What is expected?

Since this course is not to be run in exactly the same way as a lecture, or a lab, or a secondary school class, these notes may help to clarify what is expected of participants. The underlying notion is that you, along with everyone else (teacher and students), are responsible both as a learner and as a teacher. The emphasis is not on course content that the teacher must provide and the students must learn. Rather, there is a set of topics to be explored. They will be introduced by the instructor in a structured sequence. We all are responsible for content. The class’s objective will then be to develop skills of debate, argument, reason, and others necessary for dealing with the content. You will be tested on those skills rather than on any content you have learned. Theory of Knowledge is a reflective course (pondering about what and how you learn elsewhere) rather than an accumulative (learning more information) course.


Mutual Respect

Because disagreement is a key feature of the course, a certain level of etiquette is necessary to ensure mutual respect between students and between students and teacher. Of course, you must learn and practise judgment – to be human is to be judgmental – but while disagreeing with someone, there should be no signs of gloating over winning an argument, of considering someone to be foolish or inferior for having different information or another point of view. Mutual respect is a key ground rule for this course.


Many of the topics raised in class are deliberately controversial and open to question and debate. If your point of view differs from whatever is said in class, it is your responsibility to make sure that your point of view is heard by the class. Please do not whisper it to a neighbour or keep it to yourself. Class discussion should be heard and ‘hearable’ by all.


It is expected in class that there will be points of view that are mutually exclusive and contradictory. It is your responsibility to accept the principle of validity of other points of view. In this sense there is no “right answer” in this class. No one is permitted to tell you what or how to think. You are required, however, to allow alternative interpretations to be voiced and explained. Be observant of yourself in class; can you identify some covert communication that is negative feedback (e.g., scornful tone of voice, laughter) to those who offer alternatives?


Our disagreements must be encouraged within an atmosphere of trust. This requires that we be open and honest without being hostile. When you hear a new idea, or a new way of looking at things, please attempt to keep any scorn out of your voice when you seek to clarify that newly heard perspective. Behaviour consistent with an open (and not vacant) mind is an essential ground rule for conduct in a theory of Knowledge discussion.

Not Understanding is O.K.

If another student or the teacher says something in class, which you do not understand, it is your responsibility to ask that it be clarified. Expect, then, to be asked to clarify your statements, too. If you already knew what you were going to learn, you would already have learned it. We have to be able to have the courage to try to identify what we are speculating on. That ‘we’, may be those of us in a class, or the whole class.

Changing positions

You may change positions in class as new information, new perspectives, or new methods of analysing are introduced. As a matter of courtesy, however, please inform the rest of the class when you do. That often takes much courage, and should be applauded. Note that a point of view, which may appear wrong, silly, or misguided at first, may appear to acquire validity after you give it a chance and a fair hearing.


There are times when all of us, including the teacher, find it more appropriate to sit and listen. This must be respected. When there are silences in a class discussion, you need not feel discomfort, nor should you feel cheated that you are not being taught. Silences also teach. However, if you wish a silence to be filled remember that you, too, are a teacher in this class. Often it appears that there are two kinds of students in a classroom (a) those who do most of the talking and (b) those who do not talk. If you belong to the first, do not allow any suggestion that you should “feel guilty” for “dominating” the class hinder you from making your valuable contribution. Also, as a method of exploring new methods of learning, you may sometimes exercise your choice of sitting and listening to a classroom discussion. If you belong to the second group, those who listen, this is your opportunity to experience a participatory method of learning – one that is in contrast to the passive mode encouraged in modern society by theatre and television. If English is not your first language, and if a term or topic is mentioned in class that you need time to translate, consider it your duty to stop the discussion and request clarification.
You will be encouraged, even nagged, to reflect in a physical journal. This is essential and a central part of the course – it affects your report grades in the subject and, more importantly, informs your own writing and planning for the two assessment pieces.


Do not be afraid to debate a topic, no matter how your previous experience with debate might have gone. Your participation will help you to clarify what you hear and what you think. The educational purpose of the Theory of Knowledge is ‘reflective’. What you should bring to class is experience and knowledge from other classes. New ideas and perspectives may be introduced in class, not for you to learn as such, but in order to encourage alternative ways of approaching what you learn in you other classes. The purpose of class debate, then, is not to learn how to win a debating competition, but to stimulate reflection about knowing in you other classes.


Classes will be held in English. However, do not fear to ask for translation of a concept into another language. While the purpose of the course is reflective, the main method in the class is discussion. This is your forum for debate, questioning, polishing and delineating. That requires a continuing improvement in communication skills, both sending and receiving. An important ground rule is a willingness to participate in both.


There is nothing wrong with attempting to synthesize contradictory thoughts or points of view in class. Nor is there anything wrong with trying to compromise. We will not always be successful but the exercise is part of the purpose of the course.


Curiosity is to be respected in this class – especially yours, but that of others as well. Behaviour that indicates an honest curiosity is strongly encouraged in the Theory of Knowledge class.

Reverse Engineering an essay

So, here’s a TOK essay.

The first thing you are going do with it is read it.

Next you are going to grade it. You’ll need this:

Essay Assessment Instrument 2015

This done, I’ll talk about the grade it actually got and how it was arrived at.

Next, you are going to write an essay plan for this essay. You’ll need to identify things like:

Knowledge Questions, Real Life Situations, Claims, Counterclaims, Perspectives, Implications, references to AOKs and WOKs, evidence of Personal Knowledge and Shard Knowledge, linkages between concepts, effective use of TOK vocabulary

Highlight them. Annotate the essay. Underline. Circle. Add questions. Add thoughts of your own.

Use this to summarise the essay and emphasize the main points in this planning document:


The TOK essay – part 2

Identifying implications for the prescribed title and the collection of potential examples.

Developing a tentative thesis statement.

Extracting knowledge questions from the examples and the tentative thesis.

This is the document we used to work out Knowledge Questions: Just read Knowledge QUESTIONS where you see Knowledge ISSUES…

What are Knowledge Issues?

The TOK Essay

In Grade 11, we are goign to have a first run at a full length TOK essay.


Your teachers are here to help you. It’s going to be an interactive learning experience, for all of us. So, here are the 6 titles for the essay for 2014, with the IBO’s introductory comments (these are the titles the current Grade 12 have written their essays on):

Examiners mark essays against the title as set. Respond to the title exactly as given; do not alter it in any way. Your essay must be between 1200 and 1600 words in length, double spaced and typed in size 12 font.

1. Ethical judgements limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences. Discuss.

2. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails” (Abraham Maslow). How might this apply to ways of knowing, as tools, in the pursuit of knowledge?

3. “Knowledge is nothing more than the systematic organisation of facts.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

4. “That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.

5. “The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.” To what extent is this true in these areas of knowledge?

6. “A skeptic is one who is willing to question any knowledge claim, asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic and adequacy of evidence” (adapted from Paul Kurtz, 1994). Evaluate this approach in two areas of knowledge.

How do we go about even thinking about these issues? HOW many words?

OK, deep breath. First step –


Very broadly, today we shall be looking at each title, deciphering its meaning, unpacking it (working out exactly what is required and how we might begin thinking about it) and selecting which essay to write. To make this last step a little easier, we are going to reduce your choice to 3 titles: Essay numbers 1, 2 and 4

Homework you need to complete before next lesson:

In your journal, you need  to generate a list of real-world events which are relevant to the prescribed title you have chosen. At least two of the examples must be from your experience as an individual learner; at least five more must be from shared knowledge. You will explain your thinking about why the example seems relevant, and you will determine what that particular example suggests with regard to the prescribed title. You will not, at this point, determine a thesis for your essay.

Boston Marathon bombings

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, the US Department of Justice says. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was charged in hospital, could face the death penalty.

How does the state’s definition of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ affect this case, given the previous associations with which the US Government has used the term? Emotion? Language?

Imagination, Memory or Intuition?

We are going to start using this website as a blog (as in fact it was originally intended!) This is NOT assessed, this is NOT compulsory and this is NOT a factor in any of your course grades.

So, why bother?

Because discussion is THE most valuable tool for solidifying knowledge, for experimenting with ideas, for exploring examples and for playing with justifications, counter-claims and implications.

So let us begin. Remember that essay title? Which WOK would you add as a fifth to complement emotion, reason, language and sense perception as ways of knowing…. Imagination? Memory? Intuition?

“Intuition is the highest form of intelligence, transcending all individual abilities and skills”
Sylvia Clare, Trusting Your Intuition

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein

“There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened.”
Harold Pinter

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