Editor’s Note: I have students do a simple data collection and analysis project in my IB Theory of Knowledge class. You can read about it in The Value Of Students Creating Their Own Evidence, which is where the above quote can be found. John Perryman, who is a talented colleague who also teaches TOK classes, has his students do a more in-depth project that I thought readers would be interested in learning about – it’s pretty impressive. He graciously agreed to write this guest post.

John Perryman has taught honors and pre-honors material to low income inner city students in Sacramento for the past 30 years in course content ranging from the physical sciences to economics, from game theory to design tech. Both he and the students love the Theory of Knowledge course content.

Teacher Notes – TOK Human Science Project – 6-8 instructional days

Prior to teaching Human Science, I have taught the natural science unit.  Thus many knowledge issues associated with science have already been discussed.    International readers should be aware that my high school has very diverse IB students, with diverse levels of pre-existing skills.  Schools with more aggressive student screening might need less instructional time.

I typically spend about 3-4 weeks of 1 hour classes on Human Science.  In the first week, we examine how human science works in the USA with examples.  In the 2nd and 3rd week, we intermix the Human Science Project with instruction on examples of human science failings.   Part of the 4th week is given for students to complete their human science power point and possibly to report it to the class.

Most student groups (of 3 to 5 students) choose to conduct a survey (mainly because it is easier), but a few groups will generally attempt a scientific behavior observation, typically of classroom behaviors.

Students need 1 day to brainstorm question phrasing, and 1 day in a computer lab to formally type their survey.    Extra members in the group, on the day in the lab, begin researching national surveys on the topic that have already been done, for comparison purposes.    Or the extra members begin to create the powerpoint, using google slides, (for ease of sharing slides between group members).

Students are also given a copy of the school’s master schedule, so they can email various teachers and ask permission to give a survey in their class.  The students need to arrange a representative sample of students (grade, academic level, small learning community).   Most IB schools in the USA are NOT representative, so this factor should be taken into account in the student report.  As teachers respond, I print the emails, and use them as a student hall pass.  Students also need to think about which instructors are likely to allow them to leave class to give a survey.

I advise students that the survey should be 5-10 questions, and fit on a single piece of paper.   Questions should have multiple choice answers and the answers must cover a large range of potential responses.  I “formatively assess” the survey creation as they type it and make discuss language issues.  Students print a single copy of the survey for me, and I make 120 copies of each survey for each group.

After these 2 days, I return to normal instruction, but regularly have  student groups leave class to go do surveys in other classes.   After about 3 days, I schedule a class hour for students to tabulate their surveys by hand.   They often need me to model making a data table and the actual process of tabulation.

Then we go back to the computer lab, for students to work on their shared powerpoint, and analyze the data.   Some groups will need help on why raw data is different from calculated data, and the necessity of using percents to report calculated data (to ease comparison with national and historic data).   Student groups generally are able to work on interpretation and uncertainty without direct help, but I have already modeled this type of analysis in previous more traditional instruction.

I do not require all groups to present their power point to the class as it would take too much class time and be boring.  Instead all students have to participate in two presentations during the 1st grading period, but may choose which areas of knowledge they do their initial non IA oral presentations.   Typically about 15% of students choose to present their human science project.

You can download John’s student hand-out here.

Here is the report John shared with the faculty about this year’s project:

Each year, my TOK students do surveys of representative sample groups (grade, and SLC) of 100+ Burbank students as part of a unit on the limits of human science.   They also try to match their data to previously conducted national data.   I am listing some of their results below:

  1. 40% of students report being sexually harassed, primarily during class time.   4% told an adult.   This is reasonably consistent with national data.
  2. About 70% of students are not happy with the school lunch (…no surprise there….this data I believe consistent for over 20 years
  3. About 1/3 of students report 0-1 hour of homework (this is down from 50% in the past)About 1/3 report 5 or more hours being assigned, but only completing half of the assigned work. This result was mirrored in two independent student surveys. This level is higher than in the past.
  4. 80% of juniors and seniors work for pay during the school year (although many work less than 10 hours).   This is far higher than the past – I am guessing a good economy, combined with onsite jobs programs….
  5. Student participation in athletics is reasonably balanced by ethnicity, but not balanced within some individual sports.     This is consistent with past years.

Two human science projects I believe are especially interesting:

One group did an observation of whether student seating location predicted “on task” behavior; their conclusion was that student desk position had little effect, but that teacher positioning, and moving around the class had a large effect.

One group created a clever way to try to check for implicit bias in students.   They asked questions like  “If some kids were to loudly disrupt the class while the teacher was talking, what ethnicity would the kids most likely to be ?” and then gave students a choice of ethnic groups, or marking N/A.   Only about 1/3 of students marked N/A….