Resourcing your TOK Department

As with setting up your TOK course, it is both an advantage and a disadvantage that there is no concrete curriculum when it comes to resourcing your department. On the one hand, there’s no go-to resource in TOK that gives students all they need to know for an end of course exam. On the other, this makes choosing what to use to support your course a creative and fun process, where the sky’s the limit when it comes to variety, type, and provenance.

Media sources

Despite the fact that using the Internet can be challenging in terms of access to reliable information, the access we now have to useful online media sources makes this a golden age for teaching TOK. Here are a few examples of sites that provide a plethora of great (free) content for TOK.

  • Aeon offers content on a wide variety of areas, such as science, philosophy, and culture. Content ranges in terms of accessibility, from long in-depth essays to short ‘ideas’ and videos.

  • The Atlantic is a long-established news magazine, that offers sharp analysis of what’s going on in the news, and a strong science section.

  • Big Think is a fantastic source of short videos and articles presented by influential thinkers from many different perspectives.

  • The BBC website is one of the most extensive in the world, on which you can find videos and articles for virtually any topic you can imagine. The link takes you to a new section, BBC Ideas.

  • The Conversation is a well-organised and comprehensive site, offering particularly relevant information for TOK in its Arts, Ethics, and Science sections.

  • FiveThirtyEight is a similar, but slightly smaller, site than The Conversation, but has a particularly good science and health section.

  • The Guardian is a British newspaper that has had a long relationship with educators in the UK. Although it definitely has an agenda, it has excellent sections on culture and science.

  • Massive is a science-based site that offers an excellent

  • New Republic has a lot of political and social commentary, and a strong section on culture.

  • Vox is very media-savvy site that packages its ideas within very accessible ‘explainers’ and short videos.

  • Although Wired is primarily a magazine dealing with technology, its commentary extends as far as anything (such as knowledge acquisition) related to the Internet.

TED

TED deserves a separate category as a resource all on its own as it seems almost tailor-made for our subject - you could almost deliver the whole course just by using the TED site! Talks are delivered by experts on all subjects connected with TOK-related issues and ideas, sometimes as lecture, sometimes as an animation, sometimes with images and video supporting the words. Transcripts and subtitles are available for virtually all the talks, which help students a great deal to follow what’s being discussed. For lessons, we recommend showing clips from talks, giving students specific ideas or terms to understand aspects of the course. But if you want to flip your classroom, get students to watch a whole talk in advance, and be ready to discuss themes and ideas with you in the lesson.

There are literally hundreds of talks that you could use to convey key TOK ideas; here, chosen more-or-less arbitrarily, are a (very) few examples:

  • Uri Aron on the process of gaining scientific knowledge via a ‘leap into the unknown’

  • Elizabeth Loftus on the way our memory works like a ‘Wikipedia’ page

  • Dan Ariely on the inconsistency of our ethical methodology

  • David Eagleman on how we can extend our sensory ‘umwelt’ (a great word for TOK)

  • Lesley Hazleton on how doubt is an essential component of faith

TOK Websites and Blogs

There are an increasing number of websites that cater to TOK students and educators, but care must be taken when using them. Some, such as theoryofknowledge.net, Theory of Knowledge Student, and Larry Ferlazzo’s TOK blog, have a large amount of content, are useful for both teachers and students alike, and have been created by experienced IB educators. Others are overly-geared towards the production of the essay or the presentation, and have an emphasis on coaching, rather than educating students, something that the IB does not encourage. The best approach is to do some extended research online for a site that works for you, focusing more on the sites that provide support for a broader understanding of the course, rather than how to write a TOK essay in ‘five short steps’.

Non-TOK Teachers

A key TOK resource in any DP school is the expertise and knowledge of non-TOK teachers, so making sure that they are onboard with what you are doing is crucial to the successful delivery of the course. We look in a lot more depth about ensuring the integration of TOK with the other DP subjects in the ‘Part 2: Introducing Excellence in your TOK Department’ section, but here’s an outline of how you can make use of the other staff members.

As Guest Speakers

Asking teachers to step into your TOK classroom to provide a lecture or workshop style lesson on a specific theme, topic, or question is great way not only to draw on more specialist knowledge than you possess, but also a fantastic opportunity to draw other teachers into the TOK realm. The more controversial, the more engaging this can be! For example:

  • Ask the mathematics department to discuss the extent to which knowledge in their field can be considered subjective.

  • Science teachers can help you assess whether, ultimately, the sciences are about having faith in experts whose ideas we can never fully understand.

  • The Economics department could help you explore the extent to which human

  • science predictions are always doomed to failure. History could help you consider whether historical knowledge is always a matter of perspectives, and we will never be able to access the ‘truth’ about the past.

To Convey TOK Ideas and Concepts

If teachers are reluctant (or simply too busy) to run a session in your classroom, try to get them delivering TOK ideas in more depth and detail in their own classroom. The more specific the topic you ask them to deal the more successful this is likely to be, and if you can provide them with resources, such as a link to a great article or video, even better. This is often a very successful way of getting across a tricky concept or topic, which you can follow up later.

Help Support the Writing of Essays and Presentation

With a little bit of care, non-TOK teachers can play a useful role in helping students to create effective essays or presentations. Whilst they can’t provide any written or editorial advice, and shouldn’t venture too far out of their own subject, they can, for example:

  • Advise on suitability of claims and counterclaims

  • Evaluate whether selected RLSs are well regarded

  • Provide quotes and opinions that students can use

Outside Speakers

One of the wonderful things about TOK is that its questions, concepts, and subject matter provide you with the perfect opportunity to invite into your school speakers and presenters from just about any field or profession. Academics, scientists, artists, politicians, and physicians, can not only provide expert insight into knowledge, but also demonstrate the practical application of TOK concepts and ideas.

Textbooks

Textbooks are controversial in TOK. Whilst there is no doubt that many of them are well written, by genuine authorities on both the content and skills necessary to do well in TOK, there is a strong argument that the boundaries of what students experience should not be determined by a traditional style textbook. There is also an engagement issue: there’s little doubt that students are less enthused by textbooks than other sources of knowledge, and whilst you can justify this in other subjects by arguing that they have an exam to cope with (‘the end justifies the means’), such an argument does not apply in TOK. If you are going to use a textbook, make sure it’s one that encourages students to go further in their exploration of the different elements of TOK, and acts as a starting point, rather than an end, for an exploration of this wonderful course.