Extending Wednesdays

Mindsets and Cultural Factors

In today’s clip, Stanford University social psychologist Carol Dweck describes how our appreciation of the key distinction between a growth and fixed mindset, despite its universal relevance to a wide variety of different human societies, invariably needs to be presented in a way that specifically resonates with particular cultural values in order to be accepted and properly understood. 

This clip is an excerpt from Ideas Roadshow’s Extending Ideas in Psychology video.  There are 7 different Extending Ideas videos that are part of the extensive collection of authoritative expert resources for the extended essay on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal. Each of those videos features five specific topics highlighted by Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources for a possible extended essay or internal assessment in that subject area.  Meanwhile, the comprehensive Ideas Roadshow Extended Essay Guide for Students highlights an additional 5 possible extended essay ideas for each of the 21 different DP subjects we cover.

Connecting Thursdays

A Worrying Lack of Evidence

How can we be certain that we know the true numbers of people suffering from the coronavirus?

Like many people familiar with TOK, I find myself profoundly bemused when someone starts lamenting how difficult it is to “integrate” theory of knowledge within the DP curriculum.   

In an age of increasing pressure to ensure that students learn the required material for their DP courses, I often hear, ruminating on “how we know what we know” is considered something like an intellectual luxury good  – a good idea to indulge in in theory, but in the real world, who has the time to fit such philosophical speculations into a biology or mathematics course? 

Well, sitting in my quarantined house in France, it’s pretty clear that “the real world” has suddenly caught up with all of us with a thud, and navigating the way forwards is going to be nigh on impossible without a clear understanding of core theory of knowledge principles.   

For a good example of what I’m talking about, check out a particularly thoughtful article by Stanford University epidemiologist John Ioannidis called A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data, where he details how major public policy decisions are currently being made in the absence of any solid evidence, warning us that “the data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable”.   

This article has provoked considerable debate throughout the global health community, but the key point for us is not to directly address its implications for current government policy, but rather to stress that without a rigorous understanding of the true numbers involved it’s impossible to have any real faith in the models being unhesitatingly bandied about in today’s press – a point to most definitely bear in mind the next time you come across an article with eyebrow-raising specifics like, “UK coronavirus crisis to last until spring 2021 and could see 7.9m hospitalised.”

I have never met Dr Ioannidis, and it could well be that he has never heard of “TOK”, let alone the so-called “challenge” of integrating it in today’s Diploma Programme. But it’s hard to think of a stronger argument for its real-world relevance; and I would strongly urge any TOK, biology, business management, chemistry, geography, global politics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology or social and cultural anthropology teachers out there to use this article as a concrete discussion point in their current online teaching.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal you can now sign up for an individual teacher or student subscription. Annual individual subscriptions cost only $99 and provide unlimited access to all resources that are part Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal.

Extending Wednesdays

The Role of Reflection in the Extended Essay

Our first Extending Wednesday guest post is by Alethea Bleyberg. Alethea is an IB educator and examiner based in Hong Kong and is a member of the Extended Essay curriculum review team.

As a member of the curriculum review team for the Extended Essay, I was recently asked to feed back to the team leader my thoughts on the role of reflection in the EE process. Reflection received a new and substantial emphasis in the current EE guide (first assessment 2018) with the introduction of the Researcher’s Reflection Space (RSS), formal reflection sessions and the Reflections on planning and progress form, more commonly known as the RPPF. What follows here are my own thoughts on the role of the reflection in the EE process, in light of the input of the many thoughtful contributions from my fellow team members.

The EE guide, understandably, makes a number of assumptions about the importance of reflection in the Extended Essay process. Reflection, after all, is embedded in the philosophy of all IB programmes. It is one of the ten learner profile attributes. As a metacognitive skill, reflection is a complex process requiring a focus on multiple types of strategies, including cognitive, metacognitive and affective/motivation strategies. Moreover, it is assumed that reflective thinking strategies generally result in increased academic achievement. As a result, reflection is an integral component of virtually all IBDP courses whether it be the process portfolio in Visual Arts, the learner portfolio in Literature: A or the TOK journal in TOK. It was, therefore, no surprise that the last curriculum review resulted in reflection being added as an assessed component in the Extended Essay process. The EE guide sums up its assumptions around the importance of reflection succinctly as follows: 

“As a part of the extended essay, students will be expected to show evidence of intellectual growth, critical and personal development, intellectual initiative and creativity. The depth of reflection will demonstrate that the student has constructively engaged with the learning process. Such engagement provides evidence that the student has grown as a learner as a result of his or her experience. More importantly, it demonstrates skills [such as critical thinking, decision-making, research, planning, time management, citing and referencing] have been learned.” (EE guide p.41)

It seems to me, therefore, that placing emphasis on reflection, especially in a process as complex as the Extended Essay, can only be a good thing. But this by no means answers the following questions around how reflection should be structured, guided, evaluated and assessed in the EE:

I. Structure

  • How do students respond to formal reflection? Do they complete the RPPF reflections as intended? 
  • What is the relationship between the quality of the essay and the quality of the RPPF entries? 
  • Is the structure of the RPPF the best way to collect reflections?
  • Is the 500-word limit a useful tool to ensure concision or limiting to student’s ability to reflect deeply?
  • Are students really keeping a RSS? How are they being rewarded for doing so?

II. Guidance

  • To what extent should students be guided in how to write formal reflections?
  • How well do the materials in the TSM (Teacher Support Materials) reflect how the RPPF is assessed and guide teachers in supporting students?
  • Are some students being over-supported by their supervisor or coordinator in writing the reflections?
  • Should students be allowed to edit their reflections?

III. Evaluation of effectiveness as a teaching tool

  • Is mandatory reflection an authentic task? 
  • How do we know that students have developed key skills in time-management, organization, research, academic writing and academic honesty through the quality of their written reflections? Does the RPPF evaluate students’ ability to write well more than it does their ability to reflect well?
  • Are students that don’t encounter obstacles in the process due to good planning disadvantaged?
  • Is formal reflection effective in ensuring academic integrity?
  • How do we ensure that students avoid purely descriptive reflections but rather demonstrate higher order thinking skills?

IV. Assessment

  • Should reflection be assessed?
  • If so, is 18% (6/34) of the EE mark an appropriate weighting? 
  • If not, how should students be penalized for not providing reflections?
  • Are the current descriptors in Criterion E fit for purpose in evaluating the quality of student reflection?
  • Are examiners evaluating RPPFs on their own merit or in relation to the quality of the essay (as many EE coordinators report)? If the latter, is that appropriate?

I will try to summarise my thoughts on each of the categories above as best as I can:

I. Structure

In my own experience with students, the quality of the reflections often fails to live up to the quality of the EE. Occasionally this is because students don’t actually complete the reflections when they should in the process, but even when they do, I have found even some of my brightest students’ reflections rather superficial and focused on the less interesting parts of their project. The feedback I have received from my students is that they see reflection as an afterthought to an already daunting process, and something of an IB box-ticking exercise rather than a process designed to support their success. Certainly, it would be possible to integrate reflection within the structure of the EE, but the danger of this is that it could interrupt the writer’s flow and sound inauthentic. 

My own feeling is that the RPPF is largely fit for purpose, but that the 500-word limit discourages students from more meaningful, in-depth reflection. I would like to see the RSS and RPPF merged in some way so that reflection becomes an integral part of the EE process for students, although I acknowledge that student’s natural inclination is to do the bare minimum. Still, I feel that if students could choose three of a wider range of more detailed (hence longer) reflections, they would be more likely to choose reflections that better articulate the parts of the process that were most significant for them.

II. Guidance

I am a strong believer in scaffolding students’ learning experiences and providing explicit guidance on how to write strong reflections along with exemplars is the best way to raise expectations around written reflections. The poor quality of reflections seen by many EE coordinators and examiners suggests there is still a way to go to ensuring most IB Diploma students are confident and articulate reflective thinkers. To that end, the materials in the TSM could be improved to support EE supervisors and coordinators in clarifying expectations and standards to students, and supporting students in improving the quality of their own reflections.

III. Evaluation of effectiveness as a teaching tool

Most would agree that mandatory reflection is an authentic task as it is required not only in school settings, but increasingly by universities and in workplaces (think goal-setting, performance management, professional coaching, editing written work, the design thinking process etc.). 

The extent to which written reflections actually demonstrate mastery of key skills is more contested. Surely the quality of the essay itself is more important in assessing the extent to which self-management, research, communication and thinking skills have been shown in the process. The experience of many EE coordinators is that the marks awarded in Criteria A-D closely match those awarded for Criterion E, regardless of the quality of the reflections. It would be interesting to see a statistical analysis of the correlation between marks for Criteria A-D compared to Criterion E to see how closely aligned the marking of EEs and RPPFs is. If the correlation is strong, perhaps further investigation is needed into why this is the case. It would perhaps also be useful for the IB to make available some examples of EEs whose RPPF was much stronger than the essay itself, especially where the RPPF was the element that pushed the EE over a grade boundary, to highlight the importance of reflection in the EE process.

IV. Assessment

The current weighting, at nearly 20%, seems to place too heavy an emphasis on the RPPF compared to the rigours of the essay itself. The RPPF seems to disproportionately reward reflection over other skills fundamental in a successful EE process. 

Some students, seeing that in Criterion E it is suggested that students address how they overcame challenges, seem to exaggerate or make up problems they encountered. Alternatively, students who planned their process well sometimes feel disadvantaged in not having a dramatic obstacle to reflect on. Perhaps this could be clarified in the next guide so that students are reassured they don’t have to have overcome a major hurdle to be rewarded in Criterion E.

As a former IB Diploma graduate, IB Diploma and EE Coordinator, imagining the future of the Extended Essay and contributing to improvements to the process for students is a joy and a privilege.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

TOK Tuesdays

The Map as Metaphor – Part 2

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Bringing it down to street level:  We have seen that since maps cannot display all the information that is contained in the world, they have to make choices of what they are going to present.  The map, after all, is not the territory. And, among those choices are the type and quantity of information to include as well as the scale (size), orientation, and the projection of the map. These choices will be determined, wholly or in part, by the purpose the map will serve. 

It seems to me that these previous maps are at such a small scale (and thus display a vast territory) that it may be helpful to move to more large scale maps and therefore explore a smaller, and perhaps more familiar territory. In the following images we can see several depictions of the city of London.  Again, each of these maps depict, essentially, the same “territory,” or the same physical location. But, the map maker couldn’t include everything, and so had to ask the question, “What is the purpose of this map?” and then included the information that best suits that outcome.  For example, map # 7, depicting the London Underground, doesn’t even try to show you what is on the street surface of London, but it will prove a useful tool to travel on the Underground. 


Image #7 File:London Underground Overground DLR Crossrail map.svg
Attribution: Sameboat [CC BY-SA (]

Image # 8, a “London Tourist Map” wouldn’t prove very useful in navigating the underground, but would certainly help you plan a sightseeing day around the city.  And, while map #9 won’t really help you travel anywhere, this map of London showing levels of income deprivation might prove very useful if you were looking for a good neighborhood in which to buy a flat, which areas to avoid when buying a flat, or where you might most effectively place social services. 

Coming back around to TOK:  Similar to the way these maps function, we can extend our metaphor to include the Areas of Knowledge in TOK. An Area of Knowledge attempts to “map”  the “territory” of a specific body of knowledge. For example, the Natural Sciences are seeking to describe (map) the Natural World. A discipline within that Area of Knowledge, like Biology, is then “mapping” the physical processes and structures of living organisms. Just as no map can include all the information about the world, an Area of Knowledge will only be able to describe a portion of the (potential) knowledge in any given area. Maps (which take the form of formulas, models, equations, laws and theories etc.) will never equal the territory but can depict particular slices of it. 

Picture a World Atlas, full of many different maps of the same territory. Some maps show topography, others vegetation or precipitation patterns, while still others still may display population distribution. Each map has a particular and specialized function, and together they form a solid representation of the Territory, but are still inferior to the real deal. The Areas of Knowledge are like a Grand Atlas of Knowledge, in which an Area of Knowledge describes or maps a particular section in that atlas. Each Area of Knowledge uses a specific set of filters and displays only the appropriate portion of knowledge it is designed for. In the chart below we can fill in the blanks to help us understand the knowledge/territory each Area of Knowledge maps.

There is a powerful message here for the IB student. The chart above implies that each Area of Knowledge has a corresponding territory of knowledge that it best represents. But life is never that neat and easy. The reality is that knowledge areas overlap and often compete. Sometimes in the margins between the two, a beautiful synergy emerges. I think here about how the marriage of quantitative and qualitative data produces fantastic results in the Human Sciences and how mathematical approaches can aid in understanding the natural world, for example in the juxtaposition of biology and mathematics in the mapping of the Human Genome.  

But what happens when that intersection is less neat, or less orderly?  Can ethics describe, or map, the territory of the natural world? Conversely, how can the Natural Sciences map the territory of Faith and Worship?  This doesn’t mean that they don’t try. And, here, problems emerge. The map now is of the wrong territory.  Imagine trying to use your London Underground Map to navigate the streets of London.  It isn’t that the map is wrong, it is that we have chosen to use it for a purpose it was never intended.  In building knowledge, we have to choose the appropriate map, just like we have to choose the correct methodology and area of knowledge depending on the knowledge territory we are trying to navigate.  Just as we don’t use a hammer on a screw, we need the right tool for the right job. 

It might seem easier to just try to avoid these conflicts. I could say to you, “Choose easy and straightforward maps,” and you will be sure “to find the correct route,” whether your destination is knowledge or an actual physical locale.  The easiest pathway might be to try to isolate those Areas of Knowledge that don’t seem natural partners. But, this convenient evasion would ignore the fact that sometimes, in knowledge, we need to facilitate “arranged marriages.” Science, for example, does not naturally seek ethical restraints, it just wants to experiment and learn, and so it needs a little Ethics, the layering together of these strange bedfellows is often a necessary condition on the knowledge journey. 

By guest author Daryl Hitchcock.


Monmonier, Mark S. How to Lie with Maps 3rd Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018

Turnbull, David, and Helen Watson. Maps are territories: science is an atlas : a portfolio of exhibits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Further Reading: 

An online exhibit of Turnbull’s excellent book is available here

A link to Korzybski’s original article from which the metaphor is derived, here  

Our brain as a map, here

How maps shape our mind, here

How digital maps change our notion of “getting lost”, here

TOK Tuesdays

The Map as Metaphor – Part 1

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal provides a strong pedagogical framework through a user-friendly interface. Teachers and students can access a unique collection of engaging, authoritative videos in different formats plus helpful supporting materials for the Extended Essay, for TOK, to integrate TOK across the DP curriculum and motivational and curriculum-related resources across 21 DP subjects for teaching & learning. 

Maps help us order and organize the world:    I truly love maps. Maps stir the heart to adventure, they tickle the imagination and inspire wanderlust. Maps are both beautiful and useful and they hint at endless possibilities. Maps guide us (they tell us where to go); maps orient us (they point us in a certain direction); and maps place us in context (they tell us what is around us).  But, and herein lies the inherent problem with maps, in attempting to depict a three dimensional sphere on a two dimensional plane, maps also warp the world. They stretch it out and fatten it up; they shrink and flatten; they tell half truths and white lies in order to tell their stories. Ultimately, as Mark Monmonier (see footnote 1 below) tells us, all maps lie.  And, they have to, otherwise they would overwhelm the reader out of sheer size and/or density of information.  

Below, in images #1 and #2, are a couple of my favorite maps.  It is ok if you didn’t recognize them immediately as maps. Most people wouldn’t necessarily make that connection the first time they see them.   Maybe you would prefer if your maps were printed on paper, or more likely today in the form of a google map, and to follow certain standard conventions.  These “maps” were navigational aids for natives of Greenland and the Marshall Islands respectively, and they are clearly not your standard fare.  The first shows coastal formations, the notches on the wood showing inlets and waterways, while the second shows islands (the cowrie shells) and currents and swells lines (the sticks) in the South Pacific.  They were useful tools in order to organize, order and navigate the world their creators lived in, but they probably challenge conventional notions of what makes a good map.

Since this is a TOK article, you might find it normal if these maps seem a bit confusing.  Whether you have just started the IB Diploma programme, are nearly done, or find yourself somewhere in between, you are probably already aware that many students find their IB Theory of Knowledge course challenging.  This course, unlike other IB classes, is not content centered.  There is no set of core systems, equations, close readings or vocabulary terms that one must memorize or master to successfully complete this course. Nor is there a list of dates, facts and terms that you can simply memorize to pass a quiz or a test. 

Theory of Knowledge might sometimes feel a bit like a philosophy class and at other times like a debate class, and there are seldom objectively “right answers.”  You are asked to consider big questions regarding the formation and foundation of knowledge, and to compare those claims across various academic disciplines and areas of knowledge, and for those of you casting about for a safety net, the answer to every other odd question is not found in the back of the book.  In fact, you are probably asking yourself, “What book?

The Map Metaphor and the IB:  You might also be asking yourself what maps have to do with Theory of Knowledge.  This is a fair question. In the current iteration of the IB guide, and continuing into the next guide coming online in 2020, the IB has urged that teachers help their students to understand “The Map Metaphor.”  This metaphor, first put forward by Alfred Korbyski tells us that “the map is not the territory.”  “Wait,” you might be saying, “I thought a map was a depiction of some territory?”  This may be true, but, essentially, he is claiming that the elements (whether words, maps, models or formulas) we use to depict a real thing are not actually the same as the reality they represent.  They are instead limited models, abstractions, or depictions of only a certain part (or parts) of that reality.  

Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I am asked to use a complex metaphor to understand an even more difficult concept, I get a funny feeling in my stomach. That feeling tells me that this might be a difficult concept that needs some serious unpacking.  With that in mind, in this article I want to try to do three things. Firstly, I want to spend a little time explaining what metaphors are, and how they can help us to understand complex problems. Then I will look at the rich world of maps to help us understand what maps are, and how they might help you better understand the worlds they represent.  Finally, I will look at how Areas of Knowledge might function as types of “maps” and how they might best display that knowledge.  

Why we use Metaphors:  Metaphors are useful tools that help you to scaffold your understanding of a new idea or concept. They can make the strange seem familiar.  The metaphor then creates a link between the known idea, and the new concept. In image #3 (below) you can see that we are constantly using metaphors to understand the world around us. Maps are just one type of metaphor. 

Image #3:

Each Map tells a story, just not the whole story: Let’s return back to our maps.  Most of us are familiar with world maps. You might have one hanging in your classroom, or even on the wall in your bedroom.  In images 4, 5, and 6 you can see three different world maps. While each map is a “World Map” they can each only depict a portion of that world, and, as you can quickly see, they are very different.  The first (image 4) is a medieval world map. You might not have even recognized it as a map. At first glance it would be easy to dismiss it as dated (which it certainly is) or wildly inaccurate. And, you would be correct in doing so if you were trying to use this map as a navigational tool or as a way to find current national borders.  But, to dismiss it out of turn as inaccurate would be to dismiss the purpose of this map. In some regards this map depicts the world of the medieval mapmaker (and those who would have consulted it) more accurately than the maps that follow. Unlike the maps that you are probably more familiar with, it is oriented (pointed) toward the East (toward Jerusalem) and divides the known continents between the sons of Noah as described in the Old Testament. It portrays a world-view that is consistent within the context it was constructed.

In the following images (5 and 6) we return to more familiar looking territory. These two maps depict the world using two of the most common map projections, the Mercator projection and the Gall-Peters projection.  Map projections allow the map maker to display a three dimensional object (the globe) on a two dimensional plane (the map) but there are always sacrifices to be made.  The first (Mercator) preserves lines of constant reckoning and relative shape thus allowing it to serve as a navigational aid, but it enlarges certain areas, making them appear much larger (e.g. Greenland and Canada) than they really are.   The Gall-Peters projection, on the other hand, preserves relative size while distorting shape. Additionally, the Mercator map shows political divisions and countries, while the Gall-Peters shows topography. In order to evaluate which of these maps is the best or most accurate map then, the first question you would have to ask would be, “for what purpose is the map going to be used?”  Is it a concept map, a navigational aid, a political map, or something else entirely? The “best” map then is, at least in part, determined by the usefulness of the map.

  1. Monmonier, Mark S. How to Lie with Maps 3rd Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. pg 1.

Acknowledgments by guest author Daryl Hitchcock: 

I would like to mention the influence of Matthew Edney Ph.D. Matthew is the Osher Professor in the History of Cartography, at the University of Southern Maine. He is also the Project Director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and many, many years ago now he planted the seeds for this article.  I hope upon reading this he would find that I remembered something and that I got it at least partially correct.

Extending Wednesdays

Money & Science

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Economics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, and features renowned scientist, polymath and author Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, reflecting on how underlying economic motivations often drive scientific inquiry. 

The fact that science, like any other human activity, is subjected to large-scale economic influences is hardly surprising when one stops to think about it, but often scientific activity is treated as somehow “beyond” standard economic frameworks with incentive structures considered to be based solely on internal scientific criteria or a more abstract, idealistic evaluation of “research interest”.

But Professor Dyson’s comments shed light on several important factors directly correlated with the economics of scientific research, ranging from a waste of human capital on a large-scale sociological level to an increased sense of personal and professional frustration on a personal one. 

This topic bridges Economics, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Systems and Societies.  Possible areas of investigation for an Extended Essay include analytical studies of the influence of economic factors on specific avenues of scientific research and the associated complexities of objectively quantifying innovation and productivity in the context of scientific research.

Related resources that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal include the clips Too Much String, and Suddenly Fashionable, as well as the hour-long videos and accompanying enhanced eBooks Pushing The Boundaries and The Problems of Physics which include a wealth of additional research materials.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription. Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

TOK Tuesdays

Back To The Future

Reculer pour mieux sauter

Change is difficult. Few of us relish the prospect of moving out of our comfort zone and finding ourselves forced to grapple with new circumstances and uncertain directions. But despite the practical challenges that change often brings, the prospect of change also presents opportunities – not just in terms of future possibilities to do things better (although that’s certainly true), but even more significantly, in providing a concrete occasion to re-examine why we are doing what we’re doing in the first place.  

It is with this firmly in mind, then, that I’d like to turn my attention to the upcoming changes in the TOK curriculum, the subject of a series of online events we’ll be holding starting next week that are open to all. Many TOK teachers are understandably worried about what the concrete impact that such changes will have on them and their students: How will this affect my teaching? To what extent will this impact my students’ essays? In what ways will the new TOK exhibition differ from the current TOK presentation?  

All good questions; and our upcoming online event series is explicitly designed to openly discuss these issues, and a good many more besides, with a wide variety of TOK practitioners.   

But in my upcoming presentation on January 23 that will kick off the series, I will instead switch gears somewhat to focus on the origins of TOK, reflecting on what the IB founders had in mind when they began developing the DP curriculum before then turning my attention to considering how the upcoming changes might be considered with respect to this pioneering philosophy.  In (current) TOK language, in other words, my approach will thus be to combine the WOKs of imagination, memory and reason with the AOKs of history and human sciences.  

Why take this approach?  Well, there are a few reasons:

First, there is the general principle, as alluded to above, that in order to best appreciate where one is going it is often necessary to deeply understand where one has been. 

Secondly, trying to understand why something has been done (whether or not one happens to agree with it), is frequently an important aspect of the process of coming to terms with how, exactly, to deal with it.  

Lastly, my unique background of having a wide range of TOK-related research experiences and perspectives while not being a practicing TOK teacher, places me in an ideal position to frame this issue in a more general  historical and ideological context. 

First, there is the general principle, as alluded to above, that in order to best appreciate where one is going it is often necessary to deeply understand where one has been. 

Once I have set the stage with next Thursday’s presentation, the following events will involve discussions with a variety of different TOK practitioners to get their perspectives on a wide range of issues both directly, and indirectly, linked to the changes to the new TOK curriculum.  Based on the enthusiastic feedback we have received throughout the global TOK community to the mere mention of the possibility of holding such events, we are very much looking forward to the opportunity to constructively interact and engage with a wide cross-section of TOK teachers.

If your school does not have an institutional subscription to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal yet you can now sign up for an individual subscription.

Annual individual teacher or student subscriptions cost only $75 and provide unlimited access to all resources. School-wide subscriptions are affordably priced based on the number of DP students in your school.

Connecting Thursdays

Porous Boundaries

In what ways does historical knowledge progress?

For many people, it’s hard to think of a more static field of endeavour than history.  After all, everything that historians study happened in the past – often in the quite distant past – and the past, famously, doesn’t have the capacity to change. 

Those developing a TOK-related understanding may start to appreciate that things are not quite that black and white, as our current cultural values condition us to look differently at the same historical events than others who possess a different background would likely do.  

But what even a sophisticated TOK-aware person might miss is that some of those very values explicitly include historical categories themselves.  In this clip, Princeton University historian David Cannadine describes how recent historical understanding is beginning to re-assess the views that past historians thought were, well, written in stone.   

It’s worth mentioning that the filter of religious conflict is hardly the only one that Professor Cannadine takes aim at in his work on re-appraising what he calls the “boundaries of identity” as historical justification. In his book, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, and virtually all of the associated Ideas Roadshow IBDP videos, he examines no less than six different categories of what he calls “collective identity and collective antagonism” – religion, nation, class, gender, race and civilization – to demonstrate that, properly viewed, a proper historical understanding is invariably vastly more complicated than most people recognize.

Related resources and supporting materials that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to explicitly integrate TOK in history:  TOK Connections Guide for History, TOK Connections Guide for English A: Language & Literature, TOK Connections Guide for SCA, Rethinking History (TOK), Towards Better Explanations (TOK), The Historian’s Task (TOK), History TOK Sampler.


Extending Wednesdays

Linguistic Diversity

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Geography section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where UC San Diego linguist Carol Padden reflects on the impact our modern technological era is having on linguistic diversity around the world.

Prof. Padden points out two opposite trends: the difficulty of maintaining linguistic diversity in an increasingly globalized world and connected technology and the opportunities that precisely these technologies give to those who wish to study and learn new languages. 

The case of sign language is even more complex still, as it was only about 50 years ago, thanks largely to the pioneering work of Bill Stokoe, that what he designated as “American Sign Language” was even recognized to be a unique language at all. 

This topic bridges Geography, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Language & Literature and ITGS.  Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include analytical studies of the rate of change of linguistic diversity, the impact of technology on cultural norms, language learning through technology, and objective measures of evaluating language acquisition.

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clips Different Modalities, Humour in Sign Language, Losing the Sharp Edges, Signing As Language, The Roots of Sign Language, the compilation videos Language and Culture, Examining Community and The Science of Language and the two hour-long videos and accompanying enhanced eBook, Sign Language Linguistics.

TOK Tuesdays

TOK Title Tips, Part 2 – The Power of Persuasion

In last week’s post, TOK Title Tips, Part 1 – Getting Practical, I highlighted two of five key points (“Make an argument” and “Decide on your argument before you write”) that students should bear in mind as they turn to the concrete task of constructing their TOK essay.  Today, in this last TOK Tuesdays post of 2019, I will tackle the remaining three.  

3) Tackle the soft spots in your argument

This one might seem particularly strange.   After all, why should an essay writer point out the inherent weaknesses in her argument?  Won’t that run a serious risk of damaging one’s case and result in a poorer mark?  

No.  Not if it’s done right. 

It’s important to emphasize that any sophisticated argument is going to have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes TOK advocates like to highlight that, “In TOK, unlike other courses, there is no one right answer.”  Which is true enough. But the important point to stress is that this is hardly simply an idiosyncrasy of TOK. There is “no one right answer” to how to go about addressing climate change, or which social programmes to fund over others, or how to conduct an effective international trade strategy, or how to shape an investment portfolio, or which historical “lessons” provide the most insight to our current situation or which work of music is a masterpiece. Indeed, it is safe to say that virtually all the really interesting questions one can encounter in life do not have “one right answer”. Which is, of course, why exposure to TOK thinking is so important to everyone, as there is no other course which better prepares people for critical engagement with the world around them.

But precisely because TOK forces one to grapple with the real, complex, messy world with a wealth of different perspectives and many shades of grey – that is to say, because a response to a knowledge question is necessarily open-ended and a matter of opinion, it is important to recognize that other people will have different views and different arguments, and that a truly persuasive essay will be one that explicitly considers those before later rejecting or minimizing them. By doing this, you will make it clear to examiners that you have considered a wealth of different arguments and counter-arguments before settling on your own, rather than merely opting for a particular view simply because it seemed immediately plausible.

4) Choose your examples (and AOKs) wisely

This point is really a natural consequence of the first three: your first job is to formulate an argument, which needs to be sketched out in general terms before you start to write.  Then you have to become aware of what a critic of your position would say. Now, finally, it’s time to make your case.  

One of the best ways to do this is by selecting concrete examples that reinforce your position while tangibly demonstrating why an opposite view is much less convincing.  

Clearly, if you haven’t gone through the first three steps carefully, you will have no good way of assessing which examples will be “good ones” for you and which ones will be worse. 

The same is true for your choice of AOKs.  As you are doubtless keenly aware, half of the prescribed titles specifically ask you to discuss matters with respect to two AOKs. Some students rush to choose their AOKs ahead of time, often based on which ones they “like better” or “feel more comfortable with”.  But this makes no sense. The two AOKs you select for such titles should be those that best help you make your argument as described above. Which means that you first need to have the clearest possible sense of what that is, together with which general issues need to be addressed.    

Maybe you will choose two different AOKs to demonstrate that the same sort of applies to two entirely different domains.  Or perhaps you will deliberately opt for invoking an AOK “naturally associated” with an opposing view to illustrate why it doesn’t hold water.  Or maybe you will become convinced that the most appropriate response to the title actually depends, somehow, on the AOK that is chosen. But whatever your direction, your choice of AOKs needs to be an inherent part of your argument and not simply some random choice or one made out of habit. 

5) Get a range of different views

Finally, let’s imagine that the first draft of your essay is finished. What should you do now? Well, most people simply submit their draft to their teacher as part of the standard TOK essay timeline procedure.

Of course that’s an important thing to do: bouncing your work off an experienced pair of eyes to get good, concrete advice is always a good idea.  But the point worth stressing here is that nothing stops you from getting the broadest possible feedback you can. What do your friends think of it?  What do your parents have to say? Remember, you’re making an argument here. Can others understand it? Are they convinced by it? Are there parts of it that don’t make sense to them?  

Of course different people will say and think different things, and it’s your essay: you have every right to ignore whatever anyone else says and simply do what you want. But chances are if nobody follows your argument you are not making it very convincingly, or at least not convincingly enough.  

Because of their combined experience in TOK and essay-writing, your teacher’s criticisms will likely be the most valuable and should therefore be recognized as such. But teachers are human too. Maybe you’ve discussed your essay so many times with your teacher that she “knows what you mean to say” even if you don’t actually say it properly. Perhaps she unthinkingly “fills in the blanks” of an argument which isn’t, in fact, made. Or maybe your teacher is naturally disposed to your argument, or is somewhat preoccupied with working with other students who are struggling more significantly with how to build their essay. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the point of the venture is not simply to make your teacher happy, but to have the strongest possible essay – and the best way to ensure that that is the case is to prove to yourself that your argument can convince the broadest cross-section of people.

Six comprehensive Titled Assistance videos – one for each of the six May 2020 Prescribed Titles – are now available on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to all individual subscribers and subscribing schools. They can be found in the Theory of Knowledge section (under “TOK Compilations”), Student TOK section and Teacher Resources section.  All videos contain a wealth of revealing examples associated with each PT drawn from Ideas Roadshow’s extensive video resources.

Visit our informational website, here, if you’d like to learn more about the innovative TOK resources Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal offers to support students and teachers.