TOK Events

TOK events are becoming increasingly popular around the world, as schools fully realise the potential of the course, and use it as a way of promoting many of the skills the DP helps to develop, and getting together students from different schools, countries, and regions to explore big ideas and concepts.

However, TOK events don’t have to be huge multinational conferences; they can be much smaller in scale, taking place during a lunchtime or after school, and involve just a handful of students. Basically, what we are talking about is any TOK-related event that takes place outside the classroom, involves students who are not necessarily involved in the course, and can be used as a way of promoting TOK and the TOK department.

Below we discuss different types of TOK events, offering them roughly in order of complexity and scale.

Interschool TOK conferences

We mentioned conferences in part 5 of Structuring your TOK course. These are probably the ultimate way of promoting TOK and your TOK department, because they not only provide you with an inter school (and possibly even international) context in which to celebrate the course. TOK conferences typically:

  • Take place over two or three days

  • Involve different schools from your area, country, or region

  • Are based on a central theme or question, that support many smaller explorations of ideas and concepts to be made

  • Offer a forum in which students can learn about different perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds

  • Have a strong organisational involvement by students

  • Offer both central get-togethers for all conference-goers, and break-out sessions, which may take the form of workshops and presentations

  • Allow students who have made particularly commendable efforts to be recognised and rewarded for their achievements

  • Offer tangible skill-development for those taking part

  • Combine academic, TOK-related activities with rest and relaxation, for example, touristic and culinary experiences

Conferences are time-consuming and challenging to set up; however, done properly, offer a great experience for those who take part, and move TOK skills forward. They can even be referenced directly in TOK essays and presentations.

TOK retreats

TOK retreats (which we also mentioned in Structuring your TOK course) take students out of the classroom, and place them in a different environment. The more removed this is, the better: it doesn’t necessarily have to involve an international trip, but it should take them somewhere unfamiliar, in which approaches to knowledge differ significantly from what they are used to. This might mean a different natural setting for students (mountains, coast, forest, jungle, desert, and so on), or a different societal set up (a smaller or larger scale society, a different cultural or economic outlook, a place where different languages are spoken, etc.).

Questions this might prompt us to explore include:

  • How does our environment affect the way we produce knowledge?

  • How does the purpose and value of knowledge vary in different settings?

  • What role does language play in shaping how we acquire knowledge?

  • Can we talk about ‘different realities’ when it comes to viewing the world?

  • Is our understanding of the world determined by our perspective?

Retreats provide an excellent way of marketing TOK: they can be run in conjunction with other departments, they will probably involve taking other members of staff with you on the trip, and they offer great photo ops!

TOK days

Involving an entire DP year group (or both of them), and scheduled to take place over several hours, a ‘TOK day’ can provide students with the opportunity to explore a particular theme or question in a lot of detail and depth, work with people they don’t normally come into contact with, and process unfamiliar ideas and approaches. From a marketing point of view, it’s also a perfect way of extending the reach of TOK, and promoting the kind of ideas that form the basis of the course.

The key to a successful TOK day - a little like a TOK conference - is breaking up the activities carried out by students, and possibly sandwiching breakout sessions in between introductory and concluding plenaries. This final session could involve groups or individuals presenting the key findings of the day. In addition, you should ensure that activities are unified by a particular theme or question.

Exhibition Day

Although it’s not mandatory, the IB suggests that exhibitions are displayed publicly by schools in a similar way to the personal projects at the end of the MYP. There are several reasons why putting on a public exhibition day is a great idea; here are a few of them.

  • An Exhibition Day allows you to offer to the rest of the school a tangible illustration of ‘what we do in TOK’, thus raising the profile of the subject. Invite as many people as you can to it in order to do this effectively - students lower down the school, teachers, and even parents.

  • Having an Exhibition Day will elevate this assessment task into a genuine celebration of the students’ achievements, which will empower the students, and allow them to feel justly proud of their intellectual and creative achievements.

  • Seeing the exhibitions will allow pre-DP students the opportunity to gain a clear picture of the kind of products they’ll be creating, and model their own exhibitions on what works (and what doesn’t). This will reduce the stress associated with uncertainty, and make your job a lot easier.

Guest speakers

Guest speakers are a great way of promoting the work you do in TOK. They can come from outside the school (perhaps recruited from amongst the parental body), or be teachers from another department; either way, they will help to raise the profile of the source, and give you an opportunity to include people in what’s going on in TOK. It will help to have a course structure based on questions, rather than simply named after elements of the course; this way you can invite people in at any point of the year. Real examples of guest speaker include:

  • A filmmaker and editor, with experience in advertising, short films, and making a full-length movie, on how we can use the arts to explore ethical principles and issues

  • A doctor, on the extent to which we use speculation in producing scientific knowledge

  • A sociologist, on how having a framework of understanding can help or hinder us produce new knowledge

  • A physicist, on how knowledge becomes more accurate over time

  • A drama teacher, on how our understanding and use of art changes over time

  • A mathematics teacher, on whether mathematics is entirely objective

For more consideration of this, see Drafting non-TOK teachers.

Plenary sessions

A fantastic way of timetabling TOK is to incorporate one lesson a week or fortnight in which the whole year group gathers together for a plenary session. This can allow you to either introduce or complete a topic, bring in a guest speaker, or offer some sort of ‘experience’ for the students. These sessions can be made public, to allow teachers and other members of the learning community a glimpse of what happens in TOK. We run over plenary lessons in a little more detail in ‘A typical TOK class’.

TOK ‘happenings’

Finally, as we discussed in our section on marketing TOK to students, running small activities, challenges, and questions, aimed at a specific year group, or at the whole school, will serve to raise awareness of your TOK department, as well as build engagement with the course and its approach to learning.

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