Oct 10 2022
Learning About Learning
How do you know what you know? Did you get your knowledge base from class? Did you read it in a book? Perhaps you learned from talking to others? Understanding what we know and why we know it is an important step in the journey to becoming a critical thinker who can reflect on the information they know and apply it when learning new things. At BCIS, students can answer the questions about where their own knowledge comes from through the IB Diploma Programme’s (IBDP) Theory of Knowledge (TOK). BCIS teaches TOK in unique and engaging ways to prepare students to be lifelong learners who can understand different perspectives, reflect on biases and research new information.
Studying a broad and abstract topic such as knowledge can feel like a daunting task for students. Fortunately for learners at BCIS, the Secondary School (SS) teaching team makes TOK much more accessible by breaking it down and connecting it to other fields of learning and life. Every year, students are tasked with writing a persuasive essay based on one of six questions related to knowledge for TOK. Questions cover topics such as how we gain new information and the importance of previous studies. Although there is no right or wrong answer for such questions, students will be assessed based on the strength of their arguments. Such open-ended questions require strong research and writing skills from students, which they can practice and learn in their Core Class – a class that contains the essential elements from the IBDP including TOK.
Combining TOK with other areas of learning helps the subject become more tangible for learners at BCIS. Our IB Diploma Programme Coordinator, Dave, explains how we teach TOK, saying, “we built a Core Class, which is the Extended Essay, TOK and CAS (Creativity, activity, service). In that class, students work on their Extended Essay, which is linked to TOK lessons, and CAS activities. We help students make connections to their other subjects as well.” Core Class also helps students break down each question for their TOK essay to better answer the question and structure their own arguments. This approach to connected teaching has seen strong results with student achievement, and the skills students learn in Core Class will teach them to connect important topics to all aspects of their learning, making them stronger thinkers, writers and analysts.
To get a first-hand look at the vast treasure trove of knowledge contained in TOK, we talked with one of our outstanding Grade 12 students, Jessica, to understand the course through her perspective. Jessica describes the difference between TOK in the Core Class and other classes, saying, “in most subjects, I would take an option from an authoritative source, then digest that opinion and integrate it into my knowledge system. Depending on the subject, the process of ‘digesting’ may involve reading, discussion and most commonly, tests. However, the entire TOK course does not have any exams or tests. It’s more like an investigation, where I approach a fact or opinion, then evaluate it in different ways to see if the perception of that piece of information still holds to me.” With no right or wrong answers and no tests, TOK is quite different from traditional subjects. However, the logic and critical thinking students do in TOK can be applied to everything else they learn.
One of Jessica’s most memorable parts of TOK was her investigation into technology and ethics. She focused on the topic of gene editing – a fascinating aspect of modern and future biology. Through her investigation, Jessica found that it is the humans as knowers, not the technology itself, that hold the responsibility to carry out the ethical development of knowledge. “We’ve been through the Paleolithic and Medieval ages, then Industrial Revolution, and finally reached the modern 21st century with technologies that made us the dominant species on Earth. There is a greater responsibility in protecting the integrity and ethics of knowledge use. Beyond application, knowers also need to be more cautious about knowledge creation,” she states. TOK fosters inquiry into such significant topics in many fields and allows students to find their own personal conclusions that help them grow as lifelong learners.
“TOK empowers me to reflect on what I claim to know, which leads to the recognition of flaws in these knowledge systems,” Jessica elaborates. Reflecting on what we know and what we don’t know allows students to become more aware of the quality of new information they learn. Current students aren’t the only ones who benefit from TOK. Amanda (Class of 2017) describes how TOK helped her as a student at Alberta University of the Arts, explaining, “When I got to university, I found that TOK helped my critical thinking quite a bit. As an art student, we often have critiques and investigations about art. At BCIS, I learned many ways to see the deeper meaning expressed behind the surface of such pieces.” No matter what field students choose to study, TOK will give them skills that will help them along the way.
Our SS Psychology teacher, Scarlett, agrees about the importance of TOK. “TOK is the element of the programme that most encourages critical thinking, ‘a sense of confidence and standing on your own two feet’ and an objective assessment of the different subjects that make up the diploma. This is why the skills that you have built up as a TOK student are arguably your greatest asset when it comes to applying to university.” After graduating from BCIS, students will be able to take the understanding of knowledge they gained in their Core Class and apply it to their future studies, careers and lives. In this age of information, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically about where all this information comes from. Through TOK, BCIS prepares students to be lifelong learners who understand what they know, what they don’t know and what they will need to know in the future.