Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

October 5, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Teaching Plato’s Allegory of The Cave

I, and just about every other International Baccalaureate teacher in the world, teaches Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to our Theory of Knowledge classes.

I spend quite a bit of time on it, beginning with students first reading the actual allegory to each other other and then having them read a more accessible one with simplified language. We then watch the various animations of it on line (you can see all my links and related resources at our class blog post). Then we connect it to clips from the Matrix (also found on that blog post) and watch “The Truman Show.”

Finally, students create their own modern versions of the Allegory on video. Here’s one example, and you can see quite a few more on our class blog:

Students really enjoy it all, and easily figure out why we’re spending so much time on it. They “get” the idea of our being in our own “caves” and how we need to look outside it. The Allegory is a perfect lesson near the beginning of a school year with a TOK class and, I think, with other classes, as well.

Do you teach the Allegory in your classes? If so, how do you do it?

BONUS: Text to Text: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and ‘In the Cave: Philosophy and Addiction’ is a lesson plan from The New York Times.

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October 3, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Videos: Here’s The Simple Theory of Knowledge Lesson On Perception I Did Today

As regular readers know, in addition to teaching classes for English Language Learners, I also teach International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge courses.

One of the “Ways Of Knowing” in the class is Perception. Today, I did one of my regular lessons, and thought I’d bring all the videos together in one post for readers who might be interested (though the truth is that I wanted to put them all in one post so it will be easier for me to teach again).

I begin by having students number a sheet of paper one-to-six, with several lines for each number. I explain that we’re going to watch six short videos. After the first five videos students will be given a couple of minutes to answer this question:

What does this video have to do with perception, and what does it say about how perception can help or hinder our search for knowledge?

I explain that students will then share their response with the student next to them; I’ll then call on a couple of people to share; and then alternate rows will rotate so that students switch partners after each sharing.

Here are the videos I show:

Here’s more information on the Selective Attention Test video.

I end with this next video by asking students to “write down what happened in the picture” (which was the original prompt by researchers). After students watch the video, I ask how many told a story and then share parts of this analysis.

The lesson always goes well, though, as usual, I’m interested in hearing suggestions from readers on how to make it better….

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September 27, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Greatest Interactive Video Ever Made For A Philosophical Discussion On The Existence Of Santa Claus

This interactive video, a book trailer for “Does Santa Claus exist?” is an amazing one on many different levels. I’ll certainly be having my IB Theory of Knowledge students watch it:

I’m adding it to The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories.

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September 16, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Video: “See Eyewitness Testimony Fail”

Studies abound on the lack of confidence in eyewitness testimony, and teaching about it is a staple in International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge classes when we cover “perception.”

The Pacific Standard just published a useful related article titled See Eyewitness Testimony Fail—Right Before Your Eyes that contained this great video I’ll be using next week in class:

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September 11, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Wondering How To Handle A Controversial Topic In Class? What We Did This Week Worked Out Very Well

As all teachers know, controversial topics can be very tricky to handle in class. Here’s a process I used in my International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge classes this past week they went far better than I had expected, and I think this series of lessons might be able to be applied to other classes.

FIRST DAY: I introduced The Belief-Knowledge Continuum from our IB textbook. You can find it the continuum online in many places and it just so happens that our textbook’s version is available at Google Books. I’m not sure who originated it, so I’m wary of reproducing it in this post. But it’s really very simple — a number scale from negative ten to positive ten, with a few labels including impossible, probable and certain. “Probable” is also labeled “Belief” and “Certain” is labeled “knowledge.”

TOK’s definition of knowledge is “justified true belief.” This continuum doesn’t mean that belief is worse than knowledge. It just means that though we might believe something, we just don’t “know” for sure.

Then, our textbook lists a few items asking students to place them on the continuum (Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, Murder is wrong) — you can see the list here.

I have students work in pairs to create their own poster plotting each of those items and providing an explanation of why they placed it there. Students then share their charts and discuss where they agree and disagree.

SECOND DAY: Students read an excerpt from the philosopher Ruben Abel’s book “Man is the Measure.” In it, he lists the different kinds of “evidence” people use to justify their knowledge. You can find that excerpt here (I only use the section following the heading “Good Reasons”). In groups of three, students make a poster ranking the types of evidence from the one they think is most convincing to least convincing; they have to provide an example; be prepared to defend their ranking; and draw a picture representing each type of evidence.

THIRD DAY: In a “speed-dating” style (groups facing each other, and then when one group is done one of the lines moves to the next group while the other line remains where they are), students share and discuss their “evidence” poster. However, they use a specific process for their discussion.

Teach Thought has published a nice “26 Sentence Stems For Higher-Level Conversation In The Classroom.” I adapted them and created a shorter list just showing their “Clarifying,” “Agreeing,” and “Disagreeing” questions. Students used them to guide their discussions with each group. I was the timer, and was flexible in both speeding it up and slowing it down:

  1. First minute: each group read and reviewed the other’s poster
  2. Second minute: one group asked clarifying questions from the sheet
  3. Third minute: the other group asked clarifying questions from the sheet
  4. Fourth minute: one group using the agreeing stems
  5. Fifth minute: the other group used the agreeing stems
  6. Sixth minute: one group used the disagreeing stems
  7. Seventh minute: the other group used the disagreeing stems

Students would then switch to discuss with another group (we did it about three or four times). In addition, I had asked students to keep in mind which poster they liked the best, and which disagreement they found most interesting.

After “speed-dating,” students met in their groups for a few minutes to discuss their favorite poster and which disagreement they found most interesting, and each group then gave a very short report.

After providing the group with the “winning” poster a dried fruit prize, I then gave students a half-piece of paper to write anonymously if they liked the use of the question/sentence stems and to say why or why not. I hadn’t tried using them before and want to get honest reactions. In both of my 35 student classes, everyone except for one or two students like them a lot and felt that without them the discussions would not have been productive.

FOURTH DAY: The warm-up activity was students writing down their response to:

Should we respect people’s racist or sexist beliefs? Why or why not? What might be the reasons they are using to justify those racist and sexist beliefs?

After a short discussion, I introduced a sheet developed by TOK teacher Remi Vicente called “Problems of Knowledge.” Basically, it’s a list of many of the reasons why people often confuse their “beliefs” with actual “knowledge.”

In their same groups of three, students reviewed the list and identified which ones they felt were the five most common “problems of knowledge.”

FIFTH DAY: In their same groups of three, I gave each a first section of that day’s daily newspaper (in one class, we also had access to computers) and distributed these instructions (here they are as a downloadable hand-out):

1) Take out the Belief knowledge continuum and your types of evidence poster.

2) Get with your group that developed the types of evidence poster.

3) Look at newspapers, news magazines and online news sites to identify current events – between two and five of them

4) Where are your chosen current events on the continuum – what is guiding the action of the primary person/people involved in the current events you chose. There may be more than one, and they might need to be “plotted” differently. Explain your decision.

5) Look at the types of evidence poster. Identify what evidence each of the primary people are using to justify their actions.

6) Look at the problems of knowledge sheet and poster you made. What flaws, if any, are the primary people making?

7) Make a simple poster for each current event showing where on the continuum you placed the current event and why, they type of evidence and flaws. Be prepared to share with class.

Students chose a variety of events, including President Obama’s de facto declaration of war against Islamic militants, the Ray Rice controversy, and the killing of Michael Brown. Because of the activities we did earlier, the quality and tone of the discussions was at an incredibly high intellectual level — examining evidence, points of view, and reasoning.

I also have to say that, perhaps for one of the few times in my years of teaching Theory of Knowledge, students really “got” how what they were learning could be applied to the world outside of school.

Admittedly, it took a lot of time. But, with this background, I think we can approach future discussions of current events in similar vein without all the days of preliminary build-up.

Let me know what you think of this series of lessons, and how you think I can make it better!

Coincidentally, Luis Vilson has just published a good post over at Edutopia with additional ideas on how to handle controversial topics in the classroom.

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September 11, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

1,700 Categorized Links For IB Theory Of Knowledge Course

As regular readers know, I’ve been accumulating teaching/learning resources for the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge class ever since I began to teach it a few years ago.

The collection is now up to nearly 1,700 links that are categorized by Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge, and you can access them all here.

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September 10, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Author Of Newest IB Theory Of Knowledge Textbook Has Begun A Blog


Eileen Dombrowski is the co-author of the newest IB Theory Of Knowledge textbook, and has previously written guest posts on this blog.

She’s now writing her own blog, which is a “must-follow” for any TOK teacher. Here’s her description:

Eileen Dombrowski, lead author of the IB Theory of Knowledge Course Companion (OUP, 2013), has recently launched a TOK blogsite that complements the course overview of the TOK book with regular fresh comments on ideas and events in the news. In the traditional spirit of TOK educational sharing, the blog and associated resources are free. It’s also easy to sign up to follow the blog by email to receive fresh posts as they are added. Check it out: Activating TOK: thinking clearly in the world

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September 6, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

New “Fillable” PDF Forms For IB Theory Of Knowledge Presentations & Essays

I recently wrote about some new changes for teachers and students in International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge courses (see More Theory Of Knowledge Changes From IB).

Thanks to my colleague, Chris Coey, who braved the IB TOK website to get them, here are the new planning forms for the oral presentation and essay.

They are “fillable.” In other words, you can type and save data directly into them.

TK PPD form for presentations

ToK Essay Planning and Progress Form

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