A month of TOK at Marymount!


“How do we know what we know?”


This is the fundamental question that underlies what Grade 11 and 12 IB students learn in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) as part of the Diploma programme. TOK is one of the components of the IB’s core and is central to the educational philosophy of the IB Diploma. It provides students with the chance to reflect on the nature of knowing, and on how we know what we claim to know. During November 2019, all the students in Marymount engaged in a series of TOK-based activities and programmes, allowing students to immerse themselves in the world of TOK, gaining much more insight as to what this subject holds and why it is so important.


Grade 11 Trip to Hampton Court

On the 13thof November 2019, the Grade 11 students had the opportunity to go to Hampton Court Palace. The aim of the visit was to give students the chance to apply the TOK knowledge they developed in class in an external environment, applying different Ways of Knowing (WOK) and Areas of Knowledge (AOK) to what we saw in the places within the palace. During the trip, they got the chance to split into groups and see the different parts of the palace, and for each location they were given a knowledge question to think about concerning different AOKs such as religion, art, and maths. For example, they got to see the main chapel and simultaneously reflect on whether reason is irrelevant where religion is concerned. Another example is the visit to the palace maze, where they all considered the link between mathematics and beauty. This was a good opportunity for the Grade 11 students to apply their TOK knowledge in a real-life context inspired by the world around them, and also start getting inspiration for their essay assignment later in the term. The students even got to take a part in a small scavenger hunt to learn more about the history of the palace, and buy many souvenirs as well!


NHS Lecture Series Talk by Naomi Grimley

On the 21stof November 2019, the NHS Lecture Series, in conjunction with the theme of ‘KNOW-vember’, brought in BBC News Global Affairs Correspondent Ms Naomi Grimley to talk about working in the media as well as the TOK aspects of it. Ms Grimley discussed ever-present knowledge issues that arise in contemporary news stories, insight into the world of the media and the difficulties in ascertaining the truth.


During the talk, students got to learn about the different ways we can gather news (such as through social media and newspapers) and got to take part in an engaging conversation about the modern problems of news. Some examples included group thinking, fake news, bias and propaganda. The students also learned the many different ways through which they can check if the sources they use in their research are true and reliable, such as looking at the language used, talking to people about the topic, and checking the level of authority the source has. Everybody got a  chance to ask Ms Grimley questions about her life as a journalist, learning how a normal day as a journalist is like, hearing some wonderful stories of the work she has done, as well as advice on the field of journalism.

One of the main pieces of advice by Ms Grimley given to the students attending the talk was the following,

“So, one of the great things about the way we get news now is that it is really easy to go online and type into any social media platforms subject areas you are interested in, such as the elections or Brexit. But one of the problems is we don’t necessarily know what we are reading. Some of the things might be set up by people with grudges to bear, or by foreign governments. It might look genuine but in fact its fake. And it might even be someone having a joke, maybe it is a bit of satire. So, all the time you have to look at what your sources are and really question whether you can believe the Twitter accounts or posts on Facebook that you are reading, and always think, “Is this genuine?”, “Are they trying to manipulate me?”, “Is it something I need to check out on a different source, maybe cross reference it with something else?”. You just need to be careful that you don’t report on something someone says on a Twitter account or a throwaway remark on Facebook.”


G11 TOK Bingo Challenge

Over the course of “KNOW-vember”, one of the main events organized for the Grade 11 students was the TOK Bingo Challenge. This challenge meant that they were all tasked with thinking about how TOK was evident during their IB subject lessons over the course of the month. They identified different knowledge questions whenever they came across them during their lessons and discussed how these questions involved TOK concepts or WOKs, filling up the bingo sheets with their answers. They also came up with examples of different TOK concepts, such as an example of either a paradigm shift or logical fallacy. At the end of the month, the students submitted their bingo sheets, and the winner was given the title ‘Bingo Queen’!


In conversation with Mr Kell, teacher of TOK and the creator of ‘KNOW-vember’


What inspired you to introduce KNOW-vember in Marymount this year?

I mainly felt that the Grade 11 students in particular would benefit from an ‘injection’ of TOK in their first semester! I wanted to start the year by getting people aware and enthusiastic about TOK. Also, for the wider community, I felt that it was important for the staff to be aware of TOK as there are so many ways to thread them into lessons, which in the diploma is even a requirement. So it was mainly just for us to keep in line with the IB and its philosophy. But not only that, it was also just for us to debunk the myths around TOK because a lot of people may go to this school up till Grade 10 and just have no idea as to what TOK holds other than it being something they have to do as part of the IB. So this month was mainly just to familiarise TOK so that it becomes a little less mysterious and a little more clearer, shaking people’s attitudes towards it and making people feel more positively about it in their following years to come.


Why do you think that it is really important for us to learn TOK?  

Well, in the years to come, let’s say in around 10-20 years, unless you go into a vocation or profession such as a chemist or historian, I believe that the content and subject matter of most of the subjects we learn fades over times, at least it certainly did for me. But for the IB, what they want left is the ‘core’, and that is the type of learner and person they want to encourage us to be. And this ‘core’ has three components: The Extended Essay which teaches us how to acquire knowledge, TOK which teaches us how to question knowledge, and CAS which is the way to apply this knowledge and questioning of knowledge, using it to better our community whether local or bigger. And these three elements of the core are key to the philosophy of the IB, and like I said, over time the outer bits of the core we tend to forget. But as people, we learn to acquire knowledge, question it, and then apply it constructively in the world that we live in and TOK is key to that core as it is important to question knowledge, particularly in this day and age when we have so many sources of knowledge. I think it really is a gift that IB students have the chance to start to think about that in a relatively structured way, getting girls in this habit of questioning things and hopefully leaving with the curiosity to always learn more and take that into the next stage of their lives.


What is your favourite part of teaching TOK?

 The unpredictability! You can be very creative, as creative as you want really, in terms of teaching it. I am seeing a journey in students from slight bewilderment to them going “oh so that’s what we are talking about!” and that is obviously very satisfying to see. It is different to all other subjects; you can pretty much use any example you want to illustrate any Area of Knowledge (AOK) or Way of Knowing (WOK). It does not feel like a formulaic subject and we can genuinely explore and learn as a group, which is very nice.


Do you have a favourite knowledge claim/question?

 Well, obviously I am biased towards the historical aspects being a history teacher, and I am very fascinated in whether there can ever be truth in history. It is something I think threads into my classes because it is very difficult to say if a certain event ever happened, or if something is completely truthful, as it is always our best version of that. Even questions such as if language affects our knowledge of history, and basically anything along these lines would be something I would do an essay or presentation on if I had to!


What advice do you have for the current Grade 11 and 12 students who have already started their TOK journey, and for the rest of the students who will be embarking on this journey soon?

 For Grade 12s, since they are coming to their end of their TOK and IB journey, I would say to remember what you have learnt and the way you have learnt it, and try to apply that going forward. For the Grade 11s, try to find links between TOK and the things you see around you, such as in the campus or in London even, and try to associate your other IB subjects with TOK as well just like how we did during the Hampton Court visit and through the TOK Bingo. And to all the other grades, embrace Core and Philosophy, because it is a very good grounding for this questioning of our way of thinking. It definitely crystalizes in Grade 11, but enjoy exploring and questioning as much as you can in all of your subjects during your Grade 6-10 journey!


Overall, Marymount’s very first ‘KNOW-vember’ was a huge success, and it is safe to say that all the students were definitely exposed to the wonderful aspects of TOK, encouraging everyone to embrace and enjoy TOK as part of their IB journey!