Central Learning Experiences

As well as creating great titles, and putting together effective content and activities, another consideration point is a one or more central learning experiences that will help to define and characterise each unit of the course.

‘Busting’ assumptions

Challenging students’ assumptions is a guaranteed way of providing them with an experience that they will remember. We all possess ideas and opinions that we haven’t fully evaluated and assessed, often inherited from unknown or forgotten sources.

Probing these (mis)conceptions will not only improve the integrity of the knowledge they possess, it will also demonstrate to them that the production of knowledge is an open-ended process that never really ends, and requires knowers to actively evaluate everything on which they base their understanding of the world.

Assumptions that you could challenge include:

  • The reality we perceive is the reality that actually exists

  • The way our society uses knowledge is the ‘correct’ way of utilising it

  • Knowledge can be organised into separate, distinct categories

  • It is possible to discern the truth about the world

  • Society’s understanding of the world is ‘progressing’

Introducing profound new ideas

Providing students with an understanding of a big new concept or idea, or giving them a term that will help them to articulate and make sense of pre-existing knowledge, can be empowering and memorable. There are no end of examples in TOK of such things, but ones you will probably come across, and which would form excellent learning experiences, include:

  • Deontological and utilitarian approaches to ethics

  • Pseudoscience

  • Paradigm shifts

  • The concept of our ‘umwelt’

  • Deduction and induction

  • Mimesis and anti-mimesis

  • Causation and correlation

  • Falsification

  • Linguistic relativity and determinism

Drawing on TED talks

It is as if TED was made for TOK. There are a multitude of fantastic talk that relate closely to the course, and offer genuinely life-changing ideas and concepts. Watch short clips in class, and if you need to, get your students to finish them off at home. Examples of talks that are particularly brilliant are:

  • The doubt essential to faith: Lesley Hazleton makes us rethink the nature of this way of knowing by asserting that feeling doubt is integral to having faith

  • The politics of fiction: Elif Shafak demonstrates that one of the key purposes of imagination is to connect us with other people

  • Go ahead - make up new words!: Erin McKean shows how language develops over time, and encourages people to create their own words

  • How reliable is your memory?: a seminal TED talk in which Elizabeth Loftus shows the way in which our memory is like a ‘Wikipedia page’

  • Optical illusions show how we see: students will be shocked by the illusions Beau Lotto creates, and they’ll question the whole nature of sense perception

  • Beware neuro-bunk: a great talk on pseudoscience, in which Molly Crockett demonstrates how spurious terminology is used to push products and ideas on us

  • Dreams from endangered cultures: Wade Davis shows how radically different some cultures’ approaches to understanding are

  • The pursuit of ignorance: Stuart Firestein will make you rethink what you assume you know about the role of the scientific method in producing knowledge

Using emotive movie-clips

There are plenty of movies that can aid the delivery of the TOK course, and although it’s impractical to watch their full duration, selecting and playing movie clips is a great way of adding memorable content to your lessons:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: any of the adaptations of the classic novel could be used to prompt an exploration about the relationship between language and thought● Insomnia: see the scene in which Pacino asks the question, ‘The end justifies the means, right?’ for a nice introduction to consequentialism

  • The Imitation Game: a wonderful movie that looks at reason, language, and mathematics, and how they were utilized to solve the ultimate puzzle

  • The Theory of Everything: a memorable film about the life and work of Stephen Hawking, and the questions he sought to answer

  • Arrival: a very moving film that explores the importance of language, and also the way in which we perceive time

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: an entertaining film on the role of memory, and what happens when we try to erase it

  • Ex Machina: this doesn’t, perhaps, link to any one aspect of TOK, but looks at the whole concept of human identity

Referring to memorable quotes

Great quotes are ones that give big insights via few words, and they can have quite an impact in the TOK course. Quotes make great starter questions, exit slips, discussion points, or as a route to understand the nature of an area of knowledge or optional theme. Here are a (very) few quotes that work well in TOK, and could spur students on to remember the rest of a lesson or series of lessons:

  • To imagine is everything, to know is nothing at all. (Anatole France)

  • We inhabit a language rather than a country. (Emil M. Cioran)

  • History will be kind to me for I intend to write it. (Winston Churchill)

  • To know the history of science is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth. (Evelyn Fox Keller)

  • Philosophy is common sense with big words. (James Madison)

  • Nothing we use or hear or touch can be expressed in words that equal what is given by the senses. (Hannah Arendt)

  • Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions. (David Hume)

  • In an eagle there is all the wisdom of the world. (Lame Deer)

Recounting interesting lives

Alongside the concepts and the quotes, don’t forget to emphasise the men and women who were responsible for them. There are so many memorable characters in the history of ideas, you’d be wasting an opportunity to not mention the extraordinary lives they had, and stories behind some of their ideas. Examples might include:

  • Socrates’s refusal to plead guilty for a crime he didn’t recognise

  • Charles Darwin’s struggle to comprehend the implications of what he had discovered

  • Marie Curie’s (unmatched) ability to win the Nobel Prize in two different fields

  • The impulse (Eichmann, and the need to explain how the Holocaust had happened) behind Stanley Milgram’s infamous psychology experiment

  • George Orwell’s experiences as a homeless person in London and Paris, or his account of the Spanish Civil War

  • Elizabeth Loftus’s attempt to help a man convicted of assault due to false memories

  • Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin

Carrying out TOK events

We looked at TOK events in a separate section, but any of these could work in providing students with a memorable learning experience.

Last updated