Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

October 7, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Special Edition Of “Links I Should Have Posted About, But Didn’t” — October (Part Two)

(Usually, I just post a weekly version of this regular feature. However, sometimes I post an extra “Special Edition” when I have more good links than usual)

'forged link chain (5)' photo (c) 2009, Kirsten Skiles - license:

I have a huge backlog of resources that I’ve been planning to post about in this blog but, just because of time constraints, have not gotten around to doing. Instead of letting that backlog grow bigger, I regularly grab a few and list them here with a minimal description. It forces me to look through these older links, and help me organize them for my own use. I hope others will find them helpful, too. These are resources that I didn’t include in my “Best Tweets” feature because I had planned to post about them, or because I didn’t even get around to sending a tweet sharing them.

Here is a Special Edition of “Links I Should Have Posted About, But Didn’t”:

Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking is from Edutopia. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom.

Walk Free has a number of resources about human slavery today, including the video embedded below. I’m adding the link to The Best Resources For Learning About Human Trafficking Today.

I’ve previously posted about Bridge 8′s great critical thinking animations, which I’ve used in IB Theory of Knowledge classes. Now they’ve come out with another series of animations, this time on “This Thing Called Science.” Since we were just discussing empiricism in our class today, tomorrow I’ll be showing this video from this new collection:

I’m a proud public school teacher. Here’s a glimpse at what I do. is a must-read from TeacherBiz (thanks to Dan Willingham for the tip).

8 Condescending Things a Manager Should Avoid Saying to an Employee is from Great Leadership. Just substitute “student” for “employee” and you’ll find it to be a very helpful reminder.

Blogging Resources for Classroom Teachers is from Bill Ferriter. I’m adding it to The Best Sources For Advice On Student Blogging.

The New Yorker has a slideshow of student uniforms from around the world. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Learning About The World’s Different Cultures.

Blobfish voted world’s ugliest animal is from The Guardian. I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Learning About Animals.

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September 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Online Resources For Teaching The Difference Between Correlation & Causation

The difference between correlation and causation is an important concept in IB Theory of Knowledge, and I thought readers might find it useful to see some simple fun ways I use to teach the concept.

I’ve used the first two, and the last one — a video — is one I just learned about . I haven’t decided if it’s helpful or just weird, though. Let me know what you think…

Here’s a great comic from xkcd:

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September 29, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Using Vine/Instagram In The Classroom

'vine-vs-instagram_51cbf363cde1e' photo (c) 2013, Maria Elena - license:

I do a lot of videotaping in my classes, primarily in IB Theory of Knowledge and in my ELL ones, and have been thinking about experimenting with Vine or Instragram’s stop motion clips. Though I posted The Best Resources For Learning To Use The Video App “Vine,” I haven’t used it much other than to try it out with videos of my pets :) .

A new post by Amy Erin Borovoy over at Edutopia, however, has finally pushed me to give it a try in the classroom. Her post, Five-Minute Film Festival: Vine and Instagram Video in the Classroom, shares some great examples that are perfect models for students.

I’m planning on having students in my IB Theory of Knowledge class use Vine or Instagram (at least in our high school, Instagram seems to be the app that many of the kids use) to illustrate the different Ways Of Knowing.

In my ninth-grade English class, I’m going to talk with them about using Vine or Instagram to create different versions of book trailers that I have had students do in the past.

At this point, at least, I’m not planning on using the apps in my ELL classes. I want them talking as much as possible, so I still think I’ll stick with straight videos.

I’ll let you know how it goes, and share students samples, in a future post. Anyone have samples from their classes they feel like sharing?

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September 25, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

“American History Handbook” Is A Useful Resource

The right way to teach history i the title of a new post at Valerie Strauss’ post at The Washington Post. It’s by Marion Brady, and I plan on using the post itself in my IB Theory of Knowledge class — he shares an insightful perspective on the purposes of studying history.

Here’s an excerpt:


In addition, at the end of his post, he shares a link to his American History Handbook, which is a free book he’s written with pretty decent lessons, including all student hand-outs, in United States history.

I’m adding this info to The Best Websites For Teaching & Learning About U.S. History.

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September 18, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: “IB TOK: Making Claims and Seeking Truth Lesson”

'Knowledge is addictive' photo (c) 2006, Beatrice Murch - license:

Earlier this month, I posted about a lesson I was planning to do with my IB Theory of Knowledge class related to the potential bombing of Syria by the United States (see First Draft: My Theory Of Knowledge Lesson About Syria Next Monday — Help Me Make It Better). In summary, students looked at the reasons and evidence being used by President Obama to justify it, and evaluated it using Reuben Abel’s nine types of evidence.

There was a surprising amount of interest in the post, and quite a few teachers — TOK and non TOK — used some version of it in their classroom. In fact, I think it can be used as a template for a lesson on many different types of issues.

TOK teacher Zane Dickey used it his classroom, and has written this short guest post about what he did and how it went. Zane is a National Board Certified Teacher teaching TOK and Digital Citizenship and is the EE Coordinator in Dakar, Senegal. Zane also loves surfing with his two boys and waking up before dawn to run with friends:

IB TOK: Making Claims and Seeking Truth Lesson by Zane Dickey

“Why would Obama would want to attack Syria?” a student blurted out as she watched Obama’s claims regarding Syria. I had used the lesson suggestion form Larry Ferlazzo’s TOK site along with his best sites for Syria.

The class began with a discussion activity called three truths and a lie. This allowed students to interrogate one another using clever inquiring skills to understand which claim is the lie. Student’s were then introduced to Rueben Abel’s 9 kinds of evidence or good reasons which are the basis of knowledge. The student task was to watch the claims Obama made in his speech and determine which type of evidence was being used. Students would then research the claims and return the following class acting as a representative of the US Congress to debate whether or not the claims were sufficient to attack Syria.

The students returned to the next class excited and eager for the debate. We reviewed the Obama speech once more. I stopped the video several times asking students to address the claims. The memory of the Iraq war. The logic and intuition of wanting to stop more innocent people from being gassed. I played the role of Obama and invited the Congress to debate my claims. One student started the debate that a strike was necessary because Assad had allowed his own people to be gassed and violated the Geneva Convention ( logic and reasoning). “How do you know that it was Assad who used gas?” stated another? Another student asked where the US would specifically strike. “This is highly classified but our intelligence has these coordinates and the damage would be minimal,” I stated as the commander in chief. Another student spoke up. “Your claim to kill more people because people have already been killed doesn’t seem logical. This doesn’t make sense. This is my intuition, my reasoning.” Another student stated that it was about destabilizing the Assad government so the US could gain control of the resources. He had a youtube video to back up his claim using logic. “What about the fallout from a strike? Let’s look at the memory of Iraq.”

A few students were reluctant to take a side. “I believe something should be done. I just don’t know what the “right” solution is. I don’t know what the truth really is.” “I don’t think anyone should kill innocent people. (Self awareness, intuition).” “My memory of Iraq is that this will be bad.” Before closing the lively debate ended I asked if anyone present could present a better alternative. “Diplomacy!” shouted one student smiling. This seemed reasonable yet no one mentioned the recent Putin NYT piece.

I closed the lively debate and asked them to vote their conscious as a member of the US Congress. The final tally in my first class: 8 for a strike and 6 opposed to a strike. My second class: 4 pro- 4 against. At the end of the vote one of my students stayed after class. “You know I am half Syrian, right? I don’t think the US should strike Syria.”

Analyzing the claims made students aware that initially their emotions were the motivating factor in their decision making process. Once the claims were identified the critically thinking and inquiry forced them to gain a better perspective of how knowledge claims work. I found using this real life example provided more breadth, depth and engagement of personal and shared knowledge getting at the heart of TOK: How do we know what we know?

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September 15, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: Commentary On New Theory of Knowledge Guide

As regular readers know, in addition to sharing my thoughts on the new International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge Guide, I’ve been publishing guest posts from TOK textbook authors and educators from around the world. You can see them all at The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide.

Today’s post is by Michael Dunn, creator of

Michael Dunn is the creator of, and CEO of Kuvu Tutors. is also now offering PD courses for new TOK teachers. He can be contacted at [email protected].

In with the new, out with the old: thoughts on the 2015 TOK curriculum

by Michael Dunn

Charles Kettering observed that ‘people are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old things’. I have had this on my mind as I have been mulling over the new TOK curriculum for 2015 exam takers, updating my site to cater for the changes, and helping both teachers and students acclimatize to the new additions. I have tried to remain positive, and on the whole, have succeeded.

I have to admit, though, my initial feelings were not so warm. Although the ‘old’ course had its problems, such as the nebulously worded assessment criteria for the essay, the terminology over the role of knowledge issues and knowledge claims, and the amount of content to be covered in so short a time, I have always been enthusiastic about the way the course worked. So it was with dismay that I read through the new guide to discover that the weaknesses of TOK seemed to have been compounded, and the strengths compromised. For example, it seemed crazy to add four new ways of knowing, two of which (intuition and imagination) looked desperately hard to get a handle on. One of the new AOKs, indigenous knowledge systems, whilst admirable in terms of political correctness, just seemed unmanageable. Nor could I see how reducing the marks (and criteria) on offer for both the essay and presentation could add to the accuracy of marking. Finally, I was very worried indeed about the addition of the ‘knowledge framework’. The new knowledge journey that this imposed on the AOKs seemed clunky at best, and hopelessly convoluted at worst.

However, having begun to make notes on the new course, collect quotes from appropriate thinkers on the new WOKs and WOKs, and update my mentoring course for new TOK teachers, I have begun to like many of the additions. Obviously, you don’t have to cover the new ways of knowing, and you can instead stick with the four old ones if you want. But I warmly welcome the addition of faith, and I’m very keen to explore memory, so I will definitely be updating what I teach. I’ve always included something on religion, so that will also be formally added to the repertoire of my students. IKS, too, is incredibly engaging after you have researched it a little, although I’m still not sure that it is fully accessible due to its massive breadth. And – this was my biggest surprise – the clunky knowledge framework doesn’t have to be clunky at all. I think it provides a handy way to explore the areas of knowledge, and a great way of constructing a comparative framework that can be applied to them. I think changing ‘knowledge issues’ to ‘knowledge questions’ is also a big step forward, and clarifies things for students (which is, after all, what we should be trying to do as much as possible).

I’m not convinced about the new criteria for the essay and presentation; we’ll see how they work as students begin writing them. But overall, even the aspects of the new course that aren’t exactly like the old one, work well for me, and breathe new life into what I believe is the most exciting element of the IB Diploma.

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September 14, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Important Commentary On New TOK Guide From Course Companion Author


As regular readers know, in addition to sharing my thoughts on the new International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge Guide, I’ve been publishing guest posts from TOK textbook authors and educators from around the world. You can see them all at The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide.

Today, Eileen Dombrowski has agreed to share her commentary. Eileen is the lead author of the TOK course companion, published by Oxford University Press. The 2013 edition was written in cooperation with the IB and gives support to the new TOK course. Eileen taught IB English A and TOK for roughly 20 years for the United World Colleges (mainly Pearson College in Canada). She has been a TOK assessor, including Deputy Chief Assessor for a term, and has led TOK workshops around the world. In recent years, she has worked entirely online:

Structure and Freedom in the New TOK Course

Thanks for the invitation, Larry. I’ve immersed myself totally in the new course as I’ve written the revised, expanded version of the TOK Course Companion, Oxford University Press 2013, which supports the whole of the new course. Thinking and writing about the new ideas introduced, I’ve come to like the changes very much indeed. I’m very happy to see, though, that you’re raising some central questions about what some of those changes actually mean, and how teachers are expected to implement them in terms of practical course planning.

I’ve already written in my own blog TOK meets global citizenship about some of the most significant changes. In the post “TOK changes: not just optional extras,” I argue that the new WOK and AOK change how we think of any one of them as part of a new whole, and possibly how we conceive of knowledge.

I’ve also commented on the knowledge framework: “Framing knowledge: getting the structuring ‘just right.’” I argue there that, as teachers, we are always doing a balancing act between spontaneity and structure, and that the new course offers both an underlying conceptual framework and the encouragement not to follow it mechanically, marching sequentially from topic to topic.

In connection with the degree to which teachers have freedom to follow their own paths through the course, I’ll attempt my own personal response to your question, “Do you think [the encouragement to teach WOK within AOK] means it just won’t work to have the WOK taught separately at all?” Within the Teacher Support Material presently on the Online Curriculum Centre, there does seem to be a push to compress the WOK tightly and place the emphasis on AOK. The suggested course plans there scoot over the WOK briefly, or treat them entirely in context of AOK.

Is this change, I wonder, made with a view of solving a specific problem? One problem, I gather from curriculum review reports, has been that WOK were sometimes being treated in TOK classes as if they existed isolation from each other – as if emotion OR reason contributed to an AOK, for instance, rather than interacting and contributing in their own ways. I interpret the encouragement to teach the WOK almost entirely within AOK as a particular solution to that particular problem.

This approach could, indeed, lead to good teaching. WOK would have to be considered in context of methodologies, so would not be able to be treated as separate, unconnected pieces. There are other solutions, however, to the problem of WOK treated in isolation, and ones that I prefer.

Personally, I recommend teaching all eight WOK first, largely to lay down the concepts and vocabulary with which you’ll later be talking about methodology. In TOK, what does “intuition” mean, for instance, in context of cognitive psychology? And how does a 21st century understanding of intuition change a grasp of “reason”? Divergent understandings of “faith”, similarly, can derail a discussion. The associations of the terms, and the assumptions that students bring to them – as in any discussion of “memory” — are also valuable to question before trying to use the terms. An advance treatment prepares concepts to be put into play across all the AOK.

In treating WOK first, I’d also hope to encourage students to appreciate the questions of knowledge that each WOK raises, and the importance of using it thoughtfully to build knowledge. In many areas of knowledge, after all, the methodology is a formalization of critical thinking skills that students should be developing in any case for everyday knowledge.

Treating WOK separately before AOK need not precipitate the problem that they are treated in isolation from each other. Not at all. I struggle to think how memory or imagination could possibly be considered without the matrix of the other WOK, just as I cannot imagine how the methodology of AOK could possibly be treated without considering the interplay of ways of knowing.

Moreover, I wouldn’t skip any one of the WOK. Treating all of them does mean sweeping over WOK without the depth that every single one begs for – but such is the constant need in a short course that aims to survey the whole of knowledge. We can at least open the door and look into each WOK, even if we don’t have a lot of time to romp about inside. Later, dealing with AOK, we’ll regain the time because we’ll open discussions on methodology with a better prior understanding of the ways of knowing which contribute to it, their interactions, and the importance of using them critically in making knowledge claims.

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September 11, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Video: “Floating In My Mind”

Floating In My Mind is a short animated video about making memories and losing them.

I think it could be an interesting movie to show to my English Language Learners to see how they would describe what they saw — I wonder if all would describe it literally or if some, unprompted, would see the deeper story it’s trying to tell.

And I also think it would be a good video to show Theory of Knowledge students when studying memory, one of the new Ways Of Knowing.

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September 6, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

First Draft: My Theory Of Knowledge Lesson About Syria Next Monday — Help Me Make It Better

This is the first week of school, and my Theory Of Knowledge class is learning about the difference between knowledge and belief, and the different justification used for a variety of claims.

Tomorrow, we’re going to examine Reuben Abel’s nine types of evidence, and students will rank them in terms of reliability and validity.

I’m tentatively planning on doing a lesson on Syria on Monday where they will apply what they learned.

First, I’ll ask students to share in small groups what they think they know about what’s happening in Syria and the potential of a U.S. attack.

Then, I’ll show this video of President Obama making his case for an attack:

I’ll then do a Read Aloud of the first three paragraphs of this NY Times article.

Afterwards, I’ll ask students to work in pairs and identify which of the nine types of evidence the administration is using to justify the attack and how they ranked those in terms of reliability and validity. Then, students will share if they believe an attack would be wise and use their analysis to defend their position.

It’s late at night, and my mind isn’t working as well as I’d like it to, so I’d like to invite teachers, especially TOK educators (though not limited to them) for feedback on how to make this lesson better. I’m also trying to figure out if I should somehow use Charles Blow’s NY Times column, The Era of Disbelief.

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August 30, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Another Guest Commentary On New Theory Of Knowledge Guide

I’ve been publishing commentaries on the new IB Theory of Knowledge Teaching Guide: first, my own; then, from Canadian TOK teacher Brad Ovenell-Carter; next-up came an extended one by Richard van de Lagemaat, author of the most popular TOK textbook used around the world. The last one was by Chris Coey, my talented teaching colleague at Luther Burbank High School, shared his thoughts.

I’ve compiled them at The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide.

Today, Prof. Crow, is writing on behalf of TOK Tutor. He’s a retired teacher specialising in TOK writing & presentation skills:

New TOK Curriculum – First exam 2015

The Knowledge Framework

The new curriculum has one very significant implication: TOK is about exploring how knowledge is BUILT or ENGINEERED.

This building happens on a PERSONAL level – we discover things about ourselves and our world all the time through our own individual ways and means.

But we do not do this in isolation.  There is a CONTEXT.  This comes from an edifice of data or source material we have to sift through (books; internet; verbal lore); a host of influences (parental, peer group, teachers, community leaders…) that shape what we know and the experts who build on the learning and knowledge of each other…

So knowledge is also built on a COLLABORATIVE level – we discover things by SHARING data, ideas, methods and technology.

So think of yourself as someone who is constantly building knowledge and never simply accepting someone else’s knowledge without question.  This attitude helps to refine and strengthen the foundations of your knowledge.

How the Knowledge Framework looks

Take any AOK – Ethics – and explore how knowledge is constructed within this field.

This is done by tracing the genesis of your ethical knowledge in FIVE different ways – the new Guide calls this a ‘knowledge framework’.

Links to personal knowledge:

  • · our sense of right and wrong tends to come from our parents (usually transmitted through their religion, if they have one)
  • · emotion and perception largely shapes how we know the difference between good and bad eg. Hand in the fire hurts; smoking is harmful
  • · we create and test moral boundaries by exposure to our parents’ experiences and making our own mistakes
  • · our ethical behaviour grows as we begin to see ourselves within a wider social network from family, friends, community to society and interact independently within each of these rule-based frameworks

Historical context/development:

  • · Evolutionary approach to Ethics (Reductionism)
  • · Religious approach to Ethics (Divine Command theories)
  • · Philosophical approaches to ethics (Consequentialist theories & virtue ethics)


  • · Ethics as an objective, rational framework to guide human behavior
  • · Ethics giving us an emotive purchase on the world
  • · Personal values vs cultural values and the idea of ‘relativism’
  • · Ethics that promote tolerance and celebrate difference
  • · Very hard to justify ethical judgments using factual evidence ‘is/ought’ problem)


  • · Uses abstract concepts to shape specific behaviours
  • · ‘relativism’, ‘absolutism’, ‘utilitarianism’, ‘deontological’


  • · Often very abstract ideas involved like ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’
  • · Ethical frameworks used as guidance to best practice: eg. Medical ethics; Olympic Code; Declaration of Human Rights
  • · Convergence between Ethics and other AOKs like Religion or Science can lead to controversy: eg. Stem cell research
  • · Ethical judgments are never absolutely true or certain – that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about them rationally.


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August 23, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide

August 23, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post From My Teaching Colleague On New TOK Guide

I’ve been publishing commentaries on the new IB Theory of Knowledge Teaching Guide: first, my own; then, from Canadian TOK teacher Brad Ovenell-Carter; next-up came an extended one by Richard van de Lagemaat, author of the most popular TOK textbook used around the world.

Today, Chris Coey, my talented teaching colleague at Luther Burbank High School, is sharing this thoughts:

I very much like the new guide, and I believe it will stretch me as a ToK teacher given that the new framework asks us to consider what it means to be an historian, a mathematician, an artist, and so on, addressing knowledge claims and questions as we investigate AoKs through the lens of WoKs.

I think the temptation to teach WoKs exclusively, out of context that is, could be somewhat of a return to what is comfortable for ToK teachers because to some extent it is what we have done for years. However, I can see that exploring WoKs through each area of knowledge will likely make WoKs more understandable during the discussion of real-life situations. I believe that this approach of integrating WoKs is likely to improve students’ presentations and essays when they are asked to compare and contrast how WoKs are working. It is clear that the revisions to ToK have been given significant consideration. I feel a bit overwhelmed by the scope of the changes, yet I am also excited by the opportunity to reinvent the course for my students and me.

In a recent ToK workshop, we were asked to rank the importance of WoKs in one area of knowledge, and I found the discussion to be both exciting and challenging. The exercise required us to first try to explain HOW each WoK worked and the extent to which it was valued. This is precisely the type of activity we want for our students.

In my class, I can imagine students giving mini-presentations on each aspect of the new AoK framework, which would be followed by reflection and a short essay response. At the start of the year, students will be asked to sign up for presenting on one AoK, giving specific attention to kn. claims, kn. questions, personal and shared knowledge, and WoKs. This will provide an opportunity to both explore the requirements of the presentation and make a meaningful contribution to our study of the AoKs.

Oh! I almost forgot… the central metaphor of ‘the map is not the territory’ is an incredibly useful motif that we should definitely embrace. Last year, this metaphor helped to explain how historiography frameworks, literary theories, and scientific paradigms, were related as means of describing ‘the territory.’ This should be carried throughout the course.

My hope is that teachers will develop lessons and activities specifically aligned to the AoK frameworks, and furthermore share those resources with each other. There is much exciting work to do!

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August 20, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Guest Post: Commentary On New IB Theory Of Knowledge Guide From Author Of Bestselling TOK Textbook

Last week, I published my thoughts on the new IB Theory of Knowledge Guide (see Attention IB Theory Of Knowledge Teachers: How Is The New TOK Guide Going To Affect How You Teach?).

I’ve invited a number of other TOK educators to contribute their own thoughts, and Canadian teacher Brad Ovenell-Carter has already contributed a guest post. More are on the way.

Today, I feel very lucky to have a guest commentary from Richard van de Lagemaat, author of the bestselling TOK textbook, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. It’s the book we use at our school, and one that I’ve recommended to many other TOK teachers over the years.

TOK book

GUEST POST BY Richard van de Lagemaat

Richard van de Lagemaat is the founder and director of InThinking. He has more than 30 years experience in international education. His book Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma has sold more than 80,000 copies:

A key sentence in the new subject guide (SG) comes at the start (page 3): “Teachers are not obliged to follow the suggested examples and ideas presented in this guide; it offer a framework rather than prescribed content.”

The strength of the new SG is that it offers more options – four new WOKs and two new AOKs – and more guidance by, for example suggesting a map metaphor for knowledge and a “knowledge framework” – scope, concepts, methods, historical, links to personal knowledge – to help structure discussion of AOKs. Two possible dangers that might arise are: (1) overloading the course; and (2) reducing it to a shopping list which simply ticks off items in, say, the knowledge framework. So it is important to remember that we can’t cover everything and that we are encouraged to design our own “unique TOK course” (p.3).

The new guide does not radically change the way I think about TOK, but I’ll mention a few thoughts.

The emphasis on the map metaphor for knowledge is, I think, a good one. I’ve always begun the course by looking at problems with physical maps and then having students think about corresponding problems with our “mental maps”. These seems to work well. However, I notice the SG makes no mention of the standard definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”. Such a definition is only a starting point for thinking, and it may not cover every kind of knowledge, but I find it a useful structuring device and would continue to use it. (Actually, I think the JTB framework can be applied to “knowing how” as well as “knowing that”.)

The distinction between personal knowledge and shared knowledge strikes me as a useful one. I think it is particularly important that students understand that there is more to knowledge that what they happen to think about something. As the guide points out, academic subjects are “highly structured” and have “established methods for producing knowledge”. We want to encourages students to question things, but they also need to be aware that to be of value criticism needs to be informed criticism. The SG’s explanation of the distinction between personal and shared knowledge is at times confusing. For example, it classifies “know how” as personal knowledge, but such knowledge can, of course, also be shared. Hence the proliferation of “how to” books and wiki-hows. Well, this is all good material for discussion!

Like Larry, I think there is virtue in covering at least some WOKs as separate units. I would focus on language, reason, perception, and intuition – which strike me as the primary WOKs in the sense of being most frequently appealed to in answering the question “How do you know?” (I associate language with second-hand knowledge.) I think treating these WOKs as separate units helps equip students with BS-detectors which are needed more than ever in the Internet age. However, they need to be constantly related to the various AOKs. The other WOKs I would be inclined to integrate more generally in to the course. One might, for example, raise the question of whether all knowledge is ultimately based on faith and then consider the similarities and differences between epistemic faith and religious faith.

When it comes to AOKs, I would make the knowledge framework (KF) implicit rather than explicit. (How dull it would be if we plodded through each AOK beginning with scope and then progressing through the other four elements!) The element of the (KF) I would draw most attention to is method. While it is important for students to grasp the general point that knowledge has a history and have a few examples to hand, I doubt if there is enough time to do much on the historical development of each AOK.

I am delighted to see the inclusion of religion in the SG. I have always taught and there is already a chapter in my book on it. I am a bit perplexed by “indigenous knowledge” partly it doesn’t seem to fit in with the other AOKs, and partly because it seems too narrow. I would therefore do a unit – or have a leitmotif running through the course – called “Cultural perspectives on knowledge”. This could certainly include indigenous perspectives, but might also look at, say, Chinese or Indian culture – which are not usually thought of as indigenous.

Larry asked me to limit myself to 800 words and I haven’t said anything about assessment. To be brief, I welcome the new impression marking and the five broad bands (ten marks) for scoring essays and presentations. Hopefully, it is then easier to agree good, ok, not so good, amazing, or appalling than a mark out of 40! Only time will tell if the new system leads to more consistency in assessment.

To conclude, I am excited by the new options the SG offers, but I don’t think there is a single best way to teach the course. Indeed, since TOK emphasizes the validity of different perspectives, it would be strange – and sad – if we all ended up marching to the same tune!

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August 16, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Guest Post: Commentary On New IB Theory Of Knowledge Guide

Earlier this week, I posted Attention IB Theory Of Knowledge Teachers: How Is The New TOK Guide Going To Affect How You Teach?

I’ll be posting a few guest posts from TOK teachers in response to that post.

Today’s piece is from Brad Ovenell-Carter. Brad is the director of educational technology and TOK department head at Mulgrave School, an independent, coed K12 IB World School in Vancouver, Canada. Like Mark Twain, he thinks the ancients stole all out good ideas. And he wants them back:

To say I like the new TOK guide is not quite right; better to say I think it’s an improvement over the old one.

The arrangement of the WoKs and AoKs is better, meaning less Western, naked and absolutist. Mind you, I am still puzzled that religious and indigenous systems are seen as Areas of Knowledge, comparable to Art or History, rather than complete knowledge systems in themselves. I don’t think we’ve yet shaken our Western bias in this guide which means this is not really a TOK Guide but still a Western view of TOK guide. So, I will still have to put TOK itself in a larger context for my students.

And it seems odd to me that even as the IBO acknowledges that the original 10 AoK and WoK were necessary but not sufficient, and that we now need 16, we only have to teach 10. I don’t buy the argument I heard that we just need to teach the idea that knowledge has these 16 dimensions and only need to go deep in a few. That’s rather like saying the idea of an atom is made up of protons, electrons and neutrons but we only need to talk about electrons. I’ll teach all 16–I don’t think this is optional.

If TOK is still shaky conceptually, I do find some practical improvements: The map metaphor, the distinction between personal and shared knowledge and the knowledge framework are good organizational structures that can give us a more coherent approach to widely varying topics of discussion. I really like the new way of assessing the essay holistically, too. It makes much more sense in a subject like TOK. (I found moderated assessment under the old method quite inconsistent and maybe this will improve as well?)

Alas, I can’t say the same about the new assessment model for the presentation which, frankly, is a step backwards and flies in the face of well-established research. I am really puzzled by this and don’t yet know how to work around it to make it meaningful.

In short, I am grateful for the changes and I’m looking forward to implementing the new guide, but I still have a lot of adjustments to do to make the course work.

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August 12, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Attention IB Theory Of Knowledge Teachers: How Is The New TOK Guide Going To Affect How You Teach?


As most IB Theory of Knowledge teachers know, and as regular readers of this blog know, the International Baccalaureate program has published a new ToK Guide 2015

After having a conversation with Chris Coey, a colleague who attended a summer TOK training, and carefully reviewing the new guide, I thought I’d share some of preliminary thoughts and an invitation to other TOK teachers to respond in a number of ways:

* Comment on any of the particular points I make or questions I ask in this post.

* Share other ideas on if and how the new guide will affect your teaching.

* Share specific resources that you think will be helpful to TOK teachers in the coming year.

Feel free to leave a comment on this post or send a message to me using my contact form. I’m also going to specifically invite some experienced TOK educators I know to share their thoughts in a series of short (300-400 word posts).

(FYI, here is a link to my previous TOK-related “Best” lists, to my 1,700 IB-related categorized links)

Here are my key “takeaways” from the Guide (and from my conversation with Chris). I want to emphasize that I’m “thinking out loud” and invite your reactions:

Ways of Knowing:
In addition to the “old” list of perception, language, emotion and reason, there have been several additions — imagination, faith, intuition, and memory. It’s only required, however, that four are covered in-depth.

Here’s an important quote from the Guide: Teachers should consider the possibility of teaching WOKs in combination or as a natural result of considering the methods of areas of knowledge, rather than as separate units.

It sounds like that was strongly encouraged at Chris’ training.

I’ve always taught the four Ways of Knowing as separate units at the beginning of the year, and then taught each Area of Knowledge through their “lens.” For example, after teaching the WOK units, I then teach Math by looking at math explicitly through perception, language, emotion and reason. I wonder if that would still be a reasonable approach in light of the new Guide? If it was, I’m thinking that I would also add a one very short unit lightly covering imagination, faith, intuition and memory preceding starting the Areas of Knowledge, and, when we study different AOK, invited students to identify how those new WOK fit in. Or, do you think this means it just won’t work to have the WOK taught separately at all?

Areas of Knowledge: The “old” ones remain — mathematics, the natural sciences, the human sciences, the arts, history, ethics — and two new ones are added: religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems (religion, though, I had thought was one before, though I always only lightly touched on it). It’s only required, though, that six are covered in-depth.

Definition of Knowledge: Perhaps IB had always defined knowledge in the way this excerpt from the Guide describes it, but it was new to me:

Knowledge can be viewed as the production of one or more human beings. It can be the work of a single individual arrived at as a result of a number of factors including the ways of knowing. Such individual knowledge is called personal knowledge in this guide. But knowledge can also be the work of a group of people working together either in concert or, more likely, separated by time or geography. Areas of knowledge such as the arts and ethics are of this form. These are examples of shared knowledge. There are socially established methods for producing knowledge of this sort, norms for what counts as a fact or a good explanation, concepts and language appropriate to each area and standards of rationality. These aspects of areas of knowledge can be organized into a knowledge framework.

I think the three pages in the Guide on knowledge would be a good hand-out and discussion document to use in class.

Knowledge Issues: They’re not “knowledge issues” any longer. Instead, they’re “knowledge questions.” I definitely like that change, and think it helps clarify the concept for both teachers and students alike. The Guide gives a lot of good examples of knowledge questions, and I especially like a simple guideline they offered:

TOK Presentations: Here’s a quote from the Guide:

The maximum group size is three. If a student makes more than one presentation, the teacher should choose the best one (or the best group presentation in which the student participated) for the purposes of assessment. Students are not permitted to offer presentations on the same specific subject matter more than once. This refers to either the same knowledge question, or the same real-life situation. It is advised that the presentation should take place towards the end of the course, as otherwise students may not have had the chance to develop skills such as formulating knowledge questions which are key to this task.

The line about not being permitted to offer presentations on the same topic twice seems like a big change to me. I know that I’ve always had students do it twice and use the higher grade, and most of the materials I’ve seen from TOK teachers on the Web say the same thing.

Chris wondered if we might want to have students make mini-presentations at the end of AOK units as a sort of rehearsal for the final presentation. I think some version of that might be a good idea. What do you think?

Another quote from the Guide:

It is not necessary for schools to record presentations unless they are asked to do so, although it can be a useful exercise in order to standardize internal marking, where more than one teacher is involved.

I had always thought we had to videotape them in case we were audited by IB, but perhaps it was a misconception on my part. Nevertheless, I plan on continuing to video them — I suspect students take it even more seriously, and we can used them to standardize internal marking. I’ve posted some presentations here and have invited feedback, and that’s been helpful.

The rubrics for both the Presentation and Essay have been simplified and, I think, are a lot better.

Okay, that’s my “brain-dump.”

What do you think?

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August 2, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Site For Teaching ELLs About Adjectives & TOK Students About Perception


Place Pulse is a site from MIT that shows you two Google Street View images from around the world, and then asks you to “vote” on which one looks “livelier”; “safer” or any number of other comparative adjectives (you can switch them by clicking on the question mark).

It’s an intriguing way to teach comparative adjectives to English Language Learners, as well as having IB Theory of Knowledge students explore perception.

I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Gaining A Basic Understanding Of Adjectives.

Thanks to Google Maps Mania for the tip.

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