Connecting Thursdays

The Science of Language

In the Ideas Roadshow compilation video, The Science of Language, 5 celebrated researchers in different disciplines discuss groundbreaking experiments that are performed in language research and explore fascinating questions related to language, such as: What is a language and what isn’t? How does bilingualism affect the plasticity of our brain and ability to learn? What does it mean to have an impairment when using sign language?

Next to the video you can see what the accompanying worksheet/mini-lesson plan looks like on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal.

Featured are the following experts:

  • Ellen Bialystok, world-renowned specialist in bilingualism, York University
  • Carol Padden, Dean Communication, UC San Diego & and sign-language expert
  • Martin Monti, neuroscientist and expert in brain-imaging
  • Victor Ferreira, psychologist and specialist in language development
  • Greg Hickok, neuroscientist, UC Irvine

You can find 64 more compilation videos on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal in addition to 500+ videos in different formats for TOK, TOK integration, EE and 21 DP subjects!

Connecting Thursdays

A Body of Information

How does our understanding of information impact our knowledge about the world?

In today’s clip from Ideas Roadshow’s TOK Connections Overview Video for Computer Science, University of Oxford and National University of Singapore quantum computer pioneer Prof. Artur Ekert highlights how our new-found appreciation of the inherent physical nature of information has profoundly changed our understanding of what computers are and what they are actually doing.

(Excerpt from TOK Connections Overview Video for Computer Science)

This clip called The Physics of Information is a real-world example of TOK-related thinking in Computer Science which you can use to explicitly integrate TOK into your Computer Science lessons.  Prof. Ekert highlights how appreciating the physical essence of information has influenced our concepts of algorithms, computation and even reality. If your school has access to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, make sure to also view the TOK clip called Applied Philosophy and chapters 6-9 of long-format video and enhanced eBook called Cryptoreality, Part. 1.

Interested in learning more about Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources to explicitly integrate TOK across the DP curriculum?

Make sure to watch this informational video in the TOK section above – here – which will show you how Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal offers subject teachers a wide range of unique TOK integration materials across 21 DP subjects to incorporate TOK explicitly and easily into their lesson planning.

Ideas Roadshow’s extensive collection of TOK resources enables teachers to quickly and easily invoke a wide range of concrete teaching strategies for the core theme, the five optional themes and AOKs, while providing a wealth of additional student support for both the TOK essay and the TOK exhibition.

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

Narrowing Differences

To what extent can we objectively measure our moral beliefs?

Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal is a highly established researcher on the behaviour of chimpanzees and bonobos, but most people know him as a prolific award-winning popularizer of his research, with over 35 years of bestselling books beginning with Chimpanzee Politics in the early 1980s.

The fact that he has so consistently documented his thoughts for both a specialized and popular audience made him, I thought, the perfect test case to measure how, and why, our beliefs change. Sure enough, when I asked him how his opinions on animal morality have evolved throughout the course of his research career he was able to respond straight away.

(Excerpt from Testing Morality featuring Prof. Frans de Waal)

The “ultimatum game” that Prof. de Waal mentions in this clip is explained in detail in the video Testing Morality.  Essentially, he applies and extends the famous behavioural test pioneered by economists to measure people’s sense of fairness to other primates, en route illustrating not just that chimpanzees have a similar sense of fairness to humans, but – equally intriguingly – that moral understanding, at times at least, can be derived from the same objective experimental process that gives rise to so much of our natural and human science knowledge.  

We offer all schools affected by Covid-19 free access for 1 month to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, an extensive IB-specific database of authoritative digital resources for EE/IAs, TOK, TOK integration across the DP curriculum and curriculum-aligned resources for 21 DP subjects. Please visit our website, HERE, for further details.

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.

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.


Connecting Thursdays

Missionary Boomerang

How does contact with other cultures change our own?

The standard view of missionaries is pretty one-sided. A smug, culturally imperialist power sends out its emissaries to unapologetically “convert” the “unenlightened” to their prevailing world-view.

Well, in many ways that’s a pretty reasonable account of what has transpired over the centuries.   But in a clip from Ideas Roadshow’s TOK Compilation called The Impact of Missionaries, UC Berkeley historian of religion David Hollinger explains that the impact of missionaries was hardly limited to the places they were sent to.

Prof. Hollinger develops this thesis in detail in his intriguing book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, describing the increasing tension that developed by what he calls the “cosmopolitan missionaries” and the provincial churchgoers” resulting in the current rift in today’s America between so-called Ecumenical Protestants and Evangelical Protestants.  

Meanwhile, from a TOK perspective, primary issues centre around our level of certainty of our religious and social world-views and how they influence, and are influenced, by our interactions with others. 

Connecting Thursdays

Fundamental or Accidental?

To what extent can we determine if what we observe is an inevitable consequence of a fundamental law or simply happenstance?

For those who are scratching their heads trying to imagine how principles of TOK can relate to a subject like physics, it’s hard to think of a more illustrative example than Darwin and the Butterfly featuring astrophysicist Scott Tremaine, Institute for Advanced Study. 

Professor Tremaine confronts us with a problem that arises with remarkable frequency in his discipline: how can we be certain that what we detect in a given system is fundamental or accidental? 

He describes how, in our solar system, all the large planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – are all considerably further away from the sun than the small planets like Earth, prompting the key question, “Is that an accident? Do giant planets somehow have to form at large distances away from their star? Or is it just a peculiar feature of the solar system?”    

For those of you who might be thinking that this is just of “academic interest”, in a related Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP clip – Hunting Exoplanets – Professor Tremaine describes how the current search for exoplanets which is garnering widespread interest among scientists and non-scientists alike could, actually, have been successfully conducted decades earlier, but astronomers simply assumed that all solar systems had to be structured similarly to our own.  And it turns out that they don’t. How’s that for TOK in action?

A sample of related Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources to integrate TOK across the DP curriculum:  TOK Connections Guide for Physics, TOK Connections Guide for Biology, TOK Connections Guide for Philosophy, Darwin and the Butterfly (TOK), Hunting Exoplanets (TOK), Sherlock Holmes vs. Stamp Collecting (TOK), Deducing Black Holes (TOK), Natural Sciences TOK Sampler.

Connecting Thursdays

Undue Influence

Under what circumstances do authority figures inhibit the development of knowledge?

Most researchers like to proudly evoke the titans of their field. Biologists are quick to mention Darwin, mathematicians Gauss and historians Thucydides.  And even when limitations to their work are contemplated it’s done gently, with the utmost respect. You might think that The Republic’s view of the ideal society leans dangerously towards the totalitarian, or be hard at work on “extensions” to general theory of relativity, but the thought that Plato or Einstein had anything even remotely resembling a negative influence on philosophy or physics would never enter your head.  

But what about psychology? In particular, what about the figure of Sigmund Freud, doubtless the most famous psychologist the world has known and clearly one of the founding fathers of the entire discipline.    

In this clip, UC Berkeley sleep scientist Prof. Matthew Walker ruminates on how the enormous influence of Freud had a decidedly negative impact on the science of sleep and dreams – an influence that, he claims, we’re still living with.

Prof. Walker’s arguments are, it should be stressed, decidedly TOK-related. His concern doesn’t just focus on Freud as an authority figure and our unwillingness to question established opinion, it’s strongly related to his belief in the nature of appropriate evidence for a scientific theory – more specifically on how the inherently unverifiable nature of Freudian thinking is antithetical to our modern scientific principles. 

Related Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources and supporting materials:  TOK Connections Guide for Psychology, In Freud’s Shadow (TOK), Evolutionary Evidence (TOK), Sleep Attitudes (TOK), Sleep and Memory (TOK).

Connecting Thursdays

The Lower Ground

How do we know when common societal stereotypes are false?

Quick, what comes to mind when you hear the word “schizophrenic”?  If you’re like most people, you’ll probably conjure up shadowy visions of multiple personalities or violent criminals. You certainly wouldn’t think of an award-winning law professor with an endowed chair and her own institute (“Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics”).

But you’d be wrong on both counts.  

Before she published her bestselling memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, USC law professor Elyn Saks was recommended by one of her friends to publish it under a pseudonym.  “Do you want to become forever known as ‘the schizophrenic with a job‘?”, her friend probed her.   

Elyn did, eventually, reject the advice, opting to publish the book under her real name.  Her reasoning, she told me, was simply, “I could never write anything that could possibly be more helpful to other people than telling my story, and it was worth the risk.”

When all was said and done, her decision was clearly the right one.  But it’s important to remember that the risk was real.  

And it shouldn’t have been. 

Related Ideas Roadshow IBDP resources include Ideas Roadshow’s TOK Connections Guide for Geography, TOK Connections Guide for SCA, TOK Connections Guide for Psychology, the video clips Stereotypes of Mental Illness (TOK) and Mental Illness and Autonomy (TOK). 

Your school has not subscribed yet? Visit our website – HERE – to learn more about Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal which offers an extensive database of authoritative video and print resources explicitly created to meet the needs of both teachers and students throughout the Diploma Programme.

Connecting Thursdays

Fake “Fake News”?

How do we know when our collective moral standards are slipping?

Few these days would argue with the claim that we are currently wading through one of the most morally challenging moments in modern times: from the American impeachment proceedings to never-ending Brexit diatribes to the all-pervasive spectre of “fake news”, the world seems to be ever-increasingly polarized into rancorous tribes loudly decrying the unparallelled depths of moral turpitude displayed by their unconscionably brazen opponents.  

But is that, in fact, true? 

Renowned UC Berkeley intellectual historian Martin Jay’s careful, studied reflections gives us pause. Watch the video called Decline? featuring Prof. Jay.

Professor Jay, I am quite confident, would hardly claim that all ages are inherently identical or that we should necessarily be complacent in the current social and political climate, only that we stop for a moment to indulge in some careful, historically informed comparisons before rushing off to the land of hyperbolic judgements about the unprecedented moral decline we are living through.  

Such talk might well make for popular television.  But that hardly makes it true.  

We offer all schools affected by Covid-19 free access for 1 month to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, an extensive IB-specific database of authoritative digital resources for EE/IAs, TOK, TOK integration across the DP curriculum and curriculum-aligned resources for 21 DP subjects. Please visit our website, HERE, for further details.