STARTING TOK: “Ready… Fire, Aim!” 

Pluto (demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006) and its largest moon, Charon seen from the New Horizons spacecraft: NASA

Pluto (demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006) and its largest moon, Charon seen from the New Horizons spacecraft: NASA

CLASS ACTIVITY

This is a classic introductory TOK activity.  Require students to write down, without any prior warning, several things that they claim to know. I ask them to put their names on the page, then write, in well formed sentences, five different knowledge claims in the form: “I know____________.” 

I also ask them to generate at least one personal example of something they know with certainty. 

Next I ask students to work in pairs and attempt to refute each other's claims. When the passionate debate ebbs, each student reports back to the entire class highlights of the discussion. 

I collect the papers and publish a “Greatest Hits collection” consisting of one knowledge claim from each named student. There is method in this. I select the claims to illustrate, as widely as the authentic sample allows, first and second order claims, a range of TOK Ways of Knowing, Areas of Knowledge and (implied) Knowledge Questions. 

Purgatorio envisioned from Dante's Divine Comedy 

Purgatorio envisioned from Dante's Divine Comedy 

typical crop of student knowledge claims.

I know that Pluto is not a planet.
I know that woodpeckers peck wood.
I know that New York and Washington DC are humid in summer.
I know that memory is an unreliable way of knowing.
I know that I ran a half marathon last Saturday.
I know that I am alive.
I know the first line of Canto I from Dante’s The Divine Comedy in its original language.
I know that fire will burn me.
I know that 2 + 2 = 4 always.
I know Tae Kwon Do.
I know that human nature won’t change too much.
I know that the earth is round.
I know that I am made up of cells.
I know that I’m going to wish I had more time to read this year.
I know that I’m really hungry.
I know that the sky is blue.
I know I am a person and my name is Ella  

And here is my own offering—a mantra that will soon become very familiar for my TOK students:

I know that “the map is not the territory.”

There is intention in capturing the students' ideas accurately and publishing all their names in time for the follow up class. Several TOK points are being made. This practise is egalitarian in that everyone has the quality of their ideas honored and it is only good scholarship to give the appropriate credit. The addition of a favorite knowledge claim by the teacher symbolizes the ongoing teacher/student partnership inherent in the TOK quest. 

A recurring emergent factor of taking ideas from the entire TOK class is that we, as a discursive social micro-community, when viewed in its entirety, tend to do a lot better with grappling with complex ideas than any given individual, even students seen as academic leaders in more traditional classes. This is the power of socially shared cognition―learning from one another. 

I like to capture student ideas generated in the TOK class throughout the course. The second time I attempt this is after collecting the first written assignment which introduces the distinction between “knowing that” and “knowing how.”