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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The Student as Teacher: Putting Theory of Knowledge into Practice
By Shir Shoval-Simhoni, Amanda Dzwairo, and Carolyn Asante-Dartey 01-Mar-19
Amanda, Shir, and Carolyn are Grade 12 IB students at the Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana (photo: LCS). __________________________________________________________________________ Let’s face it, the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class, mandatory for all IB Diploma candidates, is a challenge. We are exposed to so many new ideas, concepts, and vocabulary that it seems sometimes the toughest of our seven IB subjects. Fortunately, we have been lucky to have had the chance to experience ToK through the ToK Interview Process in Mr. Hefte’s and Mr. Anagnost’s ToK classes at the Lincoln Community School (LCS) in Accra, Ghana. They designed this interactive process, partnering each of us with a different teacher at LCS who we treated as subject area experts, part of the production of knowledge process. Rather than focus solely on class discussions, we met with these subject area experts right at our own school and discussed knowledge claims, our own knowledge issues, and knowledge questions. They helped us to better understand the knowledge frameworks within which they work every day; that is, the practicalities of the scope and application, language and concepts, methodology, historical developments, and links between shared and personal knowledge. We also discussed with them various ways of knowing and methods of justifying knowledge in their subject areas and Areas of Knowledge (AoK) that are important in confirming that they know a thing or that lead to further questions about knowledge development. What follows is a brief overview of our experiences with our interviewees. Carolyn’s Experience: The Importance of Peer Review My personal interview was with my physics teacher, Brian Gorodetsky. Having recently arrived at LCS, his perspective on ToK and the other topics we discussed was different from that of some colleagues, in that he spoke of the world in general and his many experiences rather than focusing on our local community. This gave breadth to our interviews. Throughout his life, Dr. G had worked in all the disciplines of the natural sciences, not just physics; consequently, he was able to effectively discuss the natural sciences as an area of knowledge. Because he has already obtained his PhD in physical and organic chemistry, I considered Dr. G to play an important role in the production of knowledge process within the natural sciences. We attempted to define what an expert is, and how a person becomes one, focusing specifically on the extent to which experts play a role in the production of knowledge process. We came to discover that peer review was an essential operation in helping experts justify knowledge produced, even though the process sometimes leads to disagreements. My experience with the interview process helped me a lot in writing ToK essays and preparing for ToK presentations, because I received good insight and analysis from an expert who had worked in the field for many years. I got a deeper understanding of the natural sciences as a knowledge framework. Amanda’s Experience: The Importance of Resources With an amateur understanding of the Areas of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing, I went into the interview process as a novice with limited confidence in my ability to articulate ToK concepts. My interviewee, Ann Adu Darko, also embarked on the interview process with limited knowledge of what to expect. One of the biggest topics of discussion during our interview was the idea of the inherent nature of faith, and how faith is determined within an individual. From our discussion, I took away the idea that faith is mainly inherent if it’s introduced to us by authority figures. However, as we arrive at the point where we can make our own individual decisions, one’s faith can become more open for selection. The interview process was a great way to take a risk and get out of both of our comfort zones, getting to know each other on a more personal level. Before my interviewee and I could discuss any new ideas in our interviews, I always had to deeply analyze the IB ToK Guide alongside Lagemaat, to make sure I had a handle on the pertinent information. This meant that I was spending extra time familiarizing myself with the resources available, in order to improve my understanding, so that when I conducted my interviews the discussion would be as compelling as possible. Shir’s Experience: The Challenges of Defining Fact & Truth I chose to focus on history, an AoK I investigated with the help of Mr. Bishop, the MYP Humanities teacher at LCS. I completed a total of three interviews with Mr. Bishop. Doing so helped me understand key concepts in ToK, such as the history knowledge framework and the role of experts, allowing me to apply what I learned in class to a real-world setting. One of our biggest discussions delved into the role of disagreement in history, and how “fact” and “truth” are defined. I now understand that disagreement isn’t an obstacle historians and readers of history must overcome. Rather, it’s a necessity, providing a more nuanced view of the truth, which essentially is the goal of a historian. I initially came into this process thinking this was an assignment I would simply have to get through and complete. However, I discovered in myself a natural curiosity for history as I grew to understand that history is more than just facts in a textbook; it’s the story of where we came from and explains the state our world is in today. I came to understand that history isn’t a static subject, as I had previously thought. Rather, it’s more of a revolving door of “facts” and theories, coming together to form our “truth.” Lessons Learned & Take-aways We benefited from completing the ToK Interview process in our first year of ToK. We feel very well prepared for the presentation and essay assessments that we’re working on now, in our second year. Through this interactive process, we all developed a better understanding of the different factors that impact the production of knowledge in the different AoK we studied. More importantly, we had a chance to see the ToK methodology in practice. Challenging what we know (or think we know) is something professionals do. Working together with our teachers to develop relevant knowledge questions, our interviewees helped us to gain important insights into their own professions. The interview process allowed us to expand not only on our knowledge of the ToK course and of our interviewee, but also to gather a few takeaways about ourselves as learners. We learned, for instance, the relevance of focusing on topics that appeal to our interests. Often, academic papers can feel like a struggle to write and complete. However, because we focused on an AoK of our choice, we found ourselves breezing through the majority of what we had to write. Fortunately, we recorded our interviews, so we had recorded evidence of our discussions. Moreover, this process definitely gave us insight into the complexity of specific AoKs, which we wouldn’t have been able to gain without the discussion with and knowledge of experts. The interview process allowed us to understand ToK on a much deeper level and provided us with insight as to why a critical view of the production of knowledge is important. Our most important take-away? Our respective interviewees have each become life-long mentors.
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