Compulsory knowledge framework as a trap: distribution of lesson time

Alexey PopovCurriculum, Knowledge Framework

This is the second post in our series on how to avoid traps and pitfalls of the new TOK syllabus.

It is a requirement of the new syllabus that every unit in the course (such as the themes and the areas of knowledge) should include knowledge questions from each of the four elements of the knowledge framework (Scope, Methods and Tools, Perspectives, Ethics). Earlier I wrote about one thing that could potentially go wrong here – the danger of artificial boundaries being imposed on students and creating confusion.

This requirement is necessary to ensure that there is no one-sided exploration, for example, to avoid the situation when the only thing that is discussed about sciences is the scientific method, while the ethical dimension of science is completely ignored. Fair enough.

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However, I think the second trap here is that some teachers may misinterpret this as a requirement to dedicate equal amounts of time to each of the framework elements. Suppose, for example, that you have planned 12 lessons for Natural sciences. Then some teachers may decide that they need, within that, 3 hours for Scope, 3 hours for Perspectives, 3 hours for Methods and tools, and 3 hours for Ethics. 

However, nowhere does it say in the Guide that coverage must be equal. This is not what “compulsory” means. 

If coverage is equal, aren’t we imposing artificial boundaries again? You would probably agree that discussing ethics in Mathematics is not as exciting as discussing ethics in Human sciences. Conversely, there may be a lot more to discuss about “Perspectives” in History, as compared to “Perspectives” in other areas of knowledge. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think ethics in Mathematics should be discussed – and it does raise some very interesting questions. But I don’t think that we must spend the same amount of time discussing ethics in Mathematics as we spend discussing ethics in other areas of knowledge.

In Themantic Education’s IB TOK resources, we focus on questions that are most meaningful for a given theme or area of knowledge

So here is what I’m going to do:

  1. For every area of knowledge I will identify knowledge questions that I think are crucial, and I will focus on these knowledge questions. For Mathematics, for example, my focus will be on axiomatic systems, deductive reasoning and “discovered versus invented”. I will have an ethical dimension as well, but it will not have the same focus. 
  2. I will try my best to consider all units within the course in comparison. When I discuss historical perspectives, for example, I will ask: “what would be the equivalent in Natural sciences or Mathematics?” This way, through comparison, I will avoid artificial knowledge questions that cannot be answered meaningfully.