23 NOVEMBER 2014
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I live in Kemsing, a village near Sevenoaks in Kent. I did my undergraduate degree at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and then studied for a Masters degree at Kings' College London and then a PGCE. I teach at Sevenoaks School in Kent where I am Assistant Director of Higher Education and Head of Religious Studies. I'm married with two children.
What first interested you in Theory of Knowledge?
I've always been curious about what we know and how we know it. The search for knowledge is age old and universal across cultures. To examine what we know is part of being human and important for its own sake. I'm interested in the social, cultural, technological and intellectual factors that affect our knowledge today. I'm keen to evaluate which ways of knowing are favoured in our digital age. Increasingly, we need to be able to think in new ways and make links and connections between subject areas.
How does Decoding the Theory of Knowledge help learners?
It will help students go beyond asking and answering subject specific questions, to ask and answer knowledge specific questions. The structure of the book is easy to follow. Unit 1 offers an introduction to knowledge and knowing. Unit 2 explores the 8 areas of knowledge (maths, natural science, human science, history, ethics, the arts, religious knowledge systems and indigenous knowledge systems) in relation to different ways of knowing. It introduces how to make use of the knowledge framework as a tool for analysis. The margin features include key terms and definitions. The practical tasks and activities help students consolidate their learning at the end of each chapter. Furthermore, it helps learners understand what is required in the two assessment tasks: Unit 3 outlines the essay and Unit 4 the presentation.
How should you teach with Decoding the Theory of Knowledge?
It's written with students in mind. It helps students to develop the skills they need to succeed in the assessment tasks. I think it's a book for students and teachers to dip into. If you want to know about one of the 8 areas of knowledge at a glance, this is the book for you. It's useful for teachers if you need to support students with formulating a Knowledge Question for a presentation, or practical tips for how to approach the essay.
Do you have any advice for students studying the Theory of Knowledge course?
Developing your own ability to think and question for yourself is the most important advice I can give. The IB learner profile lists 10 attributes and TOK invites people to cultivate these, and particularly to become ‘open-minded’, ‘inquirers’ and ‘thinkers’. The philosopher Immanuel Kant summed up enlightenment thinking as “dare to know”, also translated as “dare to be wise”. The course aims to help you cultivate intelligent judgement.
Not only is the ability to think critically increasingly sought after by universities and employers but it's also worth it for its own sake. Thinking for yourself can help you be a self-starter and take initiative.
My advice to students is to develop your skills. Practice the skills that you will need to do well. These include developing a sound and coherent argument, weighing up and evaluating an argument or counter argument, identifying assumptions, and considering implications.
Some students at the start of the course question what the point of TOK is and wonder why they have to do it. TOK is at the core of the IB Diploma programme and the book sets out to explain why. It gives clear guidance and aims to help students stay focused on what's required. On a practical level, succeeding in TOK will mean that you maximise the number of core points and achieve the maximum 3 core points.
I have a TOK blog at this address.
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