Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles Nov 2020

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on Knowledge Issues

Having scanned through some discussions by TOK teachers throughout the world (they have a discussion forum too!), here are some more thoughts about knowledge issues and what they are:

1. A KI attempts to establish the status of knowledge claims. In other words, it distinguishes between real knowledge, so to speak, and pseudo-knowledge: claims that pretend to be knowledge. For example, consider the claim 'I know that souls exist after they die'. What helps us to establish this as true knowledge? What hinders us? Is this knowledge a powerful tool for the advancement of humanity? Or is it simply a bogus claim to exploit people into joining a religious cult? How do we know the difference? Answer: identify the KIs implicit in the claim...

2. A KI is something that identifies not only the 'weaknesses' of knowledge, but also its 'strengths'. After all, knowledge can be a powerful tool in life and wielded for good or evil.

3. The phrasing of a KI (usually in the form of a question) should allow you to explore differing views on the answer. Your essay or presentation should actively engage with these differing views (the arguments and counter-arguments).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The use of examples

We're in the middle of marking the first set of Yr12 essays and noticing various issues relating to EXAMPLES.
  1. Many students are struggling to find RELEVANT examples.
  2. Many of you are repeating the same clich├ęd examples.

So we have decided it's time to do something about it. At the risk of being dictatorial, but in the service of INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, we are banning the use of the following examples in presentations and essays and for BOTH Yr 12s and Yr13s:

  • flat earth theory (please think of a modern relation!)
  • Adolf Hitler's extermination of the Jews (so much regurgitation of spoon-fed nonsense here, it's beginning to get brain-numbing)

Now, if you can write about these things INTELLIGENTLY and with INSIGHT and present a clearly researched and verified ARGUMENT or COUNTER-ARGUMENT, then please go ahead and use them as examples. But do NOT be mindless about it.

Watch this space for an addition to the list of banned examples...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Notes on Structure and Layout

The use of examples in Essays and Presentations

A student recently complained about the problem of using examples in the TOK essay: 'Do I make up my own examples or do I use TOK examples?'

I pictured him working out what a 'TOK' example was and screwing up his face in despair!

The simple answer to his question is: there is no such thing as a 'TOK' example. The distinction he made is a false one.

The best examples come from your personal experience of learning on the IB course or from things that you've read or researched. Often, good examples can originate from surveying current affairs: what's going in the world right now.

ANY examples you can think of, whether they are situations you've personally experienced or whether they are events happening in the world or recorded in books, count as relevant examples, but only if you can identify a KNOWLEDGE ISSUE within them. This, if anything, is what makes them 'TOK' examples.

What are the knowledge issues involved here?

Example 1:
"The present global financial crisis is cause by the credit crunch."

Example 2:
"The political unrest in Bombay make it unfeasible for the English cricket team to complete their test matches in India."

Example 3:
"Obama's Presidential reign will revolutionise the moral status of the U.S.A."

Example 4:
"Quantum theory suggests that there must have been an 'observer' at the point at which the universe began."

When you've identified the KIs embedded in these examples, try to explore both sides of the argument.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Knowledge Issues Re-visited

Roger's recent session on 'knowledge issues' elucidated some important ideas.

Firstly, anything that you claim to know about yourself, about others or about the world involves a knowledge issue: the KI is somehow embedded in your knowledge.

You may be conscious or unconscious of this KI, but it's there. Your job as a TOK student is to expose the KIs in your knowledge, tease them out, so to speak, and express them, usually in the form of questions.

How do you do this? You have to question your knowledge:

  • where does your knowledge come from? (sources, methods of verification)
  • how is your knowledge acquired? (perception, reason, emotion, language)
  • what are the potential problems with this knowledge? (bias, common sense, stereotyping)

TOK is about identifying KIs in everything we know by questioning everything we know...

Both in an essay and a presentation you should clearly state your KIs in the INTRODUCTION.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Notes on Structure and Layout

The TOK Presentation: How to present an introduction

The timing of the introduction is the key: if you're presenting individually (10 mins overall time), the intro should be about 45 seconds; if presenting in a pair (2o mins overall time), it should be about 90 seconds.

Let's suppose that you feel strongly about the topic of 'Spiritual Healing' and choose this for your TOK presentation.

Remember: even though you're not compelled to present using a slide show, you must aim to follow these FOUR steps that immediately address the marking criteria:

Step 1: present the real life example or situation (RLE) that got you thinking about the topic of your choice.

For example:
this could be a reading from the bible about Jesus' miracles or a video clip about more recent miracle events or even a song/hymn lyric that inspired you to reflect on your topic.

Note: this shouldn't last more than 15-30 seconds and should simply give a flavour of your starting point.

Step 2: present in bullet points, the common assumptions people make relating to your chosen topic - that is, reveal the beliefs people hold without question or what people usually take for granted.

For example:
  • Believers in miracle healings often assume that a higher power exists that carries out these miracles.

  • Divine intervention into human or natural events is the best explanation for, or 'cause' of these healings.

Step 3: State in bullet points the main knowledge issues your presentation will explore.

For example:

  • Is spiritual healing good evidence for the existence of a higher, divine power?
  • How far can the belief in a spiritual healing force be justified?
  • What is left for us when medical knowledge cannot help to make us better?
  • To what extent is it justified to resort to supernatural explanations when we reach the limits of medical knowledge?

Keep to a maximum of FOUR KIs: two main ones and two secondary.

Step 4: State the main approaches or perspectives that you will take to explore the knowledge issues.

For example:

  • History
  • Natural Sciences
  • Psychology

Note: these should be related to the AoKs and you should have a minimum of 3 (if presenting individually) and a maximum of 5 (if presenting in a pair).

You'll notice that there's not much difference between WRITING an introduction to your essay and PRESENTING an introduction: the structure is essentially the same. In the essay you write in FULL SENTENCES; in the presentation you can use coherent BULLET POINTS.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Notes on Structure and Layout

The TOK Essay: How to construct the main body of your essay

Each paragraph will focus on ONE of the approaches/perspectives that you specified in your introduction.

So let's take the question: "For some people science is the supreme form of all knowledge. Is this view reasonable or does it involve a misunderstanding of science or of knowledge?"

Each paragraph should reflect the following thought-process:

Step 1: offer an argument that explores one or more of your KIs and give an example to support the argument.

For example:
"Scientific knowledge is derived from the use of a specific, rigorous method that involves inductive logic. For example, if I observe that water always boils at 100"C when I am cooking, I assume that this will always be the case (induction)."

Step 2: suggest a counter-argument or problem that sees the situation from another perspective. Again, provide an example to support your counter-argument.

For example:
"However, if I were to boil water in Denver, Colorado, a location 1.6 km above sea level, I would discover that the water now boils at 94°C, as the pressure on the liquid is reduced. As we can see, the inductive component of the scientific method can sometimes lead to an incorrect hypothesis."

Step 3: put forward a possible solution to the problem raised by the counter-argument.

For example:
"...even if a scientific theory has been rigorously tested one million times there is always the possibility that an exception will be found, and hence the theory falsified. Karl Popper acknowledged this problem and suggested that a hypothetical deductive method should be used, whereby false hypotheses are discarded through trials and disproof."

Step 4: try to evaluate the argument and counter-argument - that is, decide which point of view is it reasonable to believe.

For example:
"This means we cannot prove a theory is correct; we can only prove that a hypothesis is false. Thus we can never know that a scientific theory is 'true'."

Keep following this process throughout each paragraph you write, tailoring your arguments and counter-arguments to the approaches or perspectives you have chosen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Notes on Structure and Layout

The TOK Essay: How to write an introduction

Suppose you're writing an essay on this question:
"For some people science is the supreme form of all knowledge. Is this view reasonable or does it involve a misunderstanding of science or of knowledge?"

Your introduction should be brief and precise and attempt to 'unpack' the essence of the question. It should comprise FOUR key sentences:

Sentence 1: Give a real life example (RLE) that relates immediately to the main essay Q or title.

For example:
"I have seen numerous television advertisements in which the makers claim that their product is 'scientifically proven' to perform its function better than other leading brands."

You could be more precise and give the actual advert (or put this in a footnote).

Sentence 2: Express the common assumptions or presuppositions implicit or embedded in the example.

For example:
"Their assumption is that the majority of people will believe their claim to be true because it is supported by scientific evidence."

Sentence 3: State the knowledge issues (KIs) that are embedded in the RLE and related to the Q - these will be in the form of key questions that you will explore in the main essay.

For example:
"This raises several important questions concerning knowledge and science: do we know that science does indeed lead to knowledge that is true? Does believing the makers' claim involve a misunderstanding of the knowledge science is capable of providing?"

Sentence 4. State the approaches or perspectives which you will use to explore the KIs.

For example:
"This essay will consider the Natural as opposed to Social Sciences."

You can choose 3-5 different approaches depending on the word count you have left.

Keep an eye open for more 'Notes' - they'll help you to organise your essay in stages...

Knowledge Issues

The essence of the problem

So the Year 12s are just coming up to the deadline for their first essay, while the Year 13s are thinking about finalising ONE of their three previous essays. All of you have, however, one thing in common: you're struggling to come to terms with 'knowledge issues' (KIs).

KIs are the essence of a TOK essay or presentation - without them, your work might end up as a very nice history or science essay, or remain simply a very informative psychology or arts presentation.

So what is a KI?

Andrew calls them 'issues of knowledge' (IoKs) and very kindly suggests that IoKs (or KIs - same thing!) are 'things that help -- or hinder -- your ability to get Knowledge'. We would like to add that KIs are things that also help or hinder your ability to USE knowledge. Furthermore, KIs are things that help or hinder your ability to establish the TRUTH of your knowledge claims.

In other words, the four ways of knowing (WoKs) are relevant when thinking about getting knowledge. For example PERCEPTION can help to acquire scientific data to support a hypothesis about the natural world, but it can also hinder our ability to get this data since our senses can be deceived, or our observations can be flawed.

Then again, the six areas of knowledge (AoKs) are relevant when thinking about using knowledge. For example, the ARTS can help us to express fundamental truths about human experience, but can also hinder our understanding of them since each artistic genre is arguably subjective in nature - so whose truth are we to believe, the poet's version of the truth or the musician's?

Finally, the idea of looking at methods of establishing the truth of our knowledge claims is also important. For example, if you believe that our assumptions about the world drive our conclusions, then we have to confront the problem of BIAS.

How do you actually construct a KI?

They are usually constructed in the form of QUESTIONS that you explore in an essay or presentation. The type of question depends very much on the nature of the original essay question or the topic of your presentation. The easiest way to formulate a KI is to use the sentence stem: 'How do we know...?' or 'How does knowledge of...?'.

More complex KIs can be composed by building the following vocabulary into your questions (use a thesaurus to vary your word use):

KIs relating to how we ACQUIRE knowledge (WoKs):
'perception'/'perceive'/'sense'/'sensation'; 'reason'/'rational'/irrational'/'logic'; 'emotion'/'feeling' (or any specific emotion by name); 'language'/'communication'/'sign'/'meaning'...

KIs relating to how we USE knowledge (AoKs):
'natural sciences' (or any of these by name - use the noun or adjective form); 'human sciences' (as with the natural sciences); 'history'/'historical'/'primary/secondary
sources'; 'mathematics'/'mathematical'/'statistical'; 'ethics'/'ethical'/'should'; 'arts' (or any of the genres by name)...

KIs relating to how we establish the TRUTH of our knowledge claims:
'bias' (personal or cultural); 'stereotype'; 'prove'/'proof'/'disprove'; 'argument'/'counter argument'; 'evidence'; 'reliable'/'reliability'; 'limitations'/'problems'; 'subjective'/'objective'; 'verification'/'falsification'; 'certainty'/'doubt'; 'belief'; 'assumption'/'presupposition'; 'common-sense'...

Please note: the above lists are not exhaustive!

Examples of KIs

Look at the ToK essay question breakdowns on the TOK blog and go to the TOK website (link is on the left) to find the powerpoint slideshow entitled 'What is a knowledge issue?' (you should find it via the 'TOK Presentation' link in the main 'Table of Contents').

Friday, July 4, 2008

ToK Website

We're very happy to announce a new ToK website!

Remember the birthdate: Friday July 4th 2008

At present, you'll only be able to access the essay and presentation pages since the other pages are still under construction. But the site should get you thinking about things nicely...

TOK Presentations

While you ponder which topic you want to base your presentation on, think about the following things (this information is taken from the new TOK website - :

Find a topic that really enthuses you - something you feel strongly about.

It can come from your PERSONAL experiences: do we have need for parents?

Or your SCHOOL experiences: are school education standards being compromised by Academies?

Perhaps from your COMMUNITY: asylum seekers need our care not criminalisation.

The subject can come from a NATIONAL source of concern: do Premiership footballers play for pounds or passion?

Or from an INTERNATIONAL concern: why is the crisis in Iraq taken more seriously than in Burma?

Perhaps from a GLOBAL concern: is the price of petrol a good measurement for the standard of life?

Once you've decided on your topic, find a REAL LIFE example as your base. Next, you need to work out which KNOWLEDGE ISSUES are embedded in the example.

You are strongly advised to AVOID topics you would normally discuss at GCSE level:

* abortion
* euthanasia
* legalisation of cannabis
* drinking age
* vivisection
* animal rights

If you decide to address these topics, please come and have a talk with us (or contribute your questions to this blog) so that we can guide you to bring a TOK element into your presentation. TOK is NOT simply or only about the arguments for and against an ethical issue.

Further ideas for presentations can be found on pages 3-4 here:[1].pdf

(Please remember that part of this information sheet is based on old marking criteria, so do not take p. 2 into account!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ToK Essay Questions 2009

You will recently have completed your third TOK essay of the year and have received thorough feedback on it, so much so that you might be completely overwhelmed! Do not despair. Do not work yourself up about the questions. We know that sometimes the questions seem to make no sense and border on the incomprehensible.

In the posts that follow, we will be going through each question in turn and breaking down what we think it demands. Before you decide which essay to re-work, you should take into account two things:

1. Which essay got the best mark?
2. Which essay topic do I feel strongly about?

Remember, you don't have to choose the essay for which you got the best mark.

Just a few words of caution:
  • Avoid simply using the comments on the essay and changing the sentences of the essay before handing in the final draft.
  • Research the topic further, refflect on the overall ideas and sometimes even tear the essay apart and start again using only the key ideas.
  • We will not mark further drafts of the essay - we may glance through the work and give verbal feedback.

Continue to use the tutorials to re-visit the essay and ask questions about it and now also start to contribute to these posts by making your comments.

And remember:

in the posts that follow, we will help you to 'unpack' the ToK essay questions. This means you will get hints as to how to think about writing your answer. It does not mean that you should copy the questions and sentences from the posts into your essays!