shroud of Turin just keeps getting better and better for TOK. In my last post, I outlined TOK lessons based on it. But now – even better materials for launching a class! A podcast interview with historian Charles Freeman (25 minutes), linked from the website of History Today,  readily sets up a leaner lesson on the methods of research of an historian. The interviewer applauds Freeman’s research as “historical detective work” on an “unsolved mystery” and invites him to explain his methods of investigation. Continue reading

The Shroud of Turin: perspectives, faith, and evidence

14 10 turin shroud(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) Intense emotions and extensive discussion have swirled around the 4-metre-long cloth known as the Shroud of Turin. Is it really the burial cloth that was wound around the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion (as many Christians believe), miraculously preserving His image? Or is it a hoax? Earlier this month (Oct 9-12), a conference in St. Louis, Missouri  brought together international presenters and participants on the topic “Shroud of Turin: The Controversial Intersection of Faith and Science”. However, it is an article by historian Charles Freeman that may at last give some definitive answers. In an article published this week in History Today, he argues that the cloth is neither a miraculous burial shroud nor a deliberate hoax, but a 14th century cloth used in church Easter rituals — with significance attributed later. His research is riveting for those of us interested in how knowledge is created. Continue reading