Habits of Mind: Theory of Knowledge Presentations (Summer 2013)

By Sheila Gilligan, Theory of Knowledge and Biology – East

Decoding_Theory_of_Knowledge_for_the_IB_Diploma_Themes_Skills_and_AssessmentThe IB Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course is one of the IB “core” elements (the two others are CAS and the Extended Essay); the course aims to develop self-awareness and a sense of identity.  “The core should strive to make a difference to the lives of students. It should provide opportunities for students to think about their own values and actions, to understand their place in the world, and to shape their identity.” (ToK Subject Guide, IBO 2013).

Assessment for the ToK course comprises an essay, an external assessment (marked by an outside IB examiner), and a presentation, an internal assessment (marked by the student’s ToK teacher at Sturgis).  The ToK presentation perhaps connects better to the heart of the course, focused on the student as a knower and that asks each student to explore personal views on contemporary, real-life situations.

Theory of Knowledge is sometimes mistakenly perceived as a lofty philosophical course but ToK is actually a component of every IB course.  Although ToK is a formal IB course for Grade 11 and 12 students, annually, teachers in all subject areas for all grades 9-12 incorporate ToK questions into their course syllabi.  We often hear that ToK is about “what do you know?” and “how do you know what you know?”  Students are challenged to ask good knowledge issue questions and to justify the answers to those questions with good reasons.  So, what’s “good”?

Yoga in Sturgis East Wellness Class

The Benefits of Yoga

Students in Grade 11 ToK1 classes work on presentation skills in preparation for the formal internal assessment in Grade 12.  Good topics for addressing knowledge issues related to real-life situations begin with personal engagement, such as school or community matters.  Of course, many local situations have connections to global and multi-cultural perspectives.  ToK teachers guide students to experiment with a variety of presentation forms, such as skits, interviews, and debates.  One past stellar ToK presentation moment was when one student, dressed in a full-length white faux-fur, portrayed a polar bear on trial for cannibalism (argued by other witnesses to be attributable to human activity, climate change, and habitat fragmentation).

Making effective links forms part of the assessment criteria that teachers use to grade ToK presentations.  Students are expected to “demonstrate why the presentation is important and relevant in a wider sense.” (ToK guide, IBO 2013).  TOK1 presentations give students opportunities to make connections to the Ways of Knowing (a.k.a. WOK), namely, language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, intuition, faith, and memory.  In turn, WOK are linked to Areas of Knowledge (a.k.a. AOK), such as the arts, human sciences, and ethics.

Sturgis Arts Festival

Can Art Heal?

Several exemplary TOK1 presentations from the 2012-2013 academic year are highlighted below:

A student pair at Sturgis East evaluated the new addition to the Sturgis curriculum: Wellness and yoga.  The Benefits of Yoga by Cassie Langtry and Haley Meaden This presentation underscores the remarkable insight that students have about their own education.

Another East group presented scripted interviews on questions relating to the healing properties of art.  Can Art Heal by Alasdair McEwen and Molly Brennan This presentation illustrates what “asking good questions” is all about in ToK.  The topic idea stemmed from an article about a 2010 art show at Guyer Barn (neighbor to Sturgis East) on healing wounds through art.


Why Didn’t Ballot Question 2 Pass?

Sophia Carr, a junior at West, demonstrated a flair for politics and social awareness in a presentation on the Massachusetts “Death with Dignity” Initiative that was defeated in the November 2012 general election ballot. See YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgdWs8F6YBU

These presentations are just a few examples of the creative and thoughtful work the Grade 11 TOK1 classes have carried out this year.

Finally, some summah ToK homework…taking ToK outdoors:

  • Bike or hike the Cape Cod Canal: Stop at one of the US Army Corps of Engineers navigational lighting poles and learn about the canal’s history and impacts on Cape Cod. http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Portals/74/docs/Recreation/CCCBikeHikeBrochure.pdf
  • Cape Cod Baseball League: Take in a local baseball game.  Good luck getting a ticket!  Did you know that there are no tickets for Cape league games?  How does the mission of the league relate to this decision?    http://www.capecodbaseball.org/
  • Cape Cod summer town concerts: Enjoy an evening picnic while listening to an outdoor musical performance (practically in your backyard).  Do all the listeners in the audience have the same personal knowledge of music?   http://www.capecodmusic.com/townband.html
  • Beach yoga is offered at many Cape beaches. Take in a class and enjoy the sights and sounds while practicing yoga.
  • ToK for everyone: Go on a favorite walk (or explore, and find one). Where did you go, and why?  Give good reasons.  Share your walk story with others, and listen to the walks of others; ask good questions.  Enjoy the conversation!
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