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Integrating Theory of Knowledge Into Your Curriculum

By Mark McGowan

In recent years, the IB Diploma Programme has asked schools to more actively integrate Theory of Knowledge (ToK) into their curriculums. However, some continue to struggle with the how and why of such an undertaking. As a ToK coordinator, I have used several strategies over the years that have worked well and might be useful to those looking for answers to these questions. How to integrate ToK Questions. Each September, when the ToK titles are released, I create subsidiary questions that tease out the underlying assumptions of each title. I then share the ToK titles, along with these questions, with our faculty, encouraging them to use any of the titles and questions in their classes. Meetings. I attend one department meeting per subject area (it’s best done at the beginning of the year) to give a short presentation on how ToK can be integrated into each subject. I then ask for at least one teacher per department to work with me on embedding ToK into a lesson. Workshops. I run workshops at our divisional meetings or on PD days, where I demonstrate how ToK can be used as a cross-curricular tool. These workshops include activities where teachers from different subject areas work together to create a cross-curricular lesson. Guest teachers. I invite subject teachers to my ToK classes to discuss their subject as an “Area of Knowledge” and to co-teach a lesson in which I introduce the ToK concepts and the subject teacher demonstrates how those concepts work in his/her classes. Collaborative teaching. I visit other classes where the subject teacher begins with the planned lesson, then I rotate in to discuss how that topic is related to ToK and how students can use certain ToK concepts or ways of thinking to deepen their understanding of that topic. We then ask students to attempt an activity that allows them to experiment with these ideas. Grade 10. Recently, I have been working more with Grade 10 classes to introduce students to ToK, familiarizing them with ToK ideas or terms before they begin the course while sharpening their critical thinking skills. It also builds the idea that ToK is an integral part of the high school curriculum. Repeat visits. I have begun visiting subject classes twice so that my visits do not become a one-off “interesting” lesson that is soon forgotten. This requires planning with teachers so that ToK topics such as Ways of Knowing can be introduced to students at the beginning of a project then subsequently revisited before the projects ends, ensuring that students use these concepts to deepen their analysis. Student presentations. Our ToK students sometimes give their oral presentations to other classes, fielding other students’ questions. This works well with Grade 11 and 12 students speaking to those in Grade 10, as it gives students ownership, builds community, and plants curiosity and excitement in younger students’ minds about what lies ahead. CAS. Together with the CAS coordinator, we have used the ToK ideas of “Personal Knowledge” and “Shared Knowledge” to frame CAS reflections. Students reflect on their personal knowledge and shared knowledge, both before and after a CAS experience. Beyond the classroom TED Talks. Each year, we take a group of ToK students to the Brussels TEDx Talks, as this all-day experience mimics well certain aspects of ToK, examining a topic through different lenses. Hosting events. We created a similar TED Talk-style day, where we invited a variety of professionals to speak to students on a specific theme, such as “The Power of Belief.” We then asked the speakers to answer questions and work with students on an activity that applies the knowledge they have gained. This event involved students from other area schools so that young people could meet and collaborate. Almost yearly, we organize day-long ToK events in collaboration with other area schools in which students work together on projects and presentations based on ToK ideas. Shared reflection. Each September, the ToK teachers from our area schools get together to reflect on our experiences from the previous year, to discuss the new ToK titles, and to share ideas on assessment and curriculum development. Why do this? ToK naturally lends itself to cross-curricular cooperation, which has two benefits: it gets teachers working together and reveals to students the ways in which ideas and concepts are interrelated. It can develop an approach to learning giving students a consistent way to analyze an idea. It can build more consistency in how teachers plan lessons and units. It gives teachers another inquiry tool to use in their classrooms, which helps develop students’ inquiry and critical thinking skills. It creates some common language in our approaches to teaching and learning. All of this takes time and careful planning. However, once certain practices are put in place, they can be replicated and expanded, with work decreasing over time. Ideally, these ideas can be implemented seamlessly into teachers’ lessons so that they become a periodic, natural extension of what they are already teaching. However, curriculum leaders and department heads can help by working with ToK coordinators or teachers to include ToK-style questions in unit plans. Ultimately, using ToK as a thread to connect ideas across subject areas deepens students’ thinking and builds a more cohesive curriculum. [email protected]

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