Problems leading to projects in TOK

The IB curriculum begins and ends with inquiry. Where AP (which I also teach) focuses so much more on content, IB revolves more around the skills necessary to create knowledge in a given content and understand the concepts of that content. IB doesn’t focus on the answers, rather how one arrives at those answers. Students are asked to think like a historian, a scientist, a linguist. In Theory of Knowledge (TOK), the central concern is developing critical thinking skills as we examine how knowledge is acquired, created, and produced. Because of this, inquiry is the beginning, middle, and end of TOK. So, when we consider PBL in TOK, the “P” is about a problem and the project is about doing something through inquiry with that problem. And all of this in order to understand the concepts of the acquisition, creation, and production of knowledge.

If there are a thousand TOK teachers, there will be one thousand different approaches to TOK. As one of my trainers told the class, make sure the class works to your (the teacher’s) strengths. By which he meant, whatever content I use to teach the skills and concepts of TOK, I need to make sure these are issues and concepts which I can speak to. In addition to the content, there is also the organization of the class that will also vary from teacher to teacher to teacher. As far as I am concerned, I like to open my year examining the four ways of knowing (WOK) I will focus on over the course of the year. These WOK are reason, emotion, sense perception, and language.

I have always wanted to include elements of PBL in TOK, which I have written about previously. In one of George Couros’ sessions I attended at the recent Colorado Council of the International Reading Association, he showed an early video put out by Google to explain Google docs in “plain English” and what other teachers had done with similar videos:

And I thought this could be a fun way to have my TOK students demonstrate their understanding of a WOK. So I came up with the inquiry question: How does a knower determine the best WOK to use in acquiring knowledge in an area of knowledge (AOK)? The students were allowed to choose an area of knowledge and make a similar video to the above in order to demonstrate their understandings regarding the question. In addition, the students had to present a definition of the WOK and the role it plays in creating knowledge along with acquiring knowledge.

Here are a couple of samples:

Reason:

Sense perception:

As these are new TOK students, their understandings are not nearly as developed as they could be, but the videos each present minds at work. As I noted in my previous post about PBL in TOK, TOK really happens in the reflection of the activity. And this exercise was no different. For the reflection, the students had to respond to the following from the TOK subject guide:

On the one hand, WOK are the tools that answer the question “how do we know?” and on the other hand they help us answer the question “how do I know?” Discuss this using your two WOK and one AOK.

The essay is where reflection took place and where I was able to see both TOK and IB thinking happening. This served as a wonderful summative assessment in order to determine if the goals for my unit had been reached.

George Couros recently posted how best practices in education were once innovations in education. Check out the graphic he included with it:

Process-of-Innovation (1)

When it comes to TOK (all classes, actually, but TOK especially) there needs to be a deep and close relationship between the student and the concepts of the class (there really is no content to TOK, we have heavy concepts). I hoped that by including a bit more creative expression in the use of these concepts, it might help the students develop a better, more personal understanding with them. As I looked over their reflections and listened to their presentations of their videos, the students do have an effective understanding of the WOK and how these are used, their limitations, and how we as knowers make up for those limitations.

As I reflect on this exercise, there is something I would change. I didn’t have the students do enough work ahead of time to make sure that they were on the right path. I have to remind myself constantly that, though these might be hard working students, they are still teenagers. As such, they will take the quickest path to completing the assignment as possible. I was no different (in fact, I was a lot worse when I was their age). If I want my students to get more out of any PBL, there needs to be more in the lead up by to the presentation. This is where the LAUNCH process and design thinking comes into play.

As I move on, I can see how adding these components will help my students develop that close and personal relationship with the concepts of TOK. How do you use PBL strategies engage your students to develop deeper understanding of concepts?

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