As we said in our section on integrating TOK, when you start off as a TOK coordinator, there is nothing wrong with basing your unit titles on the areas of knowledge and TOK themes. However, when you pick up a little more experience, and are looking to infuse more originality and sophistication into your course, you’ll realise that this approach can be rather limiting in a number of ways.
Instead, there is a great deal to be said for basing your unit titles on questions that cut across different elements of the course, thus allowing you to explore multiple elements of the course at the same time. This also means that your course becomes instantly more accessible to non-TOK teachers, as they’ll be able to contribute to any question, rather than just ‘their bit’ of the course (such as history, or the natural sciences, or the arts).
We won’t go into too much detail about the content of units, but by offering some exemplar unit titles, you’ll get a clear idea of how a question-based approach to TOK allows you to create a rich, engaging, interlinked course. The unit titles we’ve used here come from theoryofknowledge.net’s Big Question framework, which is now used by many schools around the world. The questions are designed to be explorable via any combination of themes and areas of knowledge, so whilst providing a clear structure for the course, it doesn’t do so in a prescriptive way.
Overall learning objective
Possible AOKs and themes that could be used to explore the unit question
What is theory of knowledge, and why do we study it?
Students think about the scope of TOK, the skills it imparts, and how these can help us to make sense of the world.
A wide range of different AOKs and themes could be mentioned to introduce the course, contributing to an understanding of what we mean by the core theme - knowledge and the knower.
How does our knowledge about the world inform the way we construct our values?
Students think about the relationship between ethics and knowledge, both in terms of how what we know determines our values, and how our values shape the way we produce knowledge about the world.
Every theme and area of knowledge has a relationship with ethics: consider, for example, whether the natural sciences does and should have a moral context; compare and contrast the approach of industrialized and indigenous societies to the ethics.
How is our understanding of the world influenced by the way knowledge is communicated?
Students think about how meaning can be manipulated by language and other forms of communication, and how the way we use language ourselves can determine how we understand the world.
Communication obviously links most closely to language, and technology is increasingly being used as a way of supporting it - so you can consider the role these two themes plays in communicating ideas in a variety of different areas of knowledge, such as the human sciences.
How do our perspectives and biases shape our knowledge of the world?
Students think about how our personal and societal perspectives can shape the way we understand the world, and can prevent us from accepting new ideas and theories.
Any of the AOKs can be used to explore how our perspective shape the way we view things, but history is perhaps the most suitable for this. You could compare and contrast this to a more objective AOK such as mathematics or the natural sciences. The themes are useful to consider how our perspectives are formed - for example, via our political and religious affiliations.
How is new knowledge about the world created?
Students think about how new ideas are created and developed, and why knowledge changes and evolves over time.
New knowledge is constantly being created in all areas of knowledge, and it changes radically over time. Compare and contrast, for example, artistic knowledge with that of the natural sciences; bring in the themes by considering, for example, how we use technology to discover and construct new ideas and theories.
How do we become discerning knowers?
Students think about what it takes to become an ‘expert’ knower, and the advantages that this brings it in terms of making sense of the world and leading a successful life.
This unit can look at how the idea of expertise can differ from area of knowledge to area of knowledge, and how we might draw on the different themes to help rather than hinder us as we try to produce and use valid knowledge about the world.