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Here’s A Nice Lesson I Did On Ethics In My Theory Of Knowledge Class

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This past week, I did a lesson on ethics that I do every year with my IB Theory of Knowledge students. It went very well, and I thought readers might find it useful to hear what I did.

I borrowed and modified it from the IB Theory of Knowledge Course Book. Though we don’t use that textbook with students, I use some of the ideas in it for lessons.

I introduced students to the idea that there five primary sources from where we derive our personal morality:

1. Human Nature
2. Religion
3. Observation & Reason
4. Emotional Empathy
5. Social & Political

I actually had not heard of this list prior to reading the textbook but, after looking it up, it appears to be relatively common (though I can’t find an original source and would love it if readers could identify one).

I then divide students into five groups and assign one of the sources of morality to each one. They have a class period-and-a-half to work together and research online their “source” and each prepare a poster and two-to-three minutes presentation on it. How they research is up to them – they can divide up parts of it and work on their own. Most divided up parts. The one-page listing in the textbook provides examples for each of the five, and those are very helpful (for example, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for human nature and the UN Declaration of Human Rights for social and political). If you do this lesson, I’d suggest you either get the book or identify your own examples for students to use (you can find additional info online that might be useful here, here, and here).

After spending one period researching the info in the library, students had twenty minutes to meet in their groups and create a poster – each student in their group had to create their own, but it was okay if they all looked the same. I gave students in each group a letter, and then the A’s from each group got together, as did the B’s, etc., to meet and present to each other — in other words, it was a “jigsaw.” I told people to listen carefully because the culminating project would be for them to write an explanation using the info they learned saying what they believe are the sources of their own personal morality and why. Oddly, I thought, the textbook has students doing this prior to their investigations.

It all went quite well with a high-level of engagement.

Here are some of the evaluative comments students wrote:

I found it really interesting because I never looked at my morality from all those perspectives. I didn’t realize that there were as many ways to describe and identify our morality.

This morality project helped me understand the people around us and ourselves better.

I learned a little about myself. This enabled me to reflect upon myself and see how I reason with myself.

It was useful because I did not recognize or think about most of these sources.

I really liked learning about the sources of morality because I had never thought about my morals coming from anywhere other than my parents/family.

I liked this activity because it was individual and group work.

Any suggestions on how to improve it and/or where I can find more examples demonstrating each of those five sources of morality — even the textbook doesn’t offer enough of them (in my opinion, at least).

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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